A Beginner's Guide to Needle Felting Suppliesto help you shop for your needle felting fun!
When you start shopping for your needle felting supplies, you’ll be entering into a world of fiber producers, processors and artisans of many different fiber arts. The terminology is confusing so I’ve broken it down into terms that will be useful as you shop both online and at your local venues.
Remember, there are no ‘rules’ in this fun, new craft. This guide is based on my personal experiences and preferences. A varied needle felting stash is key to creativity and I hope this guide helps you learn what you are shopping for and why you need it.
Have fun and happy shopping for your needle felting supplies!
Your Friend in Needle Felting ~Kay Petal
visit us at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies for wool supplies and workshops on DVD with kits
Shopping Venueswhere to find your needle felting supplies
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to find the supplies we need in our local shops so online shopping it is! The good news for Needle Felters is that needle felting is a new and growing industry and it seems there are new online suppliers popping up around the world every day.
Rather than provide you with a current list and links to suppliers, I encourage you to use the terms and search words in this guide along with the wealth of knowledge you’ll learn in the videos to help you find the supplies you need when shopping online.
Don’t forget to search online venues, such as Etsy that are full of wonderful felting products from a wide variety of small farmers and fiber processors.
For your online shopping, Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies is a great place to start! You’ll find all the supplies I use in my own needle felted creations and everything you need to bring your needle felted ideas to life.
Shop at Local Craft Stores, Artisan Fairs and Fiber Shows
Once you start needle felting you will find yourself drawn into such venues. Be prepared to be overwhelmed with the variety of breeds of sheep and fiber animals!
Look for artisan fiber producers that make their own batts on small hand or electric carding machines – you might find batting from breeds of sheep like Shetland and Icelandic – both tend to be hairy but felt up fast and sturdy.
You are sure to see roving (those long ropes for spinning into yarn) from a wide variety of fiber animals including sheep and alpaca. You may find hand spun wool yarn. which is a favorite of mine for Fairy hair.
And curly locks! You will likely find fleece and curly locks in a wide variety of natural and dyed colors. I like to have a nice variety of roving and locks on hand for hair for my dolls and can never resist stocking up.
Wool for Needle Felting
Many kinds of fiber CAN be needle felted – animal, plant and synthetic fiber – some requiring much more determination than others to be tangled into a dense mass with felting needles. The most commonly used fiber for sculptural needle felting is wool from sheep.
There are many different breeds and cross-breeds of sheep, all with different types of wool – the wool from some breeds work better for needle felting than others. Not just that – the way the wool is processed makes a big difference in how well it will work for needle felting.
The terminology used to describe the different features and types of wool will make your head spin. Rather than teaching you about staple length and micron count, we’ll stick to what you need to know about wool so you can get started needle felting.
Wool Battinga perfect sculpting medium
Other Search Terms:
Batts – Batt – Carded Batt – Batting – Needle Felting Wool – Core Wool – Wool Batt – Carded Fleece – Carded Wool (card, carded, carding are fiber processing terms that refer to a brushing process) – Dyed Wool
Common Animal/Breed-Specific Batting:
Sheep breeds include Merino or Merino Cross Breed (fine-medium fiber) – Norwegian C1 (medium-coarse fiber) – Icelandic (coarse, hairy fiber) – Romney (medium-coarse fiber) – Shetland (medium-coarse fiber)
Batting is fiber that has been processed into lofty sheets – think of quilt batting. You see me using wool batting in all the videos. In fact, I use wool batting for nearly everything I sculpt in my studio. The messy fiber structure of batting makes shaping and needle sculpting easy and fast. To sculpt with it, you first tear it off the batts into manageable chunks, then form and needle felt into shape.
I have needle felted with batting made from fine Merino wool to coarse, hairy wool from Icelandic sheep and all kinds of mixes in between. The wool I choose really depends on the finished look I am going for. For my needle felted dolls, using fine-medium wool is preferable because using coarse, hairy wool is challenging for a smooth complexion. For animal makers, coarse, hairy wool is perfect!
Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool is the colorful dyed batting you see me using in the videos.
