What is needlefelting?

Needle felting for beginners – Everything you need to know.

What is Needle felting?

Needle felting is a craft that uses wool fibres and blends them together by repeatedly stabbing them with a special type of needle. To compare it to painting - The wool is like your paint pallet and the needle is a bit like your brush. You can create 2 dimensional pictures, but it really comes to life when used for 3D modelling, as it can be shaped into different forms to make all sorts of creatures and creations.

The needle has tiny barbs on it, and when the needle stabs through the fibre, the tiny barbs catch the fine scales of the fibre and pulls them though to tangle the fibres all together. The more times that the wool is stabbed the tighter the fibres become tangled and the wool transforms from being a handful of loose fibres into a firm recognisable shape.

It has become well known as a form of stress relief and one of the real advantages is that you only need a needle and some wool to get started, so you don’t need to invest in lots of equipment, tools or resources just to give it a go.


Art therapy

Making any form art can be an incredibly therapeutic process, it helps people to express or release feelings and emotions in safe medium. It doesn’t even need to be a recognisable image, just bringing together certain textures and colours in a way that makes sense to you or makes you happy can be reward enough.  I am not a qualified therapist, but there is something that is incredibly satisfying about pulling apart soft gorgeous colours bringing them together and whiling away some time stabbing it hundreds of times!

I have noticed that needle felting in particular has a few further therapeutic advantages over other types of art. It’s an immersive process, you have to stay focussed on the project, and by doing so you can easily lose track of time. And, while the mind is focussed on the project, the stabbing motion has a repetitive, rhythmic quality to it, which can help decrease anxiety. Steady rhythmic motions are known to calm the ‘fight or flight’ response which is created by our sympathetic nervous system, like taking steady measured breaths to calm in times of stress. So, the physical actions of needle felting can be quite meditative in themselves.

Other arts such as painting can sometimes be frustrating, particularly when you make a mistake with a brushstroke or a colour, undoing all your hard work. Whereas, needle felting is very forgiving, if you make a mistake just pick off the fibres and try again, so you can learn and progress without major knocks to confidence.

Working with wool fibres is a very sensory activity, there are lots of varieties of colour which is a visual stimulation. You pull them apart and blend them together. It’s soft and tactile to the touch too - pleasurable sensory experience is known to release anti stress hormones Oxytocin.

There are often workshops or beginners’ classes run by different crafters – these can be a social event as much as an education. Sometimes there is no better therapy than just getting together with a group of likeminded people.

Projects can be as easy or as involved as you choose. Completing a task is reward in itself, this is known to relieve psychic tension. It’s done! You can release the task from your memory, and you no longer need to use significant cognitive effort to remember where you were in the process or what comes next. Plus, you’ll have something cool to show for it! A sense of pride, accomplishment and achievement, which will help combat low confidence.


What are the different types of felting?

Needle felting is just one form of felting and is the most popular way to create a 3D model out of wool fibres.

Wet felting is another form of felting and is best used for 2D art or textiles. This is where the loose wool fibres are lain across each other, then through a few different phases, the piece is agitated using soap and water until the fibres become interlocked with each other to create the finished piece.

Nuno felting is a more modern technique which leaves the weave of the fibres open to create a fine delicate light weight material like chiffon. It uses wool to create a cloth material without spinning or knitting together.



Felt made from wool is one of the oldest known textiles. It’s difficult to pin point it’s exact origin, some early examples have been found as far back as the 7th century BC in Asia and Siberia. It’s very versatile and has been used by many different cultures as clothing and jewellery. As it can be easily dyed with bright colours It has also been combined with other textiles and used as an illustrative and decorative medium in wall hangings and other symbolic designs.


What do you need to start needle felting? The essential tools

You don’t need much to get started, just a needle and some wool will get you going. But as with any new hobby there are lots of different things available so this will hopefully help you to choose.


What are the different types of felting needles?

There are various needles available so we’ll attempt to demystify the jargon surrounding them.

