Needle Felting Tutorial

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Instructions for Needle Felting

A Machine Appliqué Pattern

By Debora Konchinsky

In 2009, I discovered the pink felting tool by Clover and it was love at first sight. This tool has 3 needles which are really close together allowing me to achieve finer details on my animal appliqués I had been sewing with cotton fabrics. The more I work in felted appliqué technique, the more I am convinced that you can use it with any of our Critter Pattern Works patterns. So if you love chickens or fish or foxes, don’t feel like sheep are the only subjects that work with felting. Experiment with any animals in our range, and use hand embroidery if you need to, to make the details.


Why Needle Felting works: Wool fibers have barbs. Wool fabrics are made with barbed fibers. The needles are barbed. The action of poking wool fibers into wool fabrics, creates felt. You can also make felt fabric by poking wool fibers into themselves on the foam without an applique or background. You can cut your hand made felt just like commercial felt. If you use hand dyed fibers there will be lots of color variations, and the thickness will be less uniform and much softer than ready made felt.

How to felt using the felting tool: Hold the tool straight up and down to poke the fibers into wool fabrics. Poke so the lower pink end of tool fabric hits the fabric each time. If you poke the fibers on an angle, ALL THE NEEDLES WILL BREAK! (To replace the needles, unscrew the long pink end of the tool. Slide the broken needles out and the new ones in matching up the slots with the tabs on the needle tops.) Use a block of foam 2” thick under your fabric to protect you or your surface while you poke. Use a small amount of fiber at one time and slowly build up the felting. Using the foam surface behind your felting creates a smooth matted appearance, while using a brush (Clover product) creates a thick fuzzy wrong side to your appliqué.

How to prepare to needle felt:

Use your felting tool to tack down the cut out appliqué to the background, poking around the edges and then down the middle…it will stay where you want it temporarily.

If you have chosen a n applique color that contrasts with your background, you will have a distinct edge to define your animal design. Place your appliqué on the background onto a piece of foam 2” thick to protect your leg or the table where you work. Take a small amount of the fibers and pull them apart several times and lay them on top of themselves, so the fibers go in all directions (not all going in the same direction the way combed fibers come). Poke a thin layer of wool fibers into the appliqué. Keep picking up your fabric off the foam and check the reverse side to make sure you are not digging a hole in the foam, and to make sure you have even coverage with the fibers. Add more fibers to the appliqué. Use the needles in the tool like a rake, to bring any stray fibers back to the edge of the appliqué and poke them in. Now your edges will be neat and smooth. Mix colors of fibers to make them darker or lighter, by holding two colors in your fingers and pulling them apart and laying them on top of themselves, again and again, until mixed. When you poke these mixed fibers, they resemble batik fabric, no longer solid flat colors.

OPTIONS for FELTING that you can’t do with MACHINE APPLIQUE:

  1. To shade an animal to make it more round, choose darker colors at the edges, and light colors in the interior of the appliqué. Also, you can build up fibers on the appliqué in the center of the body, legs, face to make it more 3-D. If you are making a scene where you have sky, mountains, and fields in your picture, the objects in the distance should be less bright and less dark than the objects close to you.

  2. Make ears, and tails dangle by making your own felted fabric on the foam without using a fabric background. Leaves can be done this way, too. Poke multi-directional fibers from the top, then turn the piece over and poke that side,. Keep turning the piece until you can’t pull it apart. You want the fabric to be flat on both sides. Use scissors to make this piece less thick, if you like, by giving the piece a haircut then cut to shape (leaf, ears, tail), comparing to the paper pattern. You can poke the design in place or hand sew it, or embroider it to the applique animal or background.

  3. If an animal has two textures like a sheep (the faces is smoother than the body), you can create a stencil from your pattern by cutting it apart. On some of the drawings, you can remove the oval area from the paper pattern (the face) creating a hole to poke fibers through. If a face is smooth, you can felt combed fibers through a hole in the paper pattern you have created, then remove the paper appliqué and felt the rest of the critter with curly fibers or a different shade.

