Painful Lessons in Needle Felting

Some of you may recall me expressing jubilance over starting my first needle felted project early last year.

Yes, it looked fairly decent then, back when it was still a work in progress. It took me 6 months of hard work, finger stabbing and arm pain to complete it, but unfortunately the final piece came out looking very different than I had originally planned, leaving me so disappointed in the end result that I never showed it to anyone. I’ll admit, it was an ambitious first project and I got in a bit over my head (as well as my neck, shoulder and elbow). But even though my once-graceful swan lady turned out more pockmarked than Edward James Olmos and took donkey’s years to finish, I masochistically dove into another needle felted sculpture directly afterward, determined to learn from my mistakes and create a final product I was happier with.

Titled “A Scent”, this second piece is part of my mixed media series Pink Period (which can be viewed here).

There were several important things I learned between my first and second needle felted pieces, and although I still consider myself an amateur felter with much to learn, I thought I would pass along some of my recent revelations and pointers to other interested beginners. Careful, though — needle felting tips are pretty sharp.  *snort*

#1. Needle felt the wool into a solid shape BEFORE adding it to the work. This may seem to be a huge “DUH” for needle-felters-in-the-know, but it took me a while to truly figure out. Trying to felt something into submission while it’s on the piece just ends up pushing it into the work instead of adding on to it.

#2. For larger pieces, USE A MULTI-NEEDLE TOOL INSTEAD OF JUST A SINGLE NEEDLE. I put this in shouty-style capitals because, like a complete dumbshit, I only used a single needle on my first piece — which was over 12″ tall and had a wire armature inside — leading to more frustration than was necessary. I’ve found single needles to be better for felting tiny things, making details, and attaching pieces.

#3. Needle felt only for as long as you can. Stop when you start hurting, or preferably, before that. This is a very hard thing for me to do, as I often get so rapt with sculpting that I can sit for 10-12 hours at a time without leaving the art. This works fine for clay, but not so much for felting. (My ulna agrees.)

#4. Have patience. Unless you’re making a small, simple piece, needle felting takes a long time. Hell, even small and simple can take a while.

#5. Stabbing yourself with a barbed needle only hurts slightly less than everyday life. Don’t be scared to bleed for your art. In fact, welcome it. Then thank your lucky scars you’re not felting in the 19th century.

Felting Machine from 1880

#6. If you can squish it with your fingers, it’s probably not done. The more solid the work, the better. Of course, this is merely my own personal preference and opinion; depending on what you’re making, you may want to leave your felting as hard or soft as you desire. That is, until the NFTF (Needle Felting Task Force) is formed… then you should be worried.

#7. Lastly, wooden felting tools make great blood absorbers.

9 responses

  1. fayette

    hi , i love your work and your art it’s so great 🙂 i made some amigurumis too 😀 but we have different style 😀

    January 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

  2. I absolutely love all your art work but the needle felt pieces are the awesomest! 😉

    January 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

  3. Bravo !!! …as usual….blood, sweat & tears ….

    January 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  4. Holy crapnoodles, that looks FANTASTIC. I’m curious about the gem and how you attached it – care to share? I love how the beast is in almost cartoony colors. I just love the whole thing 😀

    January 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    • Thanks! First I needle felted a little ridge around the gem, then for security I hot glued it to her forehead… nothing too fancy!

      January 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      • Oh that’s nice and easy. I keep trying to conquer felting in beads – more trouble than it’s worth!

        January 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  5. Hey! Love your work! I “favorited” your shop on Etsy

    February 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm

  6. HC

    Hey there, I ran across your blog during a “needle felted sculpture” search on google. I notice you mentioned you didn’t like how pock marked your first lady is. You wouldn’t have that problem if you switched to a harder wool. Wool like Merino leaves more holes behind, but wool like Corriedale (what i use) leaves much less. Also, if you wet your finger just a bit and rub the wool, you’ll see less holes. You can go back in after and snip off the fuzzy bits with scissors. Not sure if you’ve figured this out already, but if not, I hope that helps!

    April 11, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  7. Wow needle felting seems very complicated! I am trying to learn how to do more detailed things in my sewing but I don’t know if I want to commit to this. I would probably buy a machine that knows how to do it much better than I do.

    February 6, 2017 at 6:01 am

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