Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Felt Alive Needle Felting Tips - Needle Felting on a Shoestring Budget

I get contacted often by crafty people looking to get started needle felting but are limited to a shoestring budget.  Needle felting is a fun and affordable craft and I'm happy to help!  The advice I offer is mainly for sculptural or 3 dimensional needle felting - not so much for needle felting on an actual shoelace although it certainly can be done!   

A really cool thing about sculptural needle felting is that it doesn't take much of an initial investment to get started.  A felting pad and a few felting needles are the only tools you need - and then all you'll need is wool.  You will find that with all of that poking to do, time is the biggest investment you’ll make in needle felting.  Using quality wool and supplies definitely speeds things up and a lesson or two to learn the basics helps too.

Small creations (less than 5" or so) really don’t take much fiber – usually less than an ounce.  If you plan on needle felting on a tight budget, keep your projects small.  But even larger pieces don't require much fiber; my Felt Alive needle felted dolls are around 12” and typically weigh about 3-4 ounces. You can expect to pay anywhere from $1.50 - $5 per ounce for wool for needle felting.  Not bad!  But not all wool works great for needle felting so it's important to know what you are buying.

The box said Steel WOOL so I had to try.
Wool from sheep or other animal fiber such as alpaca or angora goat (mohair) can be used for needle felting.  In fact, plant fiber as well as synthetic fiber can be needle felted, too.

If the barbs on the felting needles can grab it, it can be felted.  I have experimented with all kinds of stuff - even steel wool can be needle felted if you don't mind the sound of nails on a chalkboard.

I prefer wool for needle felting.  But not just wool straight off the sheep - I need clean wool that has been scoured, picked and prepared into wool batting.  (It's quite laborious and unless you plan to go through a whole lot of fiber, I really don't recommend purchasing raw fleece to save money.)

While there are many breeds of sheep, certain types of wool felt faster or finish better - but that's another discussion altogether.    Generally, if the fiber can be carded (brushed) into lofty batting, it will work for sculptural needle felting. 

"Batting???  But I thought I needed roving - what's the difference?"  I hear it all the time so let me explain:

Merino Roving
Merino Roving / Combed Top - note the combed fiber structure
Roving comes prepared in long ropes or strands.  It is more readily available than wool batting as it's very popular for spinning into yarn.  Most roving has been combed so the fiber all runs the same direction.  The shorter fibers have all been combed out, leaving only the longest fibers. 

In the yarn-spinning world, combed roving is known as top or tops.   Merino roving is the most widely available, you'll likely see Corriedale roving as well.  It all comes in delicious array of colors that I couldn't resist when I first got started needle felting.  I soon learned that combed wool wasn't the easiest to needle felt with and wound up having to spend more money on wool that was easier and faster to sculpt with my felting needles. Combed roving is GREAT to use for hair for needle felted dolls, dogs and other hairy creatures. 

Wool Batting is prepared into lofty sheets much like quilt batting
When you hear the term batting or batts, just think of quilt batting.  The large sheets of fluff used to line a quilt or a comforter.  And yes, comforters filled with wool batting (rather than polyfill) are divine.  ...but I digress. It's the messy structure of the fiber in batting that makes for a great sculpting medium. 

Wool batting closeup - note the messy fiber structure.
When needle felting with batting, the messy fibers tangle and shrink in all directions.  With roving, the orderly fibers shrink along the lines of the combing, leaving lines and grooves in the surface of your work.  Needle felting with combed roving tends to take longer than with batting and it will be more likely to show visible holes left by the needles.  While many, many needle felters use roving because of the availability and the scrumptious colors, I save my roving for hair for my creations and stick with batting for sculpting.  

OK!  Now that is all cleared up, you won't be spending your money on a raw fleece from the farmers market - nor will you be tempted to purchase that gorgeous combed roving from your local yarn shop.

And those tiny packets of roving you find at craft stores - those are packaged for small embellishments (like on the shoelaces) and are very cost-prohibitive to use for sculpting.

Finding quality supplies for sculptural needle felting in your area can be challenging.  Most needle felters have to shop online.   At Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies we strive to offer wool batting and supplies that are affordable and really do work great for needle felting.

Here are my recommendations for needle felting on a tight budget with Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies.