Core Wool Batting
Core wool is simply wool batting used to needle felt the core parts of your creations – the parts that will never be seen. Typically it is lesser quality wool that has not been dyed. It may have a yellowish look or have a lot of vegetable matter (grass, hay and other small barnyard bits) but none of that matters! It will definitely save you money if you save your lovely dyed wool for the outer layers of your projects.
I don’t use core wool for everything I make. For small things that are only a few inches tall, it doesn’t pay to use core wool. Covering small core wool creations with a layer of dyed wool is difficult so just sculpt them out of the colors you want to show. For larger creations, using quality core wool saves time and money. You’ll learn the basics of using core wool making mushrooms in the Garden Art video.
Core Wool isn’t JUST for the core of your projects! Use it anytime you need an all natural wool color.
Core wool batting is readily available from most major fiber and felting suppliers – it’s a matter of finding your favorite that needle felts fast and easy for you. You’ll find my favorite – the Original Felt Alive Core Wool Batting HERE.
Using Core Wool Batting
How Much Wool Batting Do I Need?
Wool batting is usually sold by the ounce. I could stuff an ounce of wool into a 2 cup measuring cup or roll it tightly and lightly felt it into a ball the size of an average grapefruit.
To help you visualize, a 3″ Pixie is solid needle felted wool from head to toe and each one weighs approximately 1/2 oz. Since no other materials are needed such as armature wire or yarn for hair, that’s how much wool it takes!
Wool Rovingnot all wool is called roving!
Other Search Terms: Combed Top – Top – Sliver – Wool Roving
Common Animal/Breed-Specific Roving: Merino (sheep) – Corriedale (sheep) – Mohair (angora goat) – Alpaca
The term ‘roving’ has evolved into a catch-all name for any type of wool. When shopping for batting, you may see it called roving so be very careful of this until you learn to spot the differences.
Roving is actually fiber that is prepared into long ropes to be spun into yarn. Most commercially processed roving has been through a combing process. With no short fiber remaining and the long fiber neatly combed, shaping and sculpting roving can be challenging and time-consuming.
Like many, many beginner needle felters, my first attempts at needle felting were with merino roving. Its availability and delicious array of colors made it irresistible to me. However, the endless hours to finish a project nearly ended my needle felting journey before I even got started.
Roving can be used for the surface design of your projects and it’s best to tear (not cut) the fiber into short lengths and mess it up with your fingertips before felting it. Messy fibers tangle and shrink in all directions which makes it faster and easier to tangle into felt! Different colors of merino roving can also be blended together using this technique.
As you’ll learn in the videos, I love using all different kinds of roving for doll hair and it’s great for animal fur but I don’t use it for sculpting. It takes too many needle pokes to tangle combed roving into felt for this impatient crafter.
Merino roving is widely available and you should have no trouble finding roving of all types to suit your needs.
How Much Roving Do I Need?
If you aren’t sculpting with roving, your needs will be minimal. It is typically sold by the ounce. For hair for my creations I use about 1/4 oz or less, on average. For surface design, or blush and shading on dolls, tiny wisps go a very long way.
Roving is available at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies
Curls, Prefelt and Other FiberLet Your Creativity Flourish!
Curls & Locks
Other Search Terms:
Fleece – Curly Locks – Locks – Natural Wool – Scoured Fleece – Raw Fleece (unwashed)
Common Animal/Breed-Specific Curly Locks:
Wensleydale, Cotswold, Gotland (longwool sheep breeds) – Mohair (long, lustrous curls from Angora goats) – Alpaca (fine, wavy-straight locks)
Naturally curly locks from sheep and other fiber animals are great choices for doll hair and animal fur. It’s great for adding textural surface design elements to your projects.
Besides scouring, curly locks are minimally processed. The fiber has not been put through any type of picking or brushing process and the natural curl structure remains intact which can make it difficult to sculpt with.
While shopping for curly locks, you’ll find individual locks that have been separated from the fleece which are costlier than the curly locks you’ll find that are still tangled into the fleece. It’s common for locks to have vegetable matter (vm) tangled into the curl structure. I just pick it out when using it for doll hair.
Beware of any kind of fiber that says it’s raw. That simply means it has not been cleaned – cleaning raw wool is a smelly and laborious process best left to professionals.
How Much Curly Locks Do I Need?
