The “Painter’s” Tools

The “Brushes”

Being an accident-prone person (see The Blog Lives!), “painting” with needle-felting needles is taking a risk! These aren’t the soft brushes of the typical painter. In fact, they are quite the opposite. They are extremely sharp needles with hooked barbs on the ends (similar to the hooked shape of rose thorns but at a much finer scale). These needles are designed to push the fiber into a base (in my case, the industrial felt canvas) or into the fibers themselves, so the hairs of the fibers catch onto other fibers and lock in place. The needles also may catch soft body parts, like the ends of fingers, adhering the needles within the skin—perhaps requiring surgical procedures to remove them! (I’ve heard stories but fortunately, so far, haven’t personally experienced this.)

There are many different types of felting needles. They range from multiple needle devices designed for felting large areas—to very fine, individual needles used for detail work. Needles also may have different barb designs and various thicknesses, to suit the fiber being felted and the type of needle-felting control that is desired.

Here's a close-up of a few needle shafts. Can you see the barbs?

Miscellaneous Tools for Safety and Design

In order to avoid a slip of the needle into the skin, I wear a protective glove on the hand that holds the fiber that’s being felted. (Sometimes this provokes me to dance around like Michael Jackson. Can’t help it! It’s the one-handed glove effect!)

This glove was designed for woodcarvers. Its protection doesn't guarantee that pokes won't happen if hit with the finest of needles but sure as heck is better than nothing at all! (And you have to admit—it DOES bear a resemblance to Michael Jackson's glove, minus the sequins.)

Another useful tool designed just for needle-felters, is a Fiber Holder (brilliantly innovative name, don't ya think?) that holds fibers in tight locations, further helping to avoid injury to fingers.

Bamboo skewers are one of the tricks-of-the-trade. They help control fibers when creating finely detailed design elements.

The Working Surface

Since needle-felting needles may extend beyond the depth of the work during the stabbing action of the felting process, a base is needed to keep the needles from hitting the surface below the work—further protecting fingers (and other body parts) from injury and helping to prevent needle breakage. I use a large piece of soft foam (12 x 24 x 1.5 inches) for my working support. It rests under my industrial felt “canvas” material and creates a very stable base for the needle attacks.

This photo shows both a brush mat that's often used by needle-felters who work on smaller projects and the large foam support mat described above. I purchased the foam from Paradise Fibers in Spokane, Washington but several of my needle felting tools were purchased from Mielke Fiber Arts in Rudolph, Wisconsin. Many local craft and yarn stores also carry needle felting tools.

The Felter’s Palette

The final tool to mention is actually the first tool used by the needle-felter: the fiber carder. Carders help to blend colors (like a painter’s palette) and create a light, airy mass of fiber that’s perfect for needle-felting. As I mentioned in the previous post on fibers, my preference is to use two square dog brushes as fiber carders. Dog brushes are lighter in weight and smaller than the standard wooden spinner’s hand carders. They are also nice for blending small fiber quantities and for fibers that don’t require a lot of effort to card/blend. And I think their best feature is a button that pushes off embedded fibers, quickly cleaning the carder bed of stray colors and debris.

Dog brushes are also inexpensive. These were purchased at Target®. (They are an early version of the current Boots & Barkley XL Self-Cleaning Dog Hair Slicker® and I got them for about $10 each—no, I really don't have Target stock! I just haven't found a similar brush in any other store.) I also use these brushes when demonstrating fiber carding around children since the prongs aren't as dangerous as the firmer prongs found on "real" spinner's carders.

Next post… Putting the tools and paint together for the actual painting (aka “felting”) process.


About wendyj-sagahill

I am a textile artist, designer, and author.
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1 Response to The “Painter’s” Tools

  1. Barbara Ruuska says:

    Those tools look deadly. No wonder I’ve never tried to use them. The glove doesn’t look like enough armor to protect yourself from the lethal points on those needles. Stay safe.


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