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Things to consider when buying a Needle Felting or Needle Punching Machine
There are a number of things to consider besides initial cost when buying a Needle Felting Machine. I think of needle felting machines in much the same way as I think of computer printers. If you can buy the printer at a low price, but then have to spend a small fortune for ink cartridges, you have not made a good deal. The same is true for Needle Felting Machines.
At present, I am aware of six stand-alone machines and two attachments that are being marketed for Needle Felting at home. The stand-alone machines are the Babylock Embellisher, the "Fab Felter" from Nancy's Notions, the Janome XPression, the Pfaff Smart-350, Singer ER-10 and the Huskystar ER-10. I own both a Babylock Embellisher and a Janome XPression (now called the Janome FM-725). The two Needle Felting attachments are for Brother and Bernina machines. The Pfaff Smart-350, Singer ER-10 and the Huskystar ER-10 are the same machines with different skins. I have also been told that the Fab Felter is made by Pierott who makes machines that have been sold in Europe and Australia for some time.
Let's look at the stand-alone machines first. All of the stand-alone machines are the size of a standard sewing machine and have approximately the same size table area. The Fab Felter can be purchased with an optional extension table, which may be a good idea if you are planning to work on large pieces (in the same way that an extension table helps when machine quilting a large project.) There are companies that manufacture after market extension tables for the other machines.
With the Babylock Embellisher, you have 7 needles that are installed in a needle holder. Each needle can be replaced separately. So, if you break a needle, you replace just that one needle. Babylock sells their replacement needles in a package of 10 for over $30.00. That is expensive, but you are only going to be replacing the needle that breaks. AND, if you want, you can use hand felting needles that have been cut to length in the Embellisher. I have been doing this for quite a while and they work very well. If you use needles that are cut to length, you should expect to pay around $12.00-16.00 for 10 needles, perhaps a bit less if you cut the needles yourself. This can really reduce the cost of operating the machine. The Pfaff Smart 350, Singer ER-10, Huskystar ER-10 and the Fab Felter can also replace needles individually and can use the hand felting needles that have been cut to length. These machines, however, only have 5 needles instead of the 7 (or in the new machines 12) needles in the Babylock. The Janome FM-725 and the Janome XPression (with the new replacement needle holder) can use these individual needles as well.
With the Babylock Embellisher and the other machines that use separate needles, you can remove one or more needles if you want to attach something narrow to your project. If you want to attach yarn or ribbon to your project, using fewer needles can prevent unwanted needle holes along side of the yarn or ribbon in your project. The Embellisher does have a smaller needle guard than the other machines I have seen and I find that to be an advantage. It makes it easier for me to move my fabric or felt around than when there is a larger needle guard. It does a very good job of protecting your fingers from the needles and I also really like the height adjustment of the Embellisher through the use of a knob on top of the machine. Most of the other machines do not allow you to adjust the height of the needle guard as easily and having a needle guard close to your fabric/felt reduces the amount of bouncing that the fabric/felt does. This helps to prevent needle breakage, so it is important.
Another advantage to being able to use these hand felting needles is that you can use different size needles. Needles are sized like wire; the higher the number, the thinner the needle. The needles sold by Babylock are size 40 needles. I have found, though, that I prefer to use different size needles depending on the project. Just in the same way that you will change from a size 11 sewing machine needle to a size 14 or 16 when sewing on denim, there are times when using a different size needle will allow you to do a better job using your needle punching/felting machine. For example, when working on very tightly woven material such as china silk, I prefer to use size 42 needles. These needles are thinner and work better with the china silk. When I am working on very thick material, such as old sweaters that have been felted/fulled in the washing machine, I prefer to use size 38 STAR needles which are, according to the manufacturer, the strongest needle on the market. As a dividend, they also leave smaller holes since they have 4 sides instead of the 3 sides on traditional triangular felting needles.
The Janome XPression machine originally came with a 5 needle unit which used size 36 triangular needles. The needles are a size 36 which is a coarse needle in terms of hand needle felting. But Janome has come out with a new replacement needle unit that now takes individual needles, giving you the option of using different size and shape needles like the other stand alone machines. If you have the XPression, I highly recommend getting the replacement needle holder. At about $40.00, it is a good value. Not only do you get the new needle holder, but you also get a new needle guard and 10 needles. I really have to commend Janome for making this change to their machine. The Janome XPression and FM-725 also comes with a separate needle holder that holds one needle. This allows you to attach yarn or other thin fibers without making unnecessary holes. It is very nice to have this extra needle holder. I am not aware of any other machine that offers a single needle holder as part of its standard package. The Janome also provides two throat plates, one with 5 small holes and one with a single large hole. Although I find that I use the 5 hole plate almost exclusively, the single large hole plate which is similar to the plate on the Bernina attachment is worth having. I also like the idea of purchasing the replacement needle holder so that I can have additional needle holders for different size needles. You can do this with other machines, as I did with my Embellisher, but the cost for the replacement needle holder for the Embellisher was twice the cost of the holder for the Janome and I got the extra needle guard and 10 needles as well. The only drawback that I have with the Janome XPression or FM-725 is the difficulty with raising and lowering the needle guard. Where the Embellisher has a knob at the top of the machine to raise and lower the needle guard depending on the thickness of your project, the Janome machines require you to unscrew the needle guard at the rear of the machine and adjust it and retighten it. The needle guard is also much easier to remove than the needle guard on the Embellisher and at times, I have been tempted to remove it when working with projects of varying heights. (Note: I have been tempted, but have not removed it and I do not recommend that the machine be operated without the needle guard.