Of course that really depends on what you are making – a lifesize needle felted sasquatch covered in curly locks would require pounds of curls. When I put hair on one of my 12″ dolls, I usually need about 1 oz.
Other Search Terms:
Prefelted Wool – Prefelt Sheets – Prefelt Batt – Prefelted Batts – Merino Prefelt – Needlepunch Wool – Needlepunched Batts
Common Animal/Breed-Specific Prefelt:
What to Avoid: Fully felted sheets of felt – also called 100% wool felt. This means the wool is fully felted (rather than prefelted) and there are not enough loose fibers left to felt with.
Prefelt is wool batting that has been through a needle felting loom, creating a sheet of low-density felt fabric. Low-density means the fiber isn’t fully felted. Fully felted wool is dense and durable and cannot be pulled apart.
Prefelted wool fabric is delicate and can be pulled apart, much like thin batting, and used for needle felting seamless clothing. Prefelt can also be cut with scissors making it handy for detailed surface designs. I use prefelt almost exclusively for needle felting clothes onto my dolls.
When shopping for prefelt, you’ll find some almost paper thin and some that is quite thick. Thinner is better for doll clothes (if it’s paper thin, you can always double it up.) Thick prefelt is really best used as a canvas for needle felting flat designs
How Much Prefelt Do I Need?
It really depends! I can dress a doll in a suit with a 12″ sheet of prefelt.
Make sure to save your scraps for surface design.
Yarn & Other Fiber
Other Search Terms:
Handspun (or Hand Spun) Yarn, Art Yarn, Bulky Yarn, Bulk Weight Yarn, Woolen Yarn, Thick & Thin Yarn, Lockspun (or Lock Spun) Yarn
Common Animal/Breed Specific Yarn:
Wool from countless different sheep breeds (Icelandic Wool makes coarse hairy yarn, Merino Wool yarn is baby soft) – Mohair (Angora Goats – very shiny fiber often found in lockspun yarn.)
Yarn is something that should never be overlooked when stocking up your needle felting stash. Not only does it make fun hair for your creations, it can be used to add textural design elements to the surface of your creations. I look for 100% wool yarn – just because I love working with wool – but any kind of yarn can be used. Handspun or bulky weight, woolly yarn tends to have more loose fibers than worsted yarns and are easier to attach to your creations.
Other fiber you will see while shopping are exotic fiber like Silk – Qiviut (Muskox) – Camel – Bamboo – Cotton – Angora Rabbit – the list goes on. While I can’t advise what and how you use different types of fiber, buying in small quantities is a fun way to inspire your creativity.
How Much Yarn Do I Need?
I usually only use a few yards of yarn for hair for my little 3″ Fairies and snips and scraps are so perfect for embellishing the clothes of my dolls or anything else you can imagine.
A Final Word About Wool – VM (vegetable matter)
VM? Vegetable Matter?
The presence of bits of grasses, burrs, twigs, seeds and feed particles, collectively known as ‘vm’, goes with the territory when you craft with natural animal fiber. Feeding and grazing practices are why some wool has more vm than others.
The more processing the fiber goes through to remove any reminders of where our raw material comes from, the less we are able to use it for sculptural needle felting. For example; you won’t find much vm in merino roving because along with all the barnyard bits, the shorter fibers have all been removed during the combing process. We need some of those shorter fibers because they are what make the wool tangle and felt up fast.
VM in the wool doesn’t mean the wool is dirty – if the wool has been scoured in hot water baths, the vm has also been scoured and it’s just not a problem for me when I’m needle felting. Most bits either get buried in my projects or pop out as I’m felting.
Felting NeedlesLet's Unravel the Mystery
You hear me talk a lot about felting needles in the videos. Because they are sharp and fragile, you’ll also learn how to safely use them.
This needle guide will help you understand them so you can shop for the tools you need with confidence.
Felting Needle Sizes & Blade Type
Felting needles are made of steel with a barbed blade and an ‘L’ shaped end. They are manufactured for to fit into industrial felting machines for manufacturing non-woven materials. The blade end is the sharp part of the needle and the edges of the blades have the tiny barbs that do all of that tangling-into-felt business. Felting Needles come in a couple of standard lengths (between 3-4″ long) and many different shank size (gauge) and blade/barb configurations.
