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!
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