Review: Needle felting

This weekend I went to a regional fiber thing with friends (M, L and JC). One of the speakers was Diane McCauley. Her work is heavily included in Indygo Junction’s Needle Felting 9781571203793, which I bought for DJ, so this will be part report on a talk I heard and part book review.

Needle felting is a process of making felt by using sharp, barbed, triangular needles to poke the fibers into another layer of fibers. You can either use a ground fabric or needle felt fiber to fiber to create a shape. You can felt fiber, yarn or fabric to fabric. Generally you want to be using a significant amount of wool, but other fibers can work. You do not want something that is very tightly woven or spun or that is already heavily felted. Needle felting involves a lot of repeated motion with your hand, so you may want to wear a wrist guard to keep it straight. I believe industrial felt is made in this manner, as opposed to welt felting. The book gives a much more complete and clear explanation of how you do this.

When I first saw needle felting about 9 years ago, I immediately thought of DJ because it is in effect painting with fibers. At that time she wasn’t painting and I thought this would really appeal to her. Since then she has started painting with paints, so painting with fiber may not appeal so much to her, but I still think of DJ (and also my Mom) whenver I see a program on needle felting. I have bought her needles and convinced her to buy some fibers, but am not sure she has done anything with them yet. For some reason, needle felting usually doesn’t make me think of something I want to do. I think I am not comfortable with free form artistic expression and it also can look just too crafty cute.

Diane McCauley (DM) is a seamstress, so her approach reminded me of DJ. I also kept thinking of you, JQ, during the talk with your interest in felting sweaters and piece work and embellishment. The book includes work by DM as well as others. It may be simply because her work was passed around the room yesterday, but when looking at the book I found that I wasn’t that fond of most of the work that wasn’t DM’s — it didn’t inspire me in any way. You can see some examples here. The scarf and the two in the lower left in the collage below the book cover are by DM. Also the day lily on the cover is by her.

The following are some random bits I picked up from the talk.

Some synthetics work – you just need to experiment. If something doesn’t work well, you can use needle felting to baste it down and then stitch it down more securely by hand or machine. You can use a single needle for precision when first laying something out, but when you do a broad area you will want a holder for multiple needles. You can also buy a needle felting machine (like a sewing machine, but with a bunch of needles — these are pretty cool and fast — we had one at a meeting last year).

You can take threads from fabric and incorporate them into a design. This is especially good for a seamstress with a fabric collection who does not have much knitting yarn and spinning fiber around. DM did this on her first piece, a vest made of fulled wool jersey. the fabric was moth damaged, so she threw it in the washer and then used it to make a vest and then decorated it (Tactile waves vest, p.67).

Variegated yarns can be quite interesting. DM used them on a green boiled wool jacket (from a second hand clothing store), creating flowers on a blue ground (made of roving) (Flower power jacket, p.18-19, pictured here, but it looked better inperson). Even nicer is the Lily purse (p.67) which used a thick and thin variegated yarn, fluffed open to create flowers and leaves. You may need to reblock the garment after completing as the needle felting will shrink it a little bit.

DM used needle felting to decorate handbags made of old sweaters, such as the Cast-off handbag (p.66) and the Beaded stripes purse (p.40-41). I thought JQ might enjoy doing this.

One of the purses (Four square purse, p.15-17 and back cover, and here) that we saw had a very nice spiral button on it with a complementary needle felted design. This is definitely a case of “buy the button, make the the thing,” which were M’s words of wisdom when she saw the purse.

DM talked about a technique involving felting water soluble stabilizer. I missed much of what she said but I think it would be an interesting technique with which to experiment.

Another interesting technique was to use a cookie cutter or other small tube (like a plastic bottle cover with the top cut off) as a guide to make small circles. These can be used as polka dots on something and can be attached to make your own disc fringe (as opposed to ball fringe) (Seeing spots scarf, p.37, small picture here). M convinced me that DJ needed to know about this.

The other thing I thought was pretty neat was the abstract wall hanging (Fiber explosion, p.54 and title page, bottom picture here). DM made this by felting an abstract design in a large square. She then cut it apart and rearranged it according to a specific design from a quilt book (I forget the name but if you really care I can ask M who I think recognized the book). It was assembled by butting the pieces up next to each other and then needle felting to a ground fabric. This left a narrow line where the ground fabric showed, giving it a nice grid. This is the one thing I was most interested in trying, but without a needle felting machine I think it would take too long.

I know, the last thing you need is an additional hobby, but I thought this might work well with your existing interests. Also, the equipment costs are pretty low — you should be able to find things at your local hobby store. If needle felting looks interesting to you, I encourage you to get the needles. JQ and SS, I can send you some odd bits of roving to experiment with. The basics of needle felting are pretty simple, so probably any book (and probably a lot of web sites) can give you the basics. I think the real key in buying a book would be to find one with designs that interest or even inspire you and specific techniques you would like to try. This book may or may not be the best book for you — I haven’t looked at any other books on the subject so can’t say how it compares. I think it really depends on your interests and sense of esthetics.

Rating: 3