Gauge – the most common gauges of felting needles used for needle felting are 36 gauge (coarse) 38 gauge (medium) 40 gauge (fine) . The heavier the gauge, the more difficult it is to pierce into your felting projects.
Blade Type/Barb Configuration – felting needles typically either have 3 blade edges ‘t’ (triangle) or 4 blade edges ‘star’. If you see a felting needle called, let’s just say, a 40t; ’40’ signifies the gauge of the shank and the ‘t’ stands for triangle blade.
Commonly available sizes used for hand needle felting – 36t, 40t, 38star
Large chain craft stores typically sell needles labeled as fine and coarse. I can’t say for sure what exact sizes or blade type they would be but any barbed needle works better than no needle so if you are in a bind, then by all means, it’s worth a try!
And those colorful felting needles you see in all the photos and videos? Those are THE ORIGINAL Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles. Comfy to use and color-coded to accompany all Felt Alive Videos!
More About the Sharp End of the Needles!
Triangle Blade ‘t’ Felting Needles
Triangle or ‘t’ blades are the most common blade type you will see. The working blade has three barbed edges.
Common ‘t’ blade felting needles:
40 t – For all purpose felting of most wool batting, a 40t felting needle is a great choice that is readily available from most suppliers. It’s my favorite gauge for speedy, efficient felting of most types of fiber. It is a fine gauge needle that glides into wool with very little effort while the barbs do a great job grabbing and tangling the fiber.
36 t – A coarse felting needle that works for heavy-duty jobs like attaching needle felted parts together. It is a great choice for attaching hair deeply into your project and for needle felting through heavy fabric.
42 t – A very fine needle with shallower barb depth. This gentle felter is perfect for finishing your projects or for adding delicate details to eyes or for shading. The fine gauge and shallow barbs leave much smaller holes behind and doesn’t felt down your project quickly, making it perfect for surface design and finishing.
Star Blade ‘star’ Felting Needles
The working blade of a star needle has four barbed edges. With more blade edges and more barbs, some needle felters prefer star blade needles for speed and durability over triangle blade needles. I find they don’t glide through the wool as easily as the triangle blades, making me work a little harder. They are bit sturdier and don’t seem to leave as large of holes behind as the triangle blade needle due to their shallower barb depth, Star needles help fill in needle holes left from the triangle blade felting process.
Common Star Blade Felting Needles:
The most common is the 38 star – While some needle felters prefer a 38 star felting needle for their all-purpose felting, I find the extra blades and barbs make it superb for finishing the surface of hairy or coarse wool.
A 40 star has a short working blade that is much less flexible than most other needles I’ve tried. I think it is perfect for beginner needle felters or for those who tend to break a lot of needles. It is my ‘go to’ needle when needle felting with kids.
There are also specialty felting needles that are rather new to the needle felting scene –
Reverse Barb Felting Needles – the barbs don’t snag the fiber when it pierces into the wool, instead they grab the fiber when the needle is pulled out, pulling loose fiber to the surface. Fun for playing with layers of colors and for surface design. Reverse Barb Needles available at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies
Twist or Spiral Blade Felting Needles. I’ve found these to be useful, much like a star blade, for surface design and finishing because they tend to fill in visible holes left from all-purpose felting. Spiral Blade Needles available at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies
And the Not-So-Sharp End of the Needles!
Felting Needle Handles & Multi-Needle Tools
Those ‘L’ shaped ends that fit into industrial felting machines aren’t comfortable for hours of hand felting use. To remedy this, you will find a variety felting needle handles that hold from one needle to many needles (I think I saw one that held 32 needles.) These handles can be made of wood, metal or plastic.
