An Introduction to Needle Felting
by Tomás Varela
When I tell people I do needle felting, the most common response is a blank stare. When I follow it up by saying something about wool and needles, they decide it is either knitting or crochet, and it becomes next to impossible to explain that it is nothing of the sort!
|A needle felted Shire by Tomás Varela|
But how is it done? How does one go from a handful of soft, shapeless wool, into a firm sculpture? Well, long story short - you stab the heck out of it. The most commonly used type of wool is called batts - unlike the long, spun fibre normally used for knitting or crochet, batts are made out of short fibres, where the wool has only been washed and teased out, forming sheets instead of yarn. Felting needles have little notches cut into them, which catch the fibres and tangle them together as they go. This firms up the wool, and the more you lay on top, and the more you stab, the firmer it will become. Once you understand this part of the process, it is easy to start using it almost like a clay, using your needles to fuse shapes together or to create relief. Most of the sculpture is built up out of any cheap wool that will felt quickly, and the top coat (the paintwork, if you will) and finer details are built up on top out of finer fibre, usually Merino.
I started felting in March 2019, and am entirely self taught - I decided to try it after seeing the lovely needle felted horses by Rachel Felts and Puddle Duck Fibre Art. I borrowed a kit and some wool from my mother in law, read a brief guide online to make sure I was vaguely going in the right direction, and went at it. Needless to say, my first creation was… Less than stellar.
This only pushed me to try harder. It helps that wool is an incredibly forgiving medium, and quite cheap as well, if you know where to look. I was lucky enough to get most of my core wool for free, from a friend who keeps sheep and offered me a few fleeces after they were sheared, and when it comes to dyed or natural wool used for top coats, a little will go a long way.
|Tomás favourite wool for core. This is from a Ryeland sheep|
|Fleur & Mochi. Fleur was Tomás' fifth piece, Mochi was his fifteenth.|
|Mochi under saddle|