Needle Felting

Crafts From the Past | Episode
May 31, 2022 | 6 min

Iowa artist Megan Hammer introduces us to the art of 2D needle felting. Follow along in the Crafts From the Past episode above where she showcases how to create a simple felting piece with a coneflower design. A small felting project like this typically takes Megan about two hours to complete. Our felting tutorial and extra information below comes from our interview with Megan.

Felting Basics

Felting is the process of taking an animal fiber, such as sheep’s wool, and tangling the individual fibers together to make a fabric and/or artwork. Wet felting, the original felting technique, consists of matting wool fibers together with water, soap and agitation to create the felt. Dry felting, or needle felting, requires using a special barbed needle to tangle the animal fibers together, a technique that is often used today to make 2D and 3D artwork. 

Felting History

While the complete origin of feltmaking is unknown, it's thought to date back thousands of years in Central Asia, where a simple wet felting technique was used to warm felt fabric. Needle felting has a more recent history, with machines developed in the 1800s to use needles to form felt. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that artists started using single needles to create small scale fabrics and artwork. 

Tools and Supplies

  • Piece of felt or fabric
  • Wool fibers
  • Felting mat or piece of foam
  • Felting needle
  • Multi-needle tool (optional)

Felting needles are unique in that they have little barbs at the tip that will entangle the wool fibers with whatever fabric or piece of felt you’re using for your background. A single felting needle is a great all-purpose tool; it’s great for sculpting and detail work. The optional multi-needle tool is better for felting large areas quickly. 

You can use different types of wool fibers for needle felting, including wool roving and wool batting. Wool roving is a wool with long fibers that are going all in one direction; wool batting has shorter fibers that don’t go in the same direction, creating a more textured wool. 

While we showcase felting on a piece of felt, you can use any fabric for the base of your felting project - just know that some fabrics will stretch more or feel different when you’re working with them. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Establish what your creation will look like and prepare your materials - there are felting kits available to help guide you through a specific design or you could come up with your own.
  2. Place your piece of felt or fabric that will be used as the project’s canvas on your felting mat or a piece of foam.
  3. Take your first piece of wool and start poking it into place with your felting needle using gentle pressure and a vertical needle. Try forming your wool into the desired shape before you start needling it in the fabric to make the process quicker. 
  4. Continue shaping your wool and needling it into your fabric to create your desired design. Small pieces of felt can be rolled into various shapes such as balls or long strings to add details to your design. 
  5. When your design is complete, gently pull your fabric backing away from the mat or foam you felted on, pulling each side of the fabric a little at a time.
  6. If desired, finish your project by framing it - embroidery hoops are commonly used, but any kind of frame can work.

Tips and Tricks

  • Keep your needle vertical and in the middle of the mat: This will prevent breaking your felting needle, and will ensure you don’t accidentally poke a finger if you are needling too close to the mat’s edge. 
  • Create felting blends for more color: To create new colors, take two different felt colors, stack them on top of each other and simply pull them apart until you create the desired color blend. 
  • Frame your work quickly with an embroidery hoop: If you use an embroidery hoop for framing, you can frame it quickly by placing it in the hoop and trimming the excess fabric or just trim off the corners and glue the extra fabric down on the back of the hoop. 

Artist Spotlight

Megan Hammer creates felted wool fiber art to embrace the textures of nature. She combines fibrous texture with intricate details to explore the potential for collaboration and harmony between human touch and the simple beauty found in nature. ​She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art with an emphasis in Painting and Drawing from the University of Northern Iowa in 2003. She later became fascinated with using wool as an art medium, and has been creating vibrant, expressive fiber art since 2018.