Remember when I said that felting needles were designed for industrial machines? The ‘L’ shaped ends are definitely not designed for handcrafting comfort and I wore grooves into my fingers when I first got started from gripping those ends! I decided my needles needed needle handles. (say that 3 times 🙂 )
I purchased several types of needle handles – wooden knobs that held from one to dozens of needles, plastic pen-like contraptions and metal handles that turned my hands black. All of the handles I purchased wound up in a drawer for several reasons:
While most handles don’t weigh much, any extra weight is a consideration with hours of repetitive poking. I also found that all
the handles extended the overall length of my needles and because of that, I didn’t have the fine control I needed. It also
seemed the fragile tips of my felting needles were more susceptible to breakage because of the extra length and weight of the
handle. And finally, without color-coding separate handles for each gauge of needle, I STILL didn’t know what size needle I was
using. SO along came the Mother of Invention – NECESSITY – and my Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles with Cushioned Grips
What I did find while trying out those felting needle handles that held multiple needles was that piercing a bunch of needles
into wool can be very difficult and doesn’t necessarily speed things up. Two needles together, however, work well but as the wool
begins to tighten, piercing dense wool with two needles also gets difficult. That’s when it’s time to switch back to a single
needle. Using fine gauge needles will make piercing into the wool easier with any multi-needle tool.
We developed multi-point felting needles (multiple needles permanently affixed together) with the same colorful grips as our original Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles. They are available in double point and quad point. The handles don’t add much weight, nor do they extend the overall length of the needle so you can maintain fine control while using them. The downside is that the comfy handle is not reusable and you can’t replace a needle if one should break.
Several companies offer color-coded felting needles with painted ends. You can also color-
code your own with nail polish, paint or just wrap small colored rubber bands around the ends of the needles.
Words of FELTING NEEDLE Wisdom
Felting needles are sharp and this guide to felting needles wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include this reminder – Needle Felting is NOT a Blood Sport – I know that sounds bad but PLEASE trust me when I say that just because the needles can pierce into your skin, doesn’t mean they should. Here are some things I have learned to help you avoid both stabbing yourself and breaking your fragile needles.
Always work at your felting pad while seated squarely in front of your project under good lighting. Holding your project on your lap, in your hand or working in an awkward position (perhaps curled up on the couch) is chancy for both you and your needles.
Always maintain a relaxed grip and work at a relaxed pace. If you tightly grip your needle and accidentally poke your finger while stabbing at super-sonic speeds the results can be harrowing!
No matter how careful you are, distractions (tv, family etc,) and plain old clumsiness are the most likely reasons you’ll encounter the sting of the needle. These same reasons, by the way, are the main causes of needle breakage. No matter how careful you will eventually break a needle, which renders it useless, so make sure to have always have a stock of spare felting needles on hand (and a band-aid nearby!)
It pays to learn to properly handle your felting needles for your health and felting happiness. You’ll learn how in the videos!
Other Supplies for Your Needle Felting Fun
Other Search Terms:
Felting Foam, Foam Pad, Felting Mat, Felting Surface, Needle Felting Block, Foam Block
Felting Pad is a groovy term for my felting studio 🙂 but, for this guide we’ll talk about a work surface you do all of your felting on.
As you pierce in and out of your wool, your needle will inevitably glide through your project and into your felting pad. The needles should easily glide in to your pad but they shouldn’t pierce all the way through. Repeated jabs with the barbed needle break most surfaces down over time so it’s important to find something resilient.
Felting pads protect you and your needles while you work and it’s important to find one you like. I started with a piece of upholstery foam – the thick stuff from an old sofa. My eyes would go bleary from trying to stay focused on my work because it was bouncing so much with each poke. Next, I tried one of those foam pads that you kneel on in your garden. My work didn’t bounce but I broke needles because the needle didn’t glide in easily. I finally got my hands on some nice dense foam that solved my problems.
NEEDLE FELTING TIP!! An inexpensive piece of craft felt (the kind you find at your craft store) can be placed on top of your foam pad to keep it clean, colorful and to extend the life of your foam pad. When the felt gets covered with bits of felting projects, either replace it or place another piece of felt over the old one.
Other things to use as a felting pad:
Sponges – if they aren’t too stiff or too squishy, then a sponge just might work. Just make sure it’s thick enough to keep the needle from piercing all the way through.
Cloth Pouches filled with seeds or rice will make a stable felting surface as long as the fabric isn’t so tightly woven that it keeps the needle from sliding in easily.
Brush Mats – found in major craft stores. These are for embellishing small needle felted designs onto bags and garments using punch-style needle felting tools.
Sticks don’t actually felt anything but they definitely assist in the process. I use them for several different techniques as you’ll see in the videos and I find them an essential tool in my everyday needle felting.
