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Needle felting is a craft in which barbed needles and wool fibers are used to create felt. The wool used for this technique is known as wool roving, a type of loose wool that is prepared for crafting and is available in a wide variety of colors. Needle felting wool can be purchased in ready-to-use form from a craft store that carries needle felting supplies. It also can be prepared by the crafter.
The first step in manufacturing needle felting wool takes place on the farm. The farmer removes sheep hair, or wool, in a technique called shearing. Impurities such as burrs, mats and discolored fibers are picked out of the loose wool, and it is rolled into a bundle. Cleaning and rolling the fleece in this manner is known as skirting.
After the wool is skirted, it is carefully washed and combed. The wool fleece is submerged in water mixed with a grease-cutting soap. Extra caution must be taken not to agitate or rub the fibers, because this would begin the felting process prematurely.
When the fleece has been washed, rinsed and dried, two large paddles known as hand carders are used to brush the wool. The carding process separates and straightens the fibers. The crafter then removes the fibers from the cards and gently twists them together. This technique creates what is called wool roving.
Wool roving can be used or sold in its natural color, or it can be dyed. There are different approaches to dying needle felting wool. One way to color wool is by using acid dyes, which will create vivid colors in any shade of the rainbow. A second approach is to utilize natural items such as plants, berries and nuts. This will result in felting wool with muted and earthy tones.
When the wool roving has been clean, combed, twisted and dyed, it is ready for felting. The crafter uses a special set of barbed-tip needles made for dry felting. The special felting needles are applied to the needle felting wool in order to help the fibers twist and stick together. This is the process that creates felt.
The crafter takes the barbed needle by the hand and gently guides the roving into the desired shape. The needle is repeatedly poked through the wool, pushing the top layer into the deeper layers and causing the fibers to grip and twist. Unlike another traditional method of creating felt, no water is needed in the needle felting technique.
I had a friend make me a needle felted hat once. I felt quite pleased with it, because, not only was it beautiful, but it was also a one of a kind piece from a talented artist. She's had some of her felted sculptures put up in galleries for example.
I think it's really good that people are starting to recognize fiber arts as being something to appreciate and collect. The effort that gets put into them is just as much as the effort and skill put into an oil painting.
The wool she used for the needle felting was from a local farm and dyed using natural ingredients that she sourced on her own. It took her a couple of months to finish it in fact.
@browncoat - It depends on what you're doing, I suppose. If you want to include a lot of small details you might need to concentrate more than if you are making something without that kind of thing.
But, then knitting is the same. You do need to make sure you know how many rows you've done if you're following a complicated pattern.
I like doing it while just listening to music. That way my concentration isn't pulled away from a story line if I need to do some fine details on whatever I'm working on.
I think you should give it a go though, it is a lot of fun and quite satisfying to stab at something until it comes right!
I find it really amazing how much detail people can create in an object made with needle felting. I've seen tiny little sculptures the size of a fingernail that still manage to have eyes and expressions.
I guess I'm used to the other kind of wet felting, using water, which can't really create that kind of detail, although it's much better for making large projects.
I've seen needle felting craft sets in my local art store and been tempted to get one just to see what it is like. It seems like the kind of thing you can do in front of the television each evening, like knitting, without having to worry about your concentration.
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