Wool fibers have scales which, when rubbed against each other, catch and lock into place to create a denser material called felt. Needle felting is a process which uses barbed needles to interlock the wool fibers so that they adhere to one another. Repeatedly jabbing the barbed felting needle into the fiber creates both 3-dimensional sculptures and 2-dimensional “paintings”. Felting can also be accomplished using hot water and agitation to cause the fibers to adhere to each other using a process called wet felting.
My work is made using the needle felting process and primarily uses sheep’s wool, although I often include llama, alpaca and silk fibers as well.
All types of wool fibers are used including locks, core, roving and top. Fibers can be dyed at any point in the process to create a beautiful palette of colors that can be mixed or used on their own. These fibers come from different stages in the process:
Shearing results in a fleece which consists of natural locks.
Carding disentangles, cleans and intermixes the locks to produce a continuous web of fibers suitable for further processing. At this point, the fibers go in all directions and create core wool which can be used in its natural form.
Further carding causes the fibers go in the same direction which creates roving. The longest fibers are called top which can be used to spin into yarn.
Core fiber can be pre-felted by machine to create a backing for 2-dimensional felting.
Felting needles come in several sizes and have very small barbs at the ends. There are also special tools that hold several needles at one time to make the process.