Needles, Needles, Needles - an Updated and Revised Introduction.
When we start out needle felting, we either purchase a kit with needles, or we buy a starter set which hopefully has a selection of needles.
But what if we want to create our own starter set, or we want to know what the needles in our kits and starter sets are for?
Needle felting requires few tools to start with but it does require a special type of needle with barbed tips. The action of repeatedly stabbing the barbed needle into the wool will firm it up. The more you stab with a needle, the firmer the wool becomes. Using this method of manipulating your wool you can pretty much create any shape you want and make it as firm as you wish.
Only small rapid movements are required with the needle. You don’t need to fully insert it into the wool to mix up the fibres.
To avoid breaking the needle, it’s essential to remove the needle at the same angle that it was initially inserted. If the wool feels too stiff to insert a needle, don’t force it! Use a smaller gauge needle to finish or move to a new area.
The needles are fragile and break from time to time, especially when new to the craft. There are some sub-standard needles on the market but the main reason for them breaking is mis-use rather than quality of the needle.
Needles are fragile and should be stored carefully when not in use. We store our needles either in the centre of their individual needle holder or in a needle tube and would recommend that you do the same to preserve the life of your needles.
Don’t jump to blame your needles, especially in the early days of mastering this craft.
Types of Needles
There are four types of needles most commonly used by needle felters:
Triangular, Star/Cross, Spiral/Twisted and Reverse.
The spiral and triangular needles are the same when it comes to the cross section, except that the blade on the spiral needle is twisted as opposed to straight.
Triangular: If you look closely at the end of one of your triangular needles you can see the barbs and that the needle shaft itself is straight. The needle has three sides with barbs on each side. The needles are good for courser wools and when starting a project and are the needles that are included in most ready to make kits.
Twisted-Spiral; this needle also has a triangular shaft with barbs on each side but the shaft is twisted. This needle felts fast and also leaves a neater finish and less fuzziness. The finer gauges of this needle are great for detail and finishing off your pieces neatly
Cross-Star; has barbs on four sides with 2 barbs on each side. Corners. It also has the cross section of a 4-pointed star at the tip. These needles are fast to felt with and will give a firm finish. They are also good for joining pieces
Reverse needle; This too has a triangular shaft but the barbs face the opposite way. The needle enters the wool creating no resistance however when it is removed the barbs pull wool out of the piece. This is a great way of creating fur and texture
Felting needles sizes are measured in gauges you will see the numbers 32g, 34g, 36g, 38g, 40g and 42g mentioned a lot.
The higher the number, the thinner the needle!
Use thicker needles for coarse wool and smaller gauges for thinner fibre wool. You can also use a smaller gauged needle as you progress with your piece and when it becomes too thick for your thicker needle. As you felt you will feel the resistance and hear a grating sound as the wool becomes more felted.
It may be difficult to tell the size of your needle if you have multiple ones so take time to colour-code them if needed. I would suggest using nail polish or a small strip of coloured tape at the handle....or buy some of our MillyRose Crafts colour coded needles
As a rule, with our kits the needles you will receive three x Triangular needles (36g, 38g, 40g) and one x Twisted (38g) and one x Cross-Star (38g) needle and can be identified as they are different in length as well as gauge with the smallest one being the finest and they are colour coded.
Standard Triangular Felting Needles
These are the most popular and well used needles in needle felting and will be in most of the kits that are on the market. They come in different gauges which are used through the different stages of your felting and with different wool types
Our 36g triangular needle (blue tip) is great for when creating the base of a felted piece and also for attaching arms and legs. It is also good for fastening pieces together but for small pieces the 38g may be better
Our 38g triangular (green tip) is a really good choice for most needle felting projects, both when starting out and making the base plus it is also good for some detailing and sculpting. I use this when making my faces and then move onto a finer needle for the final detail.
Our 40g triangular (red tip) is perfect for finer detail and finishing off a piece. Not good on course wool or core wool.