Plain, undyed wool batting - used for the core of projects
Use plain, un-dyed wool batting for needle felting the core parts of your larger creations and then covering with more expensive dyed wool.  I typically use 1-2 ounces Felt Alive Core Wool for the core body parts of a 12" doll.  But for small creations (under 5" or so) using core wool is NOT necessary.  In fact, it's easier and faster just to felt your pieces from the wool batting color of your choice.  Core wool can be used alone too!  I've seen some many creations made using only core wool.  Thrifty needle felters can even dye their own core wool using common kitchen ingredients 

Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool Batting
While a bit more expensive than plain core wool, dyed wool batting is great fun and so convenient to use, giving you all the colors of the rainbow to create with.  It can be used alone, or for larger pieces, felted over your core wool base.     Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool batting comes in size options from 1/2 oz - 4 oz bundles with lots of fabulous colors to choose from.

Felt Alive Detail Kit
For little details to bring your needle felted projects to life, it's essential to have snips and bits of colors including white and brown.  I recommend a Felt Alive Detail Kit .  It includes white wool for eyes and teeth and lots of colors for eyes and shading.  Plus it comes with felting sticks – felting sticks are handy tools and I teach how to use them in most of my video tutorials.   The detail kits are a great value and will last for many projects. 

A foam felting pad is your work surface and can be used over and over again. I have found that covering your pad with an inexpensive piece of felt from the craft store extends the life of the pad.  Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your foam felting pads - FELT ALIVE NEEDLE FELTING TIPS - Foam Felting Pads

Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles
Felting Needles could potentially be the costliest part of your needle felting expenses because they are fragile and break easily. Breaking a needle renders it useless and you will have to replace it. But if you are careful and learn how to use the needles correctly, a felting needle can last for months or even years with regular use.  Here are some tips to help you save money on felting needles -
FELT ALIVE NEEDLE FELTING TIPS - The Use and Care of Felting Needles

Things like curly wool for hair or merino prefelt or double and quad point felting needles are specialty items and can make things a little costlier but if you stick to the basics, needle felting is a very affordable craft.

Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool and Supplies
All of the wool and supplies that I use in my own needle felting studio are available at www.needlefeltingsupplies.com .  I also offer a whole range of fun and affordable Felt Alive Video Workshops on DVD and online.  And make sure to check out my Felt Alive YouTube Channel for some fun and free needle felting tutorials.  And if you are serious about learning and saving money, check out The Needle Felters Workshop  and subscribe for online access to all of my videos and discount pricing on Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool and Supplies.  Kits are available with membership.

If you are a crafter on a shoestring budget I hope you decide to give needle felting a try.  And yes, you can even needle felt on an actual shoestring!  (It's kind of a fun idea if I do say so myself.)

Happy Felting and thanks for visiting my blog!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Felt Alive Needle Felting Tips - The Use and Care of Felting Needles.

Felting Needles are mysterious little tools borrowed from the non-woven fabric industry.  They are sharp, barbed needles used to manufacture things like the thick felted fiber lining in car trunks, carpet padding, industrial filter fabric and even toilet paper!

Made of steel, felting needles are precision tools designed to fit into machines that hold thousands of needles, stabbing them into fiber millions of times before getting dull.  With each stab, the barbs on the blades tangle and compress loose fiber into a solid mass; the more stabs, the denser the mass.  The same theory applies to hand-felting but the needles have some drawbacks when used outside to the machines they were designed for.  Using them for  needle felting requires a few precautions to keep them from breaking and to keep them from injuring you.

Felting Needles are very, very sharp and easily pierce through skin.  And because they are fragile and break easily (rendering them useless,) felting needles can potentially be the costliest part of your needle felting expenses.  But if you are careful and learn how to use the needles correctly, a felting needle can last for months or even years with regular use and you can avoid painful puncture wounds.

One of my students needle felted for the first time at a live Felt Alive Workshop where the first lesson was the use and care of needles. She must have paid careful attention because she needle felts quite regularly and has not broken one needle (nor has she injured herself) in her first year of needle felting. (Go Barbara!)  I feel very strongly that needle felting should not be a blood-sport.  I also believe that felting needles should last at least through several projects so I've put together tips and tricks I hope will be helpful to everyone.

 Tips to avoid breaking felting needles (and to avoid poking yourself.) 