I use paper sticks which are lollipop sticks for candy making. and are easily found in most craft stores and kitchen stores. You can use wooden or bamboo skewers but beware of the slivers – they can snag your wool and your fingers. available at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies
Felting Needle ‘Pin’ cushion
Traditional pincushions aren’t the safest place to keep your needles. The fragile blade can break off in the cushion if something should brush up against the needles. I use a plastic mug stuffed with wool that I needle felted to compress. I call mine a Happy Cup because my needles stay safe and happy when at rest. You’ll see in the videos the walls of the cup protect them from most outside forces.
I’ve never sewn a stitch to create any of my needle felted projects yet I always have a sewing needle nearby. I use a strong, sharp one that is long and sturdy for pulling, poking, stretching and manipulating the wool as I sculpt. It’s tempting for most new needle felters to use their fragile felting needles for these tasks – you’ll learn in the videos just what I mean!
Small, sharp embroidery scissors are the handiest thing for trimming away fuzzies and wayward fibers from the surface of your finished needle felted creations. Besides that, I rarely use scissors to cut wool – as you’ll learn in the videos, it’s always better to pull your wool apart when you are preparing it for felting Cut ends of fiber are very resistant to needle felting and can make the surface of your project stubbly.
Stashing, Storing and Cleaning
Storing Your Wool Stash
Needle felters tend to be creative when storing and managing all those fluffy bits of fiber. From mason jars to hanging shoe organizers, plastic totes and zip-lock bags, I have tried so many ways to keep it all together but it usually winds up stuffed into a laundry basket.
Wool stays fluffier if you store it where it can breathe and it is much more convenient for those inspired moments if you don’t have to go digging through bins and bags.
My favorite solutions have been hanging shoe and closet organizers and re-purposed water jugs like you see in the photo.
If you are worried about wool moths, keep raw wool away from your clean wool stash and you shouldn’t have a problem. But to be safe, you can always tuck cedar or lavender sachets in your wool stash as natural moth repellent.
Needle Felting Tips
The main things you need are a comfortable chair, a sturdy table and good lighting. Most needle felters start out at their kitchen tables but eventually find a dedicated a space for their needle felting.
If you use a foam felting pad, a piece of rubber shelf liner under it will help keep it from slipping around on your table. You’ll see in the videos that I use a plastic cup stuffed with wool as a pincushion for my felting needles and I keep a pair of embroidery scissors handy at all times.
Animals have a thing for wool so keep that in mind if you have pets. If something terrible happens, know that you are not the first one to lose a work-in-progress to a curious pet. I could write a book from the stories I’ve heard.
Caring for Your Finished Work
I have to laugh when I get asked how to care for needle felties. If you have seen videos of my dolls in action as they roll through the dirt and fly through the air you will see that I am NOT the person to ask about this.
Wool is very resilient to dirt and my rough treatment doesn’t bother my dolls much. After I pick off the twigs and leaves, they are happy on display around my home and studio. I try to keep them out of direct sunlight to keep the colors from fading. If they get dusty, I take them outside and shake them off.
If your creations are handled a lot, the wool will get fuzzy – it might even pill up like a sweater. You can do needle felting maintenance anytime – a little surface felting will make them look as good as new again. If you plan to store them away, wrap them loosely in tissue paper and seal them in a bag or box in a dark, dry place.
The needle felting projects in the videos (and needle felted items in general) are not recommended as toys for kids.
Photographing Your Felties
I struggled with photographing my work when I first got started. Since then, picture-taking has become one of my favorite things about needle felting. My felties seem to come to life when the camera comes out. I am not a photography expert so I can only offer you a few things I’ve learned.
- Taking photos of your creations outdoors is much better than indoors.
- Bright sunlight or using a flash highlights every single wayward fiber.
- Fuzzy things are hard to focus on – even auto-focus struggles. Take many shots to make sure you get at least one focused shot.
- You always see something that needs improving when you look at project photos – the cool thing about needle felting is that you can easily go back and keep felting.
- Take your creations out and about with you. Photograph them in unexpected places or teach them how to photobomb your selfies.
- Mostly – have fun with them. Sharing photos is a great way to show your friends and family the fun you are having with your new craft love!