Embellishing with Needle Felting

My local fabric shop sells some fabulous felt squares, and I've been wanting to make something with them for a long time. I thought it would be fun to turn these squares of felt into little gadget bags or change purses, so I started sewing them together. They're pretty plain, though, as you can see in the photo below left.

I came upon an article about needle felting in the 2006 issue of Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts (which is now available as a download), and I think it'll be really fun to embellish my little bags with some needle felting cuteness.

Leigh Radford's Needle-Felted Messenger Bag

Once you have the materials, which are inexpensive and easy to find at craft shops, needle felting is easy and fun (and addictive—I may embellish my couch next!). The following information is from Leigh Radford, the designer who thought up one of my favorite felted pieces, the Needle-Felted Messenger Bag, shown at right.

Needle-Felting Basics

Before: A cute little bag, but it needs something…
After: Two SUPER cute little bags—I had to make another one! Just need a couple of zippers now.

Needle felting is the art of drawing or sculpting with wool fiber as the medium and a special barbed needle as the applicator. During the mid-1970s, use of individual felting needles-adapted from industrial felting needles-began within the craft community. Using unspun wool and a felting needle, artists began experimenting with the needle-felting or needle-punching process-embellishing existing textiles, sculpting three dimensional objects, and creating solid pieces of felt fabric.

Felting Block: Polystyrene foam blocks work best as a needle-felting base. Start with a block measuring 4 x 6 x 2 inches. You need a surface thick enough to absorb the needle puncture and prevent the tip from marring the surface below. 

Felted item or swatch: I began experimenting with needle felting by embellishing a felted bag. If you don't have a felted project, knit and felt a swatch on which to practice. (To create some quick practice swatches, you can felt a 100% wool, nonmachine-washable sweater from the thrift store and cut it into swatches.)

Basic Technique: With your swatch on your foam block, place a small amount of roving on top of your swatch. Immerse a kitchen sponge in hot water and drizzle the water onto the roving surface to dampen it. With your felting needle perpendicular to the table, gently poke the roving repeatedly. Continue to poke the roving until it has begun to felt, meshing and melting into the base swatch. Add additional roving, if needed, for desired coverage. You don't need to use much force: A gentle, repetitive poking motion is ideal. Reposition and tease the roving into place with the tip of the needle (or a pair of tweezers) as you work. The process should feel as intuitive as drawing with a pencil. As often as necessary, catch a portion of your roving with the felting needle and pull and poke it into the desired position.

In the beginning stages, if you decide you don't like the shape you've created, simply pull the partially felted roving free from your swatch or project and begin again. There is a point of no return, however. Check your progress frequently in the initial stages so you can correct mistakes while it's still possible.

I followed Leigh's instructions and came up with the darling little bags above. I just need to put in the zippers and I'll have a couple of neat gifts, if I can bear to part with them, that is!

I hope you'll try this fun and easy technique.


P.S. I used pre-formed felt, but it would be so easy to knit up a length of stockinette, felt it, and use that instead.




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