All felting needles have what are referred to as ‘barbs’ on them, in some cases the needle has notches in it rather than barbs coming out of it. You can use a good all-round needle to complete a piece from start to finish. However, the more barbs there are on the needle, the quicker your piece will become felted together. So, you can start with a big piece of fibre and use a needle with lots of barbs to get it into shape then switch to a finer needle with less barbs for the intricate detail.

There are essentially Four different types of needles.

Triangular – This is the most commonly used type of needle in needle felting. This needle has barbs or notches on three sides of the needle, a good all-rounder.

Star Needles – These needles have barbs or notches on four sides of the needle. A cross section of the needle would look like a four-pointed star. These are good for quick firm felting.

Spiral Needles – These needles are the same as the triangular needle in that they have barbs or notches on three sides, except the blade of the needle is twisted. This makes them great for quick firm felting but also have the advantage that they leave a really neat finish with a less obvious hole than other needle may leave, making them great for detailed work.

Reverse felting needles – These needles have the barbs facing the other way round. All the other needles push the fibres in to the piece making it firmer as you work. The reverse felting needles will pull the fibres out. They are great for creating a fluffy finish to a well felted piece or a two-tone fur effect if the core of the piece is a different colour to the outer layer.


Needle gauges – what they mean, and what they do

Each different type of needle also come in different gauges 32, 36, 38, 40 and 42. The gauge of the needle is basically the thickness. The higher the number, the thinner the needle.

The thicker needles with low number gauge, are best suited for coarse wools, while the thinner ones with high number gauge work well with fine wools.


Felting handles

Felting needles can be used perfectly well just as they are, however there are a variety of handles available.

A Single wooden needle holder holds one needle and provides better grip when needle felting which will make it a bit more comfortable. These can also be particularly useful for people who are keen to have a go but have dexterity problems. Some can also be used to store one needle when not on use, keeping the point safely out of the way protecting the needle and any stray fingers.

Wooden needle holder for multiple needles – A suggested before, the greater the number of barbs or notches, the quicker the piece felts together. You can get needle holders that hold multiple needles such as 3 or 6 for bigger pieces. It’s worth noting that it can take more effort to stab six needles in at once than one needle in six times.

The wooden holders are quite versatile in that they are reusable and you can quickly change the needles in and out of them. Alternatively, you may like to a have a few of them for the different types of needles so that you don’t have to change the needle over to achieve a different effect.

What are needle felting tools?

Pen style – These are the same size and shape as a pen and can contain one, two or three needles. They allow you to adjust the length of the needle exposed. When using three needles the needles can be grouped together closer than using a wooden felting handle.

Handle holder – These can contain multiple needles and some also have a retractable plastic collar which will protect the needles and not leave them exposed. As you push the needles in to your piece the collar retracts.


Protective mats

When stabbing a needle into a piece, the needle will very often go right through your wool, so it’s a good idea to protect your working area with a mat. Another thing to note – as you stab through your wool felt it’s a good idea to pick it up off the matt every so often as you may end up felting your piece in to the protective mat and they may become one. There are a few different types available.

High density foam mats – a mat made out of high-density foam provides good protection. This feels like upholstery foam or memory foam. The density gives you some resistance so that the piece isn’t sinking and changing position as it would on soft sponge. Also, when the needle pierces in to the foam it isn’t damaged. These are relatively inexpensive but will need to be replaced with use as the barbs will eventually damage the foam over time.

Brush mats – These consist of a base with bristles coming out of it. You place your piece on top of the bristles and as you stab through your piece the needle will not hit anything. These are quite durable and good for small piece but can be uncomfortable for resting your hand on for prolonged periods of time and have a bit of movement in them so the piece may not always stay still.

Foam felting block -  (EPE foam) This is a much ore solid type of foam and is commonly used in packaging, this is a cheaper alternative. The solid block gives you a steady base to work on but it does provide a bit of resistance and a but more effort to remove your needle, damaging the needle over time and will also need replaced frequently.

Woollen mats – Mats made out of wool are also available. These are great as they are 100% natural – you could even make your own! Just be careful not to stab through your piece and attach it to the mat. They can also be quite expensive to buy.


