Machine Needle Felting: Use Your Fancy Fibers

Several years ago when the knitting craze took hold, I brushed up my needlework skills in a class at a local fabric and yarn store. Completely taken by the fancy fibers that had come onto the market, I turned out scarf after scarf, and even sold a few.

lafazio needle felting
Needle-felted fiber art by Jane LaFazio.

But at a certain point I realized that while I liked knitting, I loved the fancy fibers. They were the real draw. So I began looking for other ways to use them and discovered machine needle felting. In the process, I created a new craft obsession for myself.

Machine needle felting, for the uninitiated, works like this: You use a device that looks like a sewing machine but instead of a needle with a hole, it has a cluster of barbed needles and no thread. You place soft fibers (like sheers, yarn, wool and silk roving, tulle, dyed cheesecloth, lace, and so on) on top of a soft surface (such as pre-felt, felt squares, or Lutradur®) and slide that under the needle cluster.

When you step on the pedal, the needles move up and down rapidly as you move the soft fibers around under them. In the process, the fibers mesh together creating interesting patterns and colors.

Your needle-felting projects can take many forms. You can create a "picture" with needle felting, use it as a base for embroidery and other embellishment, or cut up the piece and use it in another way (such as a base for artist trading cards).

Now, there are a few tricks to learning how to felt using a needle-felting machine. The first hurdle isyou need a machine. Fortunately for me, I work at a place where there is one available for use. You may need to borrow one from a friend or find a class or workshop where you can experiment. But if you love fibers, I think it's worth the trouble.

The next trick is learning to work the machine properly so you get the results you want and don't break too many needles in the process (because those suckers can be expensive). This needle-breakage issue frustrated me until I got advice from Jane LaFazio, who has become an expert in needle felting.

Jane broke a lot of needles, too, until she discovered that she was keeping the presser foot of the needle-felting machine too high. Lowering it saved her money and frustration.

needle felting lafazio
Up-close and needle felted: can you see
the fibers melding?

You also have to keep the fibers moving beneath the needles. If you leave the needles in one place too long, you'll create a hole (unless you want to create a hole, in which case, this is a good thing). Also, the more you felt the piece, the more the fibers will merge and the colors and textures will blend. You can also flip the piece over and machine felt from the back, which will push the bottom colors and fibers up toward the top of the piece.

The best part of learning to machine needle felt is that you have to practice and experiment with fibers to see what kind of results you get. Yes, you read that right, you have to spend hours playing with fibers, viewing the results, and playing again. I insist.

Can you begin to see how addictive this felting technique might be?

Of course, the best way to learn about any technique is to watch a demonstration. I highly recommend Jane's tutorial on the 800 Series of "Quilting Arts TV." She shows how to take all sorts of pretty fibers and turn them into a series of needle-felted and embroidered fiber art pieces.

(By the way, did you know you can machine needle felt abandoned pieces of knitting and crochet? Just saying.)

P.S. Have you tried machine needle felting? What tips do you have? Are you as obsessed as I am? Leave a comment below.

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Blog, Fabric Art

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