3-D Needle Felting

I (Debi) am so excited!! We just got the flyers for the Fiber Arts Festival here in Fargo on August 10-11 and flax is the featured fiber. I was introduced to the process of turning flax into linen while in Norway. Faith Deering, museum educator from Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts, will be at the Fiber Arts Festival teaching people to make linen paper! The event is free so if you are in the area, please stop by.

Another popular event at the Fiber Arts Festival is the Sheep to Shawl contest. Teams go through all the steps from carding the wool shorn from the sheep, to spinning and then weaving it. Cassie (who works part-time in the store) was on “Team Sheep” last year. Cassie loves working with wool and she just finished the wool felted penguin from a kit (245-209-73804) available from Nordic Needle. Instead of the scarf she gave the penguin a hat.

Then while packing, in my stash I found bags of shorn wool (ready to card) and colorful bags of roving. Also, we found the missing leg support for my spinning wheel. So, that has me thinking about wool and all the things I can do once I survive this move! I have been eyeing the felted pony kit (245-209-73796) so I decided to try my hand at a 3D creature. I had created a flat example in a previous newsletter on needle felting, which gave a brief overview of the history and work basket.

I know the wool in the felting kit feels very different from the wool in my bag at home. So, let’s find out why. Wool is the fiber from sheep. The category also includes cashmere and mohair from goats and angora from rabbits. Wool is not the same as hair or even fur. The fibers grow in clumps called staples. Wool has scales which is why the individual fibers stick together so well when rubbed together during spinning or even washing. Wool also has a crimp. The higher the number of crimps, the finer the wool fiber. For example Merino wool may have 100 crimps per inch, making it a fine wool. Wool has several other wonderful properties. The fibers can absorb moisture, up to almost a third of its own weight. Wool has a higher ignition temperature than cotton, plus a lower rate of flame spread when on fire. It is used in commercial carpets and uniforms for this reason.

But how does it get from the sheep to the shawl?

First, the woolen fleece is cut off the sheep by shearing or clipping, usually just once a year. There are specific techniques for removing the fleece. Professional shearers can remove the fleece within 5 minutes without nicking the sheep and the fleece comes off in one big piece! Then the fleece is thrown on a slatted table, clean side down. The fleece is then skirted by wool rollers to remove the shorter pieces of wool and debris. After that, the wool is graded (or classed) by a trained professional, looking at things like crimps, breed, and color of the wool. Once graded the wool is packed into bales for sale. Wool has been a valuable trade good and many countries, including Australia, were dependent upon the raising of sheep. Today Australia produces 25% of the world’s wool. China and the United States rank 2nd and 3rd in production.

Scouring is the process used to remove the lanolin, dirt, grass, and other impurities from the wool. The lanolin is separated from the wash water and used to produce a variety of other items such as soap and hand creams. The Udderly Smooth products contain lanolin oil: Shea Butter Foot Cream (6607C).

Carding is a process that turns the curly wool into straight ropes called slivers. If the fibers are longer than 3″ the slivers goes through the combing process so they are ready to be spun into worsted yarn. If the fibers are shorter than 3 inches, the slivers are twisted together to created roving. The roving is used for spinning woolen yarns. In weaving, woolen yarn is often used as the weft yarn and the worsted yarn as the warp yarn.

Dyeing can take place at several points in the process. Wool dyed after it is washed is called stock-dyed. Yarn-dyed is done after it is spun. Piece-dyed means it was dyed after it is woven or knitted.

Update on technology:

Many of us probably remember the moment we opened the dryer and gasped in horror to find our favorite wool sweater reduced in size. New advances are being made in how wool is treated, called superwash wool. This process treats the scales on the fibers so the garment can be machine washed and dried! The technology has advanced to the point of developing a fabric that can be washed in the shower and dries in a couple of hours with no ironing required!

Now we know how roving is made. Let’s learn how to needle felt it to make a pony! Needle felting fuses layers of roving together. The result may be a flat design on a handbag of something more three-dimensional. Some basic materials are needed to get started.

  • A needle felting brush or piece of foam thick enough to let the needles go through the fiber but not reach the work surface below them.
  • A needle felting tool. Felting needles are very SHARP! The basic needle is 3.5″ – 4″ long. It has a very sharp point and there are barbs along the sides, which catch the wool as you punch in and out on the wool. You can use a single needle or a tool with multiple needles.
  • Wool roving, wool yarn, or cut out pieces of felt.

For our project, the kit comes with a foam mat, foam mold, rubber stencil molds (for final shaping), 100% wool roving, felting needle, thread and sewing needle (for the eyes and nose) and step-by-step instructions (in several languages).

You start by pulling out small amounts of the rust-brown wool and placing it in the larger foam mold. Using the felting needle, “poke” through the wool in a straight up-and-down movement.

Do this all over the mold. The roving will begin to attach itself together, becoming thinner. Add more roving as indicated by the instructions. Then gently pull the felted piece off the mat and place it in the rubber mold. Gently use the felting needle inside the form which will give the rounded shape to the head and body. This project has two molds. Once each half is shaped, it is gently removed and then the two pieces are felted together at the seams.

The ears are created in the mold provided and then felted to the pony’s head. All of the “hair” and accents are added next. Here is the finished pony.

Some suggestions:

The single felting needle will work, but not as fast as I wanted. So, I used the 5-needle Needle Felting Tool (7124) on the body and the Pen Style (3 needle) Felting Tool (7124F) for adding all the accents. I will warn you that once you start working “in-hand” you might want to have a Band-Aid available for when you stab yourself. Have I mentioned that those little needles are SHARP! I don’t suggest working on a needle felting project during a severe storm. I tended to jump (thus poking myself) whenever the lightning struck close to the house.

It was hard to decide when to stop. I had more roving left and I could have continued to add to the pony which would have made his body denser. However, I thought he looked pretty good. I may go back and work a little more on the back legs to make them a little thinner. Overall, I liked how he turned out and I thought the kit was easy to use. I look forward to playing some more once I get moved…..how about a Dala horse?


Use metal cookie cutters for molds, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Ripping out mistakes is easy. Just pull off the part you don’t like and start again. The more you needle it, the firmer and smaller the actual piece gets.

We have several other needle felting kits available.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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