  • Set up your needle felting work space at table with good lighting and make sure you are in a comfortable chair. 
  • Secure your foam pad.  Foam is slippery on a smooth tabletop so if you find your pad slips around as you work, use a piece of rubber shelf liner under your pad to hold it in place.  
  • Use a pincushion of some sort to hold your felting needles when at rest. I have a bad habit of using my felting pad as my pincushion and I inevitably bump my hand into my needles as I'm working.  The dreaded 'snap' of a needle breaking in my felting pad makes me cringe.   A plastic smiley-face cup stuffed with wool is my pincushion.   Keeping my felting needles tucked safely in the cup helps protect the needles (if I remember to put them back when I'm busy needle felting.)
  • Make sure your project stays on your pad while you work. While It is very tempting to hold your work in your hand while you needle felt, the needles are very sharp and travel right through wool and into flesh so it's best to let your felting pad take the brunt of that.
  • While felting, maintain a light grip on the needle and work at a relaxed pace; it's far easier on your needles (and on your fingers) than stabbing away in a hurried or frantic pace. Besides, it can hurt pretty bad and even draw blood when you stab your finger going at super-sonic speeds with a tight, white-knuckled grip on the needles. So it's best to avoid that.  
  • Avoid piercing too deeply.  Like super-sonic felting, super-deep felting is also very hard on needles.  It is also hard on your foam pads and your poor fingers should they get in the way.  Try to avoid piercing all the way through your work as much as possible and learn to control where the tip of your needle is going at all times.   
  • Always be aware of the location and the direction of the sharp tip of your felting needle.  Most of the time it will be buried in your project and you can't see it so make sure your other hands and fingers stay out of its path.   
  • Here is a big tip to avoid breaking your needles - whatever angle you pierce your needle into your project, keep it at that angle until you pull it out. Piercing in and prying even slightly will most certainly leave a sharp, broken felting needle tip buried inside your project. How you get it out depends on how resourceful you are. Strong magnets and surgery have been known to be used. I recommend using a strong sewing needle if you need to pry or tug on your felting project and save your felting needles for felting - I keep one or two at my felting table at all times.  
  • The density or firmness of your project can cause needle breakage.  I don't believe there are any hard and fast rules about felt density.  Some people felt very soft - needle felting just enough to hold the wool together and some prefer to keep poking until the wool is firmly felted.  Others (like me) do a combination - noses, chins and foreheads on my dolls tend to be dense while cheeks remain soft.  If you tend to make your projects very firm overall, you are likely to break more needles.  Using finer gauge needles on dense areas helps. 
  • Use the right felting needle for the task at hand.  For example; you are more likely to break a fine needle if you use it instead of a coarse needle for attaching parts.  Or if you feel resistance as your work gets denser, switching to a finer gauge that will pierce into the wool easier with less strain on your felting needle.  
  • Needle felting over wire armatures is not something I do every day but the few times I've done it I've broken more needles that I care to admit.  It takes lots of practice to avoid hitting the wire with your felting needle as you felt around it.  Make sure you have extra needles on hand if you plan to felt over wire.
  • Felting needles break but they also bend.  If your felting needle develops a bend you can certainly keep using it until it eventually gets weak and breaks.  But if you try to straighten it I can nearly guarantee it will snap immediately.    
  •  Needle felting doesn't require much force so the jabbing motion of the needle should come from your hand and wrist, rather than your whole forearm, elbow and shoulder being involved.  I like to rest the side of my hand/wrist on my felting pad as I gently jab the needle, feeding my project into my needle with my opposite hand.  This is much easier on you and your needles than holding your project stationary with your hand and arm over your project hammering down with the needle.   
  • Use a felting stick (aka lollipop sticks or wooden skewers) to hold small parts in place as you attach them - your fingers will thank you.  
  • I've mentioned this already but it bears repeating.  Keep a strong, sharp sewing needle on hand - it's not used for sewing but for pulling, tugging, prying or otherwise manipulating your wool.  Remember, it only takes one wrong move to break your felting needle so if you attempt to do any of this with your needle you will likely hear that dreaded 'snap' sound and will need to replace your felting needle. 
  • Put your needles away when you are done felting.  If you walk away and leave them stuck in your felting pad, they are in peril - especially if you don't have a dedicated space and felt at the kitchen table.  I can't tell you how many times my foam pad loaded with needles has fallen on the floor, or something has fallen on it, breaking several needles at once.  ...sad and preventable. 
  • Finally, paying attention to what you are doing is very important. Distractions often lead to accidents. 
I hope these tips help keep your felting needle tips (and your fingertips) in working order!  Learning to slow down, relax and needle felt with a soft touch is my best advice for anyone but especially for those who tend to break a lot of needles.   

A Few Words About Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles  ™

Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles™ in Single, Double and Quad Points for Super-Duper Needle Felting!
Since felting needles are designed for machines and not for human hands, they aren't that comfortable to use.  They have an "L" shaped end for securing to a machine and they are smooth and rather slippery.

