Needle felting: A complete guide for beginners
We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
From needle felted animals to Christmas decorations, there’s so much you can make using this fun craft technique!
Make way for an enjoyable new craft hobby – needle felting! Cost-effective yet creative, you only need two things to do needle felting: a felting needle and wool – it’s as simple as that. With these two supplies in your craft kit you can needle felt anything, from needle felted animals to needle felted Christmas decorations.
There are a few more tools that can make the process of needle felting easier, such as a needle holder and a felting mat, but with the basic supplies you’ll be well on your way to starting a new hobby that's both rewarding and ideal for making handmade gifts.
Intrigued? We asked needle felting experts Susanna Wallis FRSA and Steffi Stern to share everything they know about how to do needle felting so that you can give this fun and rewarding needlework craft a go too.
Needle felting is a textiles craft technique that can be used to create 3D objects and 2D artworks. It involved a special felting needle being used to stab and agitate wool fibres so they join and bond together.
Needle felting can be used alone, or incorporated into other textiles projects, as textiles artist Susanna explains: “You can use needle felting to produce sculpted and 2D items and use the skills to complement other craft and textile techniques. When I first started needle felting I made small garden birds and then moved on to making needle felted artwork, crowns, dolls, brooches, animals and seasonal decorations like Easter eggs and Christmas items.”
For Steffi who runs The Makerss, one of the benefits and reasons needle felting appeals to her is that it’s a quick craft. If you’ve ever felt that you’re too busy to have a craft hobby, needle felting could be the answer.
The results are immediate. As Steffi who is also the author of several needle crafting books explains: “I’m an impatient crafter and love that needle felting happens quickly. At the same time wool is incredibly tactile and I love the sound and feeling of the needle crunching into wool. Once you have experienced it, needle felting is quite addictive.
"I love needle felted projects inspired by nature so animals of all kinds, birds and butterflies. I also love needle felting fairies – I guess I have never really grown up! I love flowers and landscapes, too. Some of the creations I make are more realistic, some are very stylised.”
The biggest difference between needle felting and felting – also known as wet felting – is that wet felting requires soap and water. Agitating the wool fibres with soap and water causes the friction needed to make the wool matt together to create a piece of fabric.
In needle felting, the needle replaces the need for water and soap as this handy tool creates the friction. Some people enjoy combining needle felting and wet felting as Susanna, author of the Beginner's Guide to Needle Felting, explains: “I like to add needle felting techniques to wet felting work as it allows for more detail and definition in the hand felted artwork designs I produce.” It's important not to confuse felting with felt crafts. This is where you use sheets of felt to sew items such as toys and decorations.
Both needle felting techniques involve layering up wool in different colours to create textures. Because wool is so versatile anything can be needle felted but in the 2D method you’ll be creating flat pictures and artworks for example a sunset scene or wildflower meadow.
3D needle felting requires shaping, as Steffi explains: “Think of 2D felting like painting with coloured fibres as your paints. In 3D needle felting the focus is on making shapes and joining them together. Sometimes you can join small pieces using your needle such as attaching a nose onto an animal; but if you’re making a larger sculpture or a doll it may require starting with a wire armature as a base. You then wrap the wool around it, building up bulk and using your needle to felt it down.”
Susanna adds: “Using some form of skeleton inside helps you get your proportions right, especially if you’re making a doll”.
Using natural wool gives you the best results. Opt for a raw, unwashed wool batting or wool roving. Batting tends to feel more textured, thicker and fluffier. Wool roving goes through an extra layer of processing making the fibres more aligned so it really depends on what you’re making.
“Every project requires different wool properties," Steffi explains. "Sometimes coarse wool works best, sometimes fine wool. I use short and long fibres, curls, variegated and mixed wools. It goes to show sheep are amazing giving us so many options!’
If you think of it in terms of a needle felted animal, the choice of wool will affect their coat. It could look smoother with roving wool or more textured with batting and that’s down to your own preference.
Consider the colours too. “Some suppliers sell a colour chart for the wool fibres, and it’s worth buying one to help you chose colours online," says Susanna. "Where possible, I avoid getting wool from too far around the world. Instead I like to visit craft shows and textile fairs to find small-scale local suppliers. You can discover different breeds and fibres in unusual colour ways, even naturally dyed fibres.”