Finger protection

Even the most experience crafter can occasionally prick a finger, so it’s a good idea to wear a pair of needle felting finger protectors. These are worn on the fore finger and thumb of the hand that you are holding your piece with and offer you a bit of protection from a stray needle. They can be made out of leather or silicone.


What is the best type of wool to needle felt with?

There are various different types of wool from lots of different breeds of sheep, llamas, alpacas – the variety is quite mind boggling. All have different qualities and will give different effects and you may use different types on the same piece to achieve your ultimate look. Going in to this level of detail would be an exhaustive task, and it can often come down to personal preference. So here is just a brief look at the main types to help you get started.

The wool that is used for needle felting is unspun wool it is in a loose fibre state and mainly comes in two states Roving and Batts

Wool Roving

This is unspun wool, the fibres have been brushed or ‘carded’ with special brushes so that the fibres all run in the one direction, which makes it silky smooth and easy to work with. This also makes it perfect for spinning and for needle felting.

Wool Batts

Wool Batts are also unspun, but they have not been carded, so the fibres have kinks and run in all directions. It is equally good for needle felting.


What is the best needle felting kit for a beginner?

There are all sorts of needle felting kits available suitable for all levels of ability and widely ranging in price.

Starter Kits - Some contain the basic tools and some wool, everything you need to make a creation from your own imagination

Introduction kits – These can contain everything you need plus the instructions to make a specific creation. These can be a good place to start as the instructions can introduce you to a few different techniques plus a bit of prescriptive guidance at the start can build confidence. These can vary in quality though, some of the cheaper ones contain very little wool and a polystyrene shape, which you just cover with wool. While the end result may look like picture on the front it doesn’t give you a real feel for the craft. You do tend to ‘get what you pay for’. Little Wooly sheep kits do not include polystyrene shapes. 

Is Needle felting suitable for Vegans?

There are a range of fibres available which are organic and can come from a bio nylon source, perfect for vegans.

Needle felting allergies

Natural wool contains a substance called lanolin. This is a natural substance that sheep produce, it’s what makes them waterproof. In fact, fishermen used to have big woolly jumpers made out of untreated sheep’s wool with high levels of lanolin, so that it would keep them warm and repel the water at sea. During the processing of wool, a lot of the lanolin is removed, but not all of it. People who have sensitive skin or allergies to lanolin can have a reaction when working directly with the fibres. There are alternatives though and fibres from a bio nylon source can be used which contain no lanolin whatsoever – so check out the vegan friendly kits if you have a lanolin allergy.

What do I need to start needle felting?

Really, all you need is a needle and some wool Roving or Batt. For safety, I’d recommend a protective mat and a pair of finger protectors too. And whilst by no means essential - a needle holder or handle will make it a bit more comfortable.

If I had to choose a good all-round needle it would be a triangular 38 gauge, but there are starter packs available with a small selection of needles and a variety of colours to get you started.


How do you needle felt?

Once you have the basic tools together you can begin. Take the piece of wool that you want to work with and place it on the protective mat, to protect your working area. Form the fibre roughly into the shape that you want to create. Hold it together with finger guards on, then stab the fibre with the needle repeatedly slowly turning the shape as you do so. Needle felting needles have a very fine point and can be quite delicate and easily broken. When needle felting it’s best to stab the needle in straight and remove it straight back out again, rotating the piece rather than moving the needle around it. If you remove the needle at an angle, it is more likely to break. Over time the barbs or notches will also wear down and become blunt. When you stab the wool the tiny barbs or notches on the needle catch the fine scales of the wool and tangle them together. The shape will become firmer and easier to shape as you work. Eventually the shape will become firm and the fibres will not come apart, you can test this by pinching it.  

If you want to make a basic shape like a star for example, a good idea is to get a cookie cutter of the shape that you want, place it on your protective mat and fill it full of wool. Then needle felt it as described above. Try not to hit the cookie cutter as this may damage the needle.

To make more complex shapes, you can create a skeletal shape using armature wire or pipe cleaners. Then wrap them with little pieces of wool and needle felt until firm, slowly building up the shape. Be careful not to stab the wire as this may blunt or break the needle.

The rest is really up tour creativity and imagination!