 Here at Felt Alive we coat the ends of high-quality industrial felting needles in colorful rubber; color-coding the different gauges while forming a cushioned grip.  Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles ™ are far more comfortable to use than plain industrial needles.   They help you maintain a nice, relaxed grip on your needles, which for me, reduces fatigue allowing me to felt longer. 

Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles ™are available in variety of gauges in single, double and quad points.  That's right - two and even four needles in one!   My favorite all-purpose felting needle is my single point yellow 40t Super-Duper Needle.  The double point yellow 40t is a really fabulous tool because it felts faster than the single point and two needles together seem a bit stronger than a single needle all alone. For flat felting or finishing the surface of large pieces, with 4 needles in one, the Quad Point Blue 40 star is an amazing tool!

We've been making Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles™ since 2008.  We started out producing them for a needle felting kit that accompanied my first Felt Alive Needle Felting Tutorial.  Since that time they have become a favorite and trusted tool for professional and hobby needle felters around the world.  They are included in all of the needle felting kits that accompany my line-up of Felt Alive Video Workshops.   It's easy to follow my instructions with color-coded felting needles from Felt Alive.

Industrial Felting Needle

Industrial Felting Needles are precision tools that come in many, many different sizes (gauges) and blade/barb configurations including variations in the shank, taper, blade, barbs and point of the needles.   The crank is the 'L' shaped end.  These needles are developed for specific industrial uses, none of which include hand-felting.  Through trial and error, I've picked out my favorites that seem to work the best for the different applications I might need them for.  Here are the whats and whys of my Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles.

Guide to Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles

Yellow 40t - this is a fine gauge felting needle with a triangle-shaped blade with three edges. There are two barbs on each blade edge.  The 40t tangles (felts) wool fast and pierces into dense projects with ease.  This is my favorite needle that I use for all purpose needle felting.   Or as I love to say - "I could needle felt the world with these babies!"
Our Yellow 40t Color-Coded Felting Needles are available in single, double and quad point.  (the double yellow is my favorite double point felting needle - I use it when first starting to needle felt a shape as it speeds things up considerably.  I switch back and forth between the single and double point yellow needles often - using the double point when I don't need as much fine control. 

Red 38 star - this is a medium gauge felting needle with a star-shaped blade with 4 edges.  There are two barbs on each blade edge and they start close to the point.  The extra blade helps this thicker needle pierce into the wool and with more barbs on this needle that start closer to the tip, this needle is great for tightening up the surface of a project.  Those extra barbs do tend to leave more visible holes than a triangle blade.  Which brings me to my next needle...

Our Red 38 star Color-Coded Felting Needles are available in single, double and quad point.   My favorite red needle is the double point - it helps me tame down the fuzzies of a large surface area in a hurry without flattening my work. 

Blue 40 star - this is a fine needle with a star-shaped blade with 4 edges.  What makes this needle so unique is that even though there are 4 blade edges, there are only two barbs total on each needle so it pierces easily into dense, fully felted wool without leaving visible holes behind.  (I've discovered it's all the barbs on the other gauges that leave the visible needle holes in the surface of my projects.)  Both barbs are very close to the point making this a fabulous tool for surface design.   I use it for finishing the needle felted eyes of my dolls- it felts the surface without felting down the shape.  It is also invaluable to me as a blush and shading tool for the faces of my dolls.  I can lay on wisps of the finest merino roving and nearly paint it on with the gentle touch of the blue 40 star needle.
Our Blue 40 star Color-Coded Felting Needles are available in single, double and quad point.  The blue quad is my favorite quad point needle.  It's great for finishing the surface of large projects and I've been told it's fabulous for flat tapestry felting.

Black 36t is a coarse gauge felting needle with a triangle-shaped blade with three edges and two barbs on each blade edge.  This needle is a bit longer and stronger than the others and can take a little more abuse without breaking.  It's isn't quite as sharp as some of the others and I think it is a great choice for kids learning to needle felt; it gives very fast results while minimizing the risk of needle breakage and finger jabs.  You don't get the fine control because it grabs and pushes more wool, it leaves large holes and tends to flatten your projects.  The main use I have for a 36t is for attaching parts - it's unbeatable when I need to attach a head to a body - it pushes wool from one part into another and helps strengthen the structure of my needle felted dolls. 
Our Black 36t Color-Coded Felting Needles are available in single point only.

Click HERE for more information and to purchase Felt Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles

Happy Felting!  ~Kay Petal