Monday, February 09, 2009

Are we done yet?

Ann writes:

I am teaching myself needle felting, don't really have the space to do do wet felting and besides, I love needle felting!!!! 

Because I am teaching myself, I have many questions about whether or not what I am producing is good quality felting.  Is it too thin?  Too thick?  Too fuzzy?  I've bought several books, but although they are good in terms of outlining the basics, none of them describe what the final product should (oops, not a great word!) be like.

Anyway, I'm happy I have stumbled upon your site.  I will be haunting it for more info.   Have fun.

Great questions Ann!  What is ‘good’ quality is probably the single most important question there is in felting.

Sometimes the questions you ask are subjective ones.  By that I mean that only the artist knows how thick, thin or fuzzy a particular piece needs to be in order to realize the vision.

On the other hand those self same questions can be completely objective ones having to do with quality. 

I think the question being asked is: Is the piece done yet? That is can it withstand the amount of wear and tear it will likely be subjected to in the normal course of its life as a product.

In order to answer that you must first understand that there is more than one stage to felting.

The first is commonly called pre-felt.  This is the stage at which the felt has come together but is still quite vulnerable to damage. 

The trick is to push beyond that to the fulled stage.  This is the stage where the felt has become so well felted that it is no longer vulnerable to damage in the normal course of wear.

So the real question is:

Is the piece fulled yet?

Many, well probably most, beginning felters, wet or dry, tend to stop at the prefelt stage or just barely beyond it. 

At that point the piece often looks just the way you want it and the fear is that continuing will ‘ruin’ the piece.

So, for example, a wet felted scarf can be extremely thin and at the same time extremely strong.  I have one I made several years ago which I use to prove this point.  I hold one end and have a student hold the other.  We twist the scarf up a bit and then lean away from each other.  It hasn’t broken yet.

This is the scarf I’m talking about…

 IMG_0396 IMG_0399

As you can see it is so fine you can actually see through it. (I made this scarf with Julie Williams as my mentor in 2006; it was my first attempt at fine felt)

But Ann is asking about needlefelting.  The prefelt stage is less easily identified by the beginner in this technique.  Even many experienced needlefelters stop too soon in my opinion.

I once repaired a doll who suffered from this.  You can read that post here. She had been sold as an art doll so the maker probably thought she’d be ok…. but even adults will pose a doll with armature inside.  Eventually her head gave in to the stress as her body wasn’t strong enough to support the armature beneath it.

So back to Ann’s questions.

Is the felt too thin?

Well will it hold together under stress?  If not then you have to address that problem somehow. 

If thin is a value the piece needs to have then you can try fulling it more either by further needling, needling with a different gauge of needle or even wet felting after needling. 

If thin is not a design value perhaps you can make it thicker. 

Is it too thick?  Apart from the design issue the question is really is it fulled.  Many needlefelting projects become quite small once they are needled until they are firm.

Is it too fuzzy?  If the excessive amount of fuzziness is due to incomplete needling you can continue to needle or use a different gauge so tame the fibres.  Alternatively if the piece is well fulled and perfect otherwise you can try shaving it.

(but not with your husband’s razor—ask me how I know that!)

One last word about fulling………

All bets are off if Rover chews on it!


Anonymous said...

Laura (
Great post. I never feel like my needle felt work is done. I finally started asking myself Will it hold up when the answer was yes I make myself stop. I always use different sized needles when finishing a piece off but never herd anyone recommend it. Thanks for the informative article.
February 9, 2009, 1:51:48 PM

jlh said...

Here's how I test my own needle felting and it works great for me!! Give it a try and test it for yourself. It goes like this...
press your pointer finger and thumb together now feel the mussel or pad right below your thumb you will notice it's squishy now move on to you index finger and do the same you will notice its a bit firmer but still a bit squishy, now your Ring finger; notice that this time the pad feels pretty firm, moving on to your pinkie, it is very firm.
When I am needle felting I use my ring finger and thumb test for most of my needle felted project because its firm yet the wool still has life to it. I sometimes use the pinkie depending on the project. I hope this helps.
Happy felting,