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