Needle Felting Safety, Tips, and Hints

 

 

Needle Felting Safety

1. Felting needles are EXTREMELY sharp. Don’t leave them lying around unsupervised where children, pets, or curious spouses could find them and get hurt. Always put them somewhere safe if you need to set them down – even if it’s only going to be for a moment.

2. Needle felting is NOT for small children. Older, more mature, kids can often felt safely with close adult supervision – please use good judgment.

3. Keep your needles clean. Everybody gets poked sooner or later. Throw some alcohol wipes in your felting bag and use them to keep your needles clean. (Be sure to dry the needles thoroughly afterwards, or they will rust!) And whether you’re a felter or not, it’s always a good idea to stay current with your tetanus vaccination.

4. Don’t Share Needles – Especially if you’ve poked yourself… keep your needles to yourself.

5. When felting – ALWAYS watch what you’re doing and stay alert and focused. One brief moment of inattention, and things could get messy… fast. (Been there, done that, bought the bandaids. More than once.) Never place your fingers on the opposite side of where you’re poking. You WILL get poked.

6. Always work on a foam block that has been placed on a table or hard surface – unless it’s very thick (the foam… not your lap…) never place your foam block directly on your lap. In spite of what you would like to hope or dream, a squishy piece of foam will never protect you from the amazingly sharp tip of a steel felting needle. It just ain’t gonna happen.

7. Felting needles are thin and brittle. Tempting as it may be, never use your needle to pry or wrench your felted fabric in one direction or another. Don’t use it to dig out a mis-poked bundle of fuzz or to force any fibers that are already firmly felted – because it will break. And… it’s okay to poke your work from different angles, but don’t change the angle of your needle while it is inserted in your work. Attempting to change the angle mid-poke will almost certainly result in a broken needle. (And probably a broken heart.)

 

Now for the Fun Stuff!!

What is this crazy thing called “Needle Felting”? Needle felting is the fun and relaxing art from where a barbed needle and a bundle of wool (or other animal fibers) hook up to create felted fabric or 3-dimensional felted items. The process is totally mesmerizing and addictive, and the creative possibilities are endless. Once you start, you won’t want to stop. Ever.

The basics that you’ll need:

    A felting needle (Sharp, sharp sharp!)

    Some wool fiber (So pretty. So colorful. You’re gonna fall in love.)

    A foam block or felting pad to use as a work surface (Any nice thick piece of foam or sponge will do!)

    A little imagination (or at least a tiny sense of adventure…)

How the whole process works: Needle felting occurs when you poke wisps or bundles of animal fibers with a barbed felting needle. Animal fibers, such as wool, have naturally occurring scales on them. When fibers are placed on top of each other in varying directions and then jabbed repeatedly, they become bonded and fused together. That’s when felt is born! The more you poke, the more firm and compressed the fibers will become. Layering the fiber in different directions and poking from different angles lets you create everything from sheets of felted fabric and flat artwork to magnificent three-dimensional objects.

About the needles and the foam: The barbs on a felting needle are pointed in one direction only. Therefore, fibers get snagged as they are pushed downward with each poke, but they do not get pulled back upward when the needle is withdrawn. (It’s kind of a “one way street” sorta deal.) Working on top of a piece of foam will protect your needle, your lap or table, and your fingers.

Lift and flip your work often – especially when you are starting out. This will help prevent your work from becoming permanently attached to the foam work surface. It’s okay if your needle tip pokes through your work and hits the foam block when you’re poking, but keep in mind that once your needle hits the foam, it’s not really accomplishing much, and so better to save your efforts (and the life of your foam block) by making your pokes shallower.

Hints, Tips, and Techniques for your learning pleasure: Lightly felted items are furry, soft, and squishy. Heavily felted items are smoother and more firm and compact. How thoroughly you felt something is up to you – it all depends on the look and feel that you’re going for. Needle felting a little “treasure” from wool can take hundreds (but more likely, thousands) of little jabs with your needle. Even the smallest projects can take several hours, so settle in, enjoy the moment, and take breaks if you need them. As you poke, you will see your beautiful bundle of wool transform before your very eyes. These transformations happen quickly, but not so quickly that you can’t make adjustments as you go along.

Sculpting 3-D objects: Start out with a small bundle of wool and then add more fiber as needed to create the size and shape that you want. As you work, if you’d like an area of your project to become smaller, you can poke it more and more to condense the fibers OR you can add more fiber to the surrounding areas to make them bigger by comparison. If you want an area to appear larger, you can add more fuzz to that area, or you can poke the surrounding areas to make them smaller by comparison. Get the idea? The more you poke, the smaller that area will become. If your item is becoming too flat, add more fiber, or poke it from the sides to give it more thickness. If it’s becoming too thick, lay it down flat and poke it from the front or back side to make it thinner.

At some point, the fibers in your piece may become so firmly felted that they no longer respond to poking. At this point, the only way to change the shape of your work is to add more fiber, cut a chunk off with scissors (you can always add more fuzz to cover the “injury” and hide the blunt ends of fiber) or attach a separately made piece of felt to your project using your needle and more fuzz.

Adding details and defining lines: To add areas of a different color (like spots) to your work, add a tuft of the new color fuzz and poke it wherever you want it to go. Wool only attaches where you poke it, and so as long as you poke within and along the boundaries of the shape you’re creating, you should be all set. As the wool becomes attached, you can use the tip of your needle to direct loose fibers into place. Then gently poke them along the border between the two colors.

To create “clean” lines, lightly drag the tip of your needle along the line where the two color meet (sort of like parting your hair with a comb) and make gentle pokes along the boundary line to secure the fibers in place. It is typically helpful to get most of the loose fibers attached and felted into place before moving on to another color – this helps keep the loose fibers from “mixing”. To outline items (or to add skinny lines to your work) try twisting your fiber into a thin strand before attaching it. This makes it easier to see what you’re doing and it helps to cut back on stray fibers.

Fine tuning: Wool is fairly predictable and generally “moves” in the direction that you poke it. If (for instance) you have felted two eyes onto your project and one is slightly higher than the other, you may be able to “nudge” it into alignment by poking it from the side in the direction you want it to go. Do NOT try to force it with your needle – just use gentle little stabs to help redirect it a bit.

A word about “back-sides” (not yours… the project’s…): If you are working on something thin, you will see that each poke of your needle forces fibers out the backside of your work. Not to worry – it’s normal – but know that shallow or slightly angled pokes can help to minimize this effect. 

As your project nears completion, make your pokes very shallow. This will help reduce the appearance of needle holes and will make the surface of your work smoother. Gazillions (okay, maybe not gazillions, but lots) of tiny, repeated pokes will also help de-fuzz your project. (Be patient. All this poking takes time, but it’s also pretty fun!) When you’re done, feel free to trim any stray fibers with scissors – but only after everything has been fully felted. (And be careful when snipping – we’d hate to see you inadvertently lob off an arm or a leg or something…) 

In the end: Your needle felting skills will improve with practice, so indulge yourself, and go ahead and makes LOTS of stuff. Because you know you want to…

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