Felting needles are different from ordinary needles as they don’t have an eye to pull thread through. Instead they are a barbed needle with a small hook at the end. They come in different sizes which have different purposes while you’re needle felting. Thicker needles are best for when you’re using large pieces of wool to create your main shape. Thin needs create small pricks and are great for adding details or attaching tiny strands of wool like adding whiskers to a needle-felted cat.
If you prefer to have a more ergonomic or comfortable handle to hold onto rather than the narrow top of a needle you can insert it into a needle holder. There are holders that can hold several felting needles at once which can speed up the process.
It’s not essential and it’s worth trying with a felting needle holder and without one so you can experience the difference. Both Susanna and Steffi prefer using needles without one. Steffi explains: “I occasionally use a needle holder but in general I like being really close to my work, being able to touch it even with the hand I am holding the needle in but once you have needle felted for a bit you find out what works for you.”
You’ll need a surface to do your needle felting on. There are different options and they can include foam and sponges, but Steffi has found her own solution: “It has taken me ages to find a environmentally friendly alternative to foam mats but I now only use The Makerss Eco Wool Mat or the Earth Friendly Felting Mat. They are made in the UK from wool (the eco mat from recycled wool) and can be home composted once no longer needed.”
The process of needle felting is quick and simple, though it’s advisable to not rush. Instead, take your time and enjoy the process. There are three main steps in needle felting:
1. Separate off a small section of your wool and lay it onto your needle felting mat.
2. Use your felting needle to stab the wool into the shape of the 3D object you’re making, or in a 2D piece to attach layers of wool to create your artwork.
3. Finally, use a narrow needle to refine any details – there's no need for water, glue or any other materials, unless you’re creating a larger structure, which may require you to felt around a base such as wire.
If you experience any problems with your needle felting project or it doesn’t come together looking like how you hoped it would, these expert tips from Susanna and Steffi may help you improve your technique:
Every needle felter will occasionally stab themselves. It comes with the craft, but thankfully it’s no worse than a prick from a sewing needle. However, it’s still better to avoid it. Concentrate and watch when you’re stabbing – don’t needle felt and watch TV at the same time, or do it if you’re feeling tired.
If you’re worried about getting injured you can wear leather finger protectors. These can be cut from a pair of leather gloves. And just incase you do get stabbed, keep a glass of ice close by that you can pop your finger in to reduce any pain. Don’t be put off by the stabbing, needle felting is a relaxing craft that can also be done by children under supervision.
Be aware of your posture, make sure you’re sitting properly and take breaks to avoid getting repetitive strain injury from all that continuous stabbing. If you're sitting on the sofa have a tray underneath to protect your lap.
Usually, when people say their needle felting isn’t working it’s because their needles or wool are poor quality. For example, if you get a cheap needle felting kit, the wool inside may not be the best type. So if a project doesn’t come out as well as you’d thought it would consider changing your tools and materials.
If you want to make a larger item such as a life-size giant pumpkin it would take ages to needle felt small pieces of wool together until they got larger. You can save time by taking some soft textiles stuffing and using it as the core of your object. It will make up the initial size and shape and then you can felt the wool directly into the stuffing to create the outer layer of colour and all the details.
Though you can learn the basics of needle felting from a written guide like this, if you go to a class the tutor can give you one-to-one assistance on your technique that will you become a more proficient needle felter and you’ll get to see an expert in action.
Steffi runs The Makerss needle felting workshops and retreats in person around the UK and online via zoom. Or if you fancy a craft holiday Susanna is launching craft breaks in the Italian Riviera in 2023 including needle felting, contact them both for details.
Keen to give needle felting a go? Why not start with a needle felting kit? We’ve rounded up some of our favourites. Or buy a needle felting book that has step-by-step instructions that will guide you to make your first needle felting project.
Cute red robin crochet pattern
How to make a Christmas wreath
Sara Davies launches homes range with QVC
Lego reveals advent calendars for 2023
15 of the best Christmas cross stitch kits
Our pick of the best Christmas wreath making kits
The best Christmas craft fairs around the UK
The best Christmas wreath workshops across the UK
5 easy steps to make an envelope
36 Christmas craft gift ideas
The Repair Shop Christmas special needs your help
Best kids' craft kits to buy nowWhat is needle felting?How is needle felting different to felting?What is the difference between 2D and 3D needle felting?What do you need for needle felting and what is the best wool for needle felting?WoolFelting needleFelting needle holderFelting matHow to needle feltNeedle felting troubleshootingPrevent injuryUse good quality materialsLarge-scale feltingAttend a workshopTry needle felting