Updated: May 4, 2020
So, you want to learn to needle felt, you've looked online and discovered there are different types of wool, needles that look the same but have different coloured tips and numbers, weird looking tools and which is the best felting pad?
Here's my lowdown on the absolute basics to save you time and money
Let's face it, you don't want to be spending a fortune if you are just trying it out needle felting for the first time. But it is important to have the right equipment before you dive in, so you give yourself the best chance of succeeding. So here is my 'absolute basics' guide of what you need to get you started.
The absolute bare minimum you will need is wool, at least two felting needle and a base to felt upon.
Make sure the wool you choose is carded wool. You are looking for wool with the descriptive words 'carded' 'batting' slivers' or 'carded ‘slivers'. This wool has shorter fibres that are already meshed together. I discuss this in a separate post, but for now just read the description of the wool you are buying. Don't buy combed, tops, roving or Merino. Yet.
The most common type of needle is a triangle/regular needle. Again, I discuss needles in more detail in another post, so for now, go for a mid-range needle in a 36 or a 38 gauge and look for a triangle (they are less expensive than the other styles like star, spiral, twisted...)
A base to felt upon
You will need a firm base to felt upon to protect your work surface and to prevent the tips of your needles from snapping. You can buy upholstery foam or one of my favourites, a hessian rice sack. You can make one at home using some hessian sacking (use a close weave else the rice will poke through!) and you can even use a heavier weight tea towel. Cut two squares of strongish fabric and sew them together (hand sewing is fine if you use a small tight stitch) remembering to leave a small gap to pour the rice in (taken from personal experience!) Turn it inside out, iron it and then fill with rice. Once filled sew the hole shut and you will have a rice sack!
And that's it! It doesn't have to be expensive with lots of equipment. Just have a go and see how you get on! Once you have a feel for it, you can think about further tools and equipment that you may find useful.
Other useful tools
Starting with the correct equipment and materials will start you off on the right foot, so now you have a feel (and the bug for more!) here are some ideas for your next purchases:
Core wool, carded wool and needle holder tool (pic 1)
Core wool is generally less expensive than coloured/dyed wool as it hasn't been carded or combed. It can be a bit lumpy though, so if you find the lumpy nature of it off putting, try undyed carded batts instead. Use core wool or undyed batting to felt the 'core shape' of your project and then add different coloured carded wool over the top. Look for 'core wool' or 'carded undyed batts' in the wool description. The breed of sheep doesn't matter too much. The wool shown in the pictures is Corridale. I have written more about core wool and batts in another post.
You may also find it useful to have a multi-needle holder. The pink one in the picture holds three needles and is great for 2D work and firming up core wool for 3D sculptures. It makes the felting process quicker as you are using more needles and it's comfortable to hold. You can buy wooden and plastic ones that hold more needles but I found if you have too many needles they don't punch into the wool so easily or deeply (especially for 3D work) so the one shown in the picture is best. It holds three needles at a time and has a cap lid, so you don't stab yourself when storing it!
Useful tip: when using the pink three needle holder, you can unscrew the bottom half and remove it which exposes more of the length of the needles. This is so handy as it means you can really work the needles into the centre of your 3D project to get the middle of it nice and firm.
Hand carders and more needles
Hand carders are really... well.... handy! You can mix new colours and blend them together to create new shades. You can also use them to pull apart projects that have gone wrong so you can re-use the wool (which is rather useful!) Don't use them to clean off your hessian sack though as they will pull it apart! You can also begin to experiment with different guages of needles and then when you are confident using those, try some different styles too like twisted or star.
Wire, eyes, pipe cleaner and more tools
Wire and pipe cleaners are great when you decide to move onto making wire armatures for your work. Pipe cleaners are easier to wrap as the wool grips onto the chenille. Wire comes in different gauges and requires a bit of practice to wrap successfully. You can make delicate small things like tiny toes and fingers or bigger things such as whole body armatures as the wire supports the weight of your project.
Eyes bring life to animals, you can use simple push in safety eyes, beads, plastic eyes and even eyes used by taxidermists.
The awl (wooden handled pointy tool) is useful for pushing a small hole into your work to insert the eyes. They are also useful for pushing a hole into work so you can push wire through your project. I did this recently with a whale when inserting the flipper wire through the body.
Scissors come in handy for making small holes and cutting pipe cleaners. You can also trim excess fluff off with scissors to smooth out the appearance of finished pieces.
You'll be a pro in no time at all!
So, there you have it, my low down on the absolute basics you need to get started followed by further purchases when you are ready to take needle felting to the next level! You don't need to spend a fortune to get started and if you follow my handy guide, you won't make expensive and wasteful purchases plus you'll give yourself the best chance of succeeding in your newfound hobby!
If you found this guide helpful, let me know in the comments and if you are looking for a needle felting starter kit with the basic in, then check out my Starter Packs
If you'd like to receive more useful hints and tips straight to your inbox, sign up to my newsletter. And don't forget, if you are looking for carded wool, felting needles and accessories, head over to my website at www.thewoollyrabbit.co.uk
Who am I?
I’m Elaine, and I started The Woolly Rabbit to help, inspire and encourage others to learn the relaxing and rewarding skill of needle felting.
Starting with needle felting workshops in 2018, I began to design needle felting kits and quickly grew an online shop selling felting wool, needles and other needle felting bits and bobs,
There are helpful videos and free tutorials available on my YouTube channel and a blog that answers commonly asked questions. I hope you enjoy following the video tutorials and maybe even join me in a workshop someday. In the meantime, enjoy your felting, enjoy the process, experiment and try not to stab your fingers!