  1. In class, I have noticed people having trouble making the legs of some animals thin enough. I pull my fibers in a straight line, sometimes even twisting the fibers, then I poke them into the applique. I use my felting tool like a rake, pulling extraneous fibers back to the edge of the applique and stab them into it. This gives a smooth edge to your felted piece.

  2. To felt a two color critter, cut a complete appliqué from wool (the color doesn’t matter since it gets totally covered). Imagine a Border collie with distinct black and white parts. Take the drawing after you un-pinned it from the appliqué, and cut off the parts of the paper pattern that are supposed to be white (legs, tips of tail and ruff). Pin (by stabbing) the remaining part of the pattern on top of the appliqué (through the applique , background and into the foam). Push the white wool fibers into the applique that has not been masked off by the paper (legs, tail tip, ruff and face). Then remove the paper and felt the rest of the applique in black fibers.

  3. Using hand dyed fibers gives you many shades of one color, or many colors, making your animals, grass, bushes, trees, or leaves more varied and interesting. Use curly fibers and straight (combed) fibers for details in the backgrounds for added textures, and pleat them as you felt, to make them thicker in some areas, creating hills and valleys. When teaching classes, I’ve noticed students pulling the fibers representing the ground, in a straight line. This looks very unnatural.

  4. Horns can be made using copper wire found in the jewelry area of a craft supply store. With pliers, make an open loop at one end. Place the color of roving you want for the horn in the loop. Squash the loop onto the roving with the pliers. Wind the roving around the wire. Check with your sheep design to make the horn the proper length. Leave a bit of wire to poke through the sheep head and then make a circle on the wrong side. With thread, sew the circle to the back of the sheep head, then bring the needle to the front side and secure the bottom of the roving on the wrapped horn with stitches. Then wrap the sewing thread around the horn to the pointy end and sew through the squashed end loop and bury the thread after knotting it. Cut off the tail of the thread. Now you can curl the horn so it matches the picture in the pattern. If your sheep project is going to be handled a lot, sew the horn with hidden stitches to keep the horn shape from being distorted.

  5. To own a felting machine is really helpful. I got a 12 needle felting machine in August 2013 and I love it because it saves time. You can overlap the background pieces of wool (your blocks) and felt them together with the machine saving you from making seams on the sewing machine and then having to iron them flat and open. It also takes care of raveling wools since you have two fabrics supporting each other. You can felt your appliqués onto the backgrounds before you push the fibers in. This saves you for using fusible on the back of your appliqués. Once you have hand felted the fibers in place, you can go over the felted appliqué to make them more secure, although this will flatten the appliqués somewhat. If you want more texture and thickness, hand felt some more fibers on top. The depth and texture that you create with hand felting is what makes this craft so interesting and fun. It will make you project unique.

  6. You can mix Angelina, a thin plastic fiber, with wool fiber to achieve a sparkly effect on Dragonfly wings and Hummingbird throats, or on a Unicorn’s horn. As you prepare your fibers by pulling them in many directions, you can add a small amount of Angelina into the mix. If you find that the Angelina is too sparkly, you can run an iron over it and it will melt or shrink. Angelina can be melted, using and iron, onto itself between two layers of applique sheet or parchment paper. Wait until it has cooled before you remove the resulting Angelina fabric. You can now cut this into bee’s wings to be hand sewn onto a felted bee.

  7. I like to use iridescent black seed beads for my critters’ eyes. Sometimes you need a larger bead. For the sheep, I used the same black beading thread I used for sewing the eyes. to draw (sew) all the facial details. This beading thread is waxed nylon and thin available where you buy your beads. I sew on the eyes first, then draw a stitch from the inner corner of the eye down toward the nose, then I draw the nostrils with a fly stitch (V shape) held down at the bottom with a straight stitch. For the mouth I make an up side down V and hook it under the straight stitch coming from the nose. 

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