In comparing the operation of the Embellisher and the XPression, I noted a few differences. The Embellisher has a faster motor (1000 rpm) and is capable of operating at a higher speed than the XPression which operates at 900 rpm. The other machines on the market operate at 700 rpm. Also, because it uses 2 additional needles, the Embellisher completes a project more quickly, especially if one is making felt from roving. I am not sure, however, that this would be noticeable to someone who did not regularly use both machines. The difference in speed was not noticeable at all when I was texturizing fabric. What you might notice when changing from the Babylock Embellisher to the Janome however, is the noise. The Embellisher is much quieter, even though it runs faster, than the Janome.
The Fab Felter entered the market in late 2006. It is a 5 needle machine that uses single needles like the Embellisher. I do not know what that will mean if you need to obtain technical support for the machine, or if it needs servicing. The other machines are sold by dealers that should offer technical support and servicing for their machines. Another advantage of the Babylock Embellisher, Janome XPression, Pfaff Smart-350 and Viking Huskystar ER-10 is that most dealers of these machines offer some classes and support that you would be unlikely to get from any on-line dealer.
great thing about these new machines is that the Babylock Embellisher, Fab
Felter, Bernina Felting Attachment, Pfaff Smart-350, Singer ER-10, Huskystar ER-10 and the
Janome FM725 or XPression with the new needle holder can all use the same needles for
individual needle replacement. One notable feature in the Pfaff
Smart-350, Singer ER-10 and the Viking Huskystar ER-10 is that they stop in the needles up
position unlike the Embellisher, Fab Felter, or FM-725. I have considered
how important that would be in doing needle felting and needle punching and
don't see this as a necessity. Normally when I am working, I run off of
the project when I start and I run onto my project when I begin. The
needle up option might be a nice to have feature, but in my opinion, it would
not be the deciding factor when purchasing a machine.
What about the new Babylock Embellisher-12 with 12 needles? I have both the 7 needle and the 12 needle Babylock Embellishers. So far, I do not see that there is really a lot of difference between the two machines. The 12 needle machine does have a yarn guide which allows you to thread yarn (traditional yarn, not novelty yarns) so that it comes out in the center of the needles. This works OK if you want to lay down some traditional yarn in a straight line. I had some issues with getting it to work very well for me when I was trying to make circles or turn corners. When I tried to move the fabric toward me, the yarn ended up tangled in the needles and the needle guard and it was a mess. I need to work with it some more to see how it works with other threads, etc. I also need to see if part of this is a learning curve for me. But, as it stands now, I would not buy a 12 needle machine just for the yarn guide. The ribbon guide worked a bit better for me. I like that there is a slit in the needle guide to feed your ribbon, but it is not very wide, so it will not work for all ribbons. There is also a spool holder to hold your ribbon and two guides to guide it to the needles. If there is a real advantage to that, I have not figured it out. I am very comfortable using the 7 needle machine without those extras to work with yarns and ribbons. BUT, I love to make my own felt from roving and I DO APPRECIATE that I can do it almost twice as fast with the 12 needle machine. I also like the fact that the needle guide is larger. This helps to hold down the roving as you are making it into felt. Since I do work a lot with roving, I will DEFINITELY use the 12 needle machine when I want to do that. At the same time, my 7 needle machine (which was my first and is my clear favorite of those available before the 12 needle machine) is not leaving my studio. Why? There are times when I am working with laying a yarn on a piece of fabric and I do not want to have extra holes along the edge of the fabric. The 7 needle machine will do a better job for me with this. I can do it with the 12 needle machine by removing needles, but I'll just hold on to the 7 needle machine for now. Another thing that I like about the 7 needle machine is that it is the only machine that will allow you to have 3 needles in a line for when you are laying down things like cotton perle. Both the 12 needle and the 7 needle machines have the same size motor and run at the same RPM, so you should be primarily interested in the above factors when you decide between the two machines. I have still not finished testing everything that I want on the new 12 needle machine, but this is a start in the comparison between the two machines.
Brother and Bernina offer needle felting attachments for some of their sewing machines. The Brother attachment uses a 5 needle unit which is similar to the Janome XPression' original needle holder and so has the same issues. The Bernina attachment uses single needles like the Babylock Embellisher. It has an added advantage that you can loosen all needles with one adjustment. The other machines that take single replacement needles have a screw for each needle. The felting attachments offered by Bernina and Brother do not fit all machines offered by these companies. But, if you have an old machine that will take the felting attachment, converting it using one of these attachments may be a good alternative. I have seem prices ranging from $140 to $299 for these attachments. I do not suggest that you use one of these attachments on your machine if you also plan to use this machine for sewing. Needle felting creates quite a bit of dust/debris and would require a thorough cleaning when switching from felting to sewing. It may be an advantage, however, if you want to take one machine to a class or on vacation that will allow you to both needle felt/punch and sew.
Prices for these machines are going to vary from one dealer to another. The Janome FM-725 sells in the $250-300 range, Babylock Embellisher-7 sells for $300-450. The Embellisher-12 normally sells for around $500-600. The "Fab Felter" is available for $299.00 from Nancy's Notions. The Pfaff Smart 350, Singer ER-10 and the Huskystar ER-10 sell for around $200-300 at most dealers.
All information on this page is the personal opinion of Denise Spanos. The information is copyrighted and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.