Cross-Star Felting Needles
Cross-Star needles felt much faster that then triangular needles and are a great addition to a toolkit.
As well as being good for all round fast felting, this needle type is also good on more detailed, finer works. It does leave holes but it really does felt much faster.
Our 36g Cross Star needle (black tip) is great for when creating the base of a felted piece and also for attaching arms and legs. It is also good for fastening pieces together but for small pieces the 38g may be better
Our 38g Cross Star (pink tip) is a really good choice for most needle felting projects, both when starting out and making the base plus it is also good for some detailing and sculpting. I use this when making my faces and then move onto a finer needle for the final detail.
Our 40g Cross Star (light blue tip) is perfect for finer detail and finishing off a piece. Not good on course wool or core wool.
Twisted-Spiral Felting Needles
Like the Cross-Star needle the Twisted/Spiral needle is a fast felter plus this needle also gives a much smoother finish. It minimises wispy bits being left unfelted and also you will have less hole marks when using this needle.
Our Twisted-Spiral needles are great all-rounders. Not so good on larger pieces and core wool when starting a piece but once the wool fibres have been felted and are starting to mix this needle is perfect. It felts fast but without leaving as many holes or loose fibres.
We have the following guages:
Twisted 36g (orange tip)
Twisted 38g (yellow tip)
Twisted 40g (white tip): Our 40g Twisted-Spiral is perfect on small pieces when adding detail. Especially useful when neatening off edges of pieces. I love this needle and use it a lot.
Reverse Felting Needles
As its name implies this needle does things in reverse; the barbs go the other way, with the needle going smoothing into the wool and pulling fibres with it on its way out. Great for adding texture to a piece.
We stock the following:
Reverse 40g (grey tip)
If you would like to know more about the needles we currently have available please use this link: Needle felting needles
Felting Needle Holders
Whilst it is perfectly acceptable to use the needles on their own, needle holders can help to improve your needle felting experience as they are more comfortable to use when felting for longer period of time.
Needle holders generally will hold 1,3,7 or 8 needles. You can get plastic or wooden holders; I have only ever used the wooden holders as they are also an eco-friendly option so we are moving away from using plastic.
The single needle holders are made so that you can store the needle inside the holder when not in use. As you start to use more needles and you have them colour coded it is wise to colour code the end of the needle holder so you can easily recognise your needles.
With all this choice what is the best needle to use?
Our kits always include five needles, Triangluar 40g, 38g, 36g; Twisted 38g; Cross Star 38g. When you first start out these are perfectly adequate and as you progress and buy more and more kits you will get a collection of these needles as each kit comes with its own set.
Be careful when buying some of the “starter sets” as they do sometimes have sub -standard needles and wool. Check the reviews and if in doubt feel free to get in touch and we will do our best to advise you.
When you decide that you want to refine your needle felted pieces, or perhaps want to work faster (star), less fuzzy (twisted) or create a furry finish (reverse) it is time to invest in needles other than the triangular ones.
My standard needle set has 12 needles types in in, a selection of triangular, twisted and cross in varying gauges.
Over time you will come to have your favourite needles and know exactly which to use for what purpose.
Are there different makes of needles?
Needles are made from stainless steel and there are many manufacturers with most of these being based overseas, including China which is a very large supplier of needle felting supplies.
You may see comments about needles from China being no good; that isn’t the case for all Chinese needles although it is for a fair few.
Many of the needles (and kits) on Amazon for instance are from Chinese suppliers; some are good and some are not so good.
The best needles are made by a German company called Gros-Beckert and they really are the best you can get. They felt so much better and you will see a difference both when using them and also in your finished piece.
We sell standard needles and do have some Gros-Beckert ones too so that our customers can get the best of what is available.
So, to start with you can practice with your triangular, twisted and cross star needles but over time, as your addiction and your tool kit grows, you will start to collect and invest in more needles. Over time you will find your own favourites too.
I hope this blog has explained what the different needles are for and that it helps you.
Have fun and enjoy your needle felting.