Needle/ Dry Felting
Tools To Get Started
Needle felting equipment won't break the bank. You really don't need to spend much to start enjoying needle felting.
As the title implies, the needles are the most important part. There are 2 kinds of needle/dry felting needles - triangular and star shaped shafts. Both types have barbs on the inch at the bottom. These barbs are what tangle and 'felt' the fibers as you prod or poke the fibers.
The coarser needles are good for preliminary work, doing the deep penetration necessary to “rough” in a sculpture for instance. The finer needles are better for detail work done when the felt is already partially hardened by the coarser blades. You do not need to penetrate deeply into the felt surface to add details and the finer gauge leaves less of a hole.
The triangle shaped needles usually come in various sizes (the smaller the number the thicker the needle): 36 is thicker, 38 is the average multi-purpose size and 40 is the finer size. The star shaped needle has the barbs on all 4 sides and is best for more detailed work. The individual needles are perfect for adding fine lines or indentations to your work.
These needles are very sharp and need to be used with a conscious mind as it is sooo easy to put your fingers in the way. However, only once or twice of experiencing this teaches you the right mind-set quickly. While children can use this technique is must ALWAYS be under adult supervision.
Needle Felting Tool
While you can use single needles just holding it in your fingers, for safety, balance and hours of fun, needle felting tools are essential - they generally have 1-6 needles grouped together. Those with more needles are especially good for applique of larger areas and the 1-3 is good for detail work. The needles are easily replaced either singly or any part of the total so one tool can last for many years.
Foam base or brush base
Another essential piece of needle felting equipment is a surface you can poke into without fear of damaging the table or your leg underneath, depending where you like to work. Using a base also helps to protect your needles from bashing into the table, or your leg and breaking off. I work with both types of bases and select the appropriate one for my current project. Regardless of your preferred choice of base, an inattentive moment and either you stab yourself (and yes it does hurt!), or snap off your needles.
Brush base (mat)
You can buy brush style bases, or try it out on a firm and closely packed bristle heath or scrubbing brush. Using the brush base is my preference when I am dry felting yarns and doing detailed work into my wet felted alpaca mats. The brush protects the needles better than foam from breakage by being more forgiving of an inattentive moment.
Generally, the underside does turn out fuzzy but it does not stick to the brush as much as it would to foam. However, a fuzzy underside is not a problem once I have wet down the fuzzy parts in the final result and work a little wet felted magic to ‘set’ the fuzzy fibres into the back of the project….the colours look great and I am extra reassured about the stableness of my work! Even though the surface area of the brush mat is small relative to your choice of foam surface areas, I prefer working with the brush base even for a large project.
For dimensional work such as flowers and sculptures, foam is a good base to use. I have tried upholstery foam, which tends to become a little soft over time. You can find higher density foam too, but when you poke right through all the fibers it ends up very fuzzy on the underside and you have to carefully peel your work off it regularly. Again, you need to be very careful about the precise placement of your needles to make sure you lift them out on the same angle as you put them in … or snap!
Another option is high density polystyrene foam like the kind used in the packing of computer products. Generally, it's free and your project won't stick to it as much. I haven’t used this myself as yet but those who have tell me you will still need to lift it off every so often. Just make sure that it's a totally flat surface with no holes or you may not be satisfied with your results.
More recent trials have shown me that well stuffed lavender bags (that are made of a solid material cover) and even an op-shop firm cushion also work. The lavender choice smells wonderful as you work.
When using foam or cushion you have to be very aware of what you are doing as it is very very easy to look away at the wrong time and to bend your wrist and snap your needles.
What can you do with dry felting?
Flowers for broaches, bag decorations or just for fun; wonderfully fluid designs on your wet felted piece using yarns; repairing holes or weak spots in your wet felting; creating unseen seams in vests and jackets.