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Comparison of needle felting
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Frequently Asked Questions:
What are the rules for needle felting?
My rules for needle felting are the same as my rules for
other artful endeavors. There are no rules except the rules that you
make for yourself. Use materials and fibers that you like. Mix
colors and textures that you like. If you make something that you do
not like, decide what it is that you do not like about it. Store that
info away and then put the project in a scrap bag. You may find a use
for it later or find a friend who would just die to have it. If you
can't bear to do that, then give yourself permission to use it as a cleaning
rag or to throw it away. Needle felting as in any art should free you
to do what feels right for you. I do, however, suggest that you take
proper precautions to insure that you do not hurt yourself or others.
What kind of mat or pad do I need when I am needle
felting by hand?
You really do not need anything fancy to use as a pad for
your needle felting. I use the left over foam that I received as
packing material from a computer part that I ordered. (I really like
to find ways to reuse things instead of buying new, when I can.) You
can also use a piece of foam that would be used for sofa or chair cushions
(the part you would sit on.) You want the foam to be about 2 inches
thick and a dense foam. If you are not working on a 3-D project, you
will probably use the foam until you have finished your piece. It is
really the only way that I know to hand needle felt a flat piece of fabric
without using a needle felting machine. For 3-D projects, you will
probably want to use the foam until you can hold the item in your hand while
felting (but without punching your fingers....those needles can hurt.)
There is one trick that I found to help when needle felting a flat piece
using the foam. Put a layer of Vilene on top of your foam before you
start to use the needles. When you are finished, the Vilene will help
to separate fibers from the foam. Then, you just wash away the Vilene
and let the felted item dry. I have tried a few other things in place
of the Vilene including (plastic wrap, Sulky Solvy, etc.) but they seem to
fall apart when separating the felt from the foam.
Can you suggest a good hand felting project for a beginner?
I think that one of the best first
projects for a beginner is to make a felted ball pin cushion. You can
find detailed instructions on our needle felting patterns page. Patterns for Felting
Do you think that Vilene is better than Sulky
Solvy that most people refer to is the film like topping that is used for
machine embroidery and other things. I find that it does not work well
at all when used as a base/foundation for needle felting. The needles
seem to just rip up the Solvy, even when I used more than one layer.
Solvy is a GREAT product for use as a topping for machine embroidery.
The characteristic that you want to find in a water soluble stabilizer
for use moving roving when you are not using a foundation fabric is that it
is NOT a FILM product. Vilene is a whitish stabilizer, sort of like a
lightweight white interfacing. It is a non-woven stabilizer. It
works well because it lets the roving fibers go through the stabilizer.
When you look closely at Vilene, you can see the needle holes that were used
to produce it (that is how most non-woven fabrics are created...by needle
punch/needle felting on large "looms." So, Vilene seems
to like taking the needles from my machine and works as well as any water
soluble stabilizer that I have tried.
Another similar product is called H2O Gone. It sells at
Hancock fabric and on-line at Joann's. (I don't know if Joann's stores
carry it because there is not one close by. H2O Gone is almost
indistinguishable from Vilene to me, but is more expensive than Vilene.
That is why I sell and use Vilene.
Can you compare the Babylock Embellisher and the
Janome XPression (or FM-725)?
I actually own and use both the Babylock
Embellisher and the Janome XPression. Since I sell needle felting
supplies and teach classes, I really needed to be well acquainted with both
machines. Here are the good and bad points for each of them. I have
written an in-depth comparison of all of the felting machines that I know
about and you can read it by clicking
What is the difference between hand dyed and
hand painted roving or yarn?
Hand painted roving is hand
dyed, but hand-dyed is not necessarily hand painted. Let me explain more.
There are a number of ways to hand dyed roving. You can dye it in a pot or a
jar and get roving that is either solid colors or more likely, some
variation on the same color....a bit lighter here, a bit darker there. But
another way to hand dyed roving is to use multiple colors and to
"paint" the dye on
the roving. Usually that results in some of the different colors blending
together. Sometimes you will also hear hand painted roving caller rainbow
I dye using three different methods.
1) I dye in a pot when I am looking for some, but not too much variation in
the color of the roving that I am dyeing. I do this by putting the roving
into a large pot with dye of a single color and then heating it
appropriately to set the colors. An example is "Papa's Roses" on
2) If I want more tonal variation, then I put the roving in jars and add the
dye, then heat the jars in a canning pot to set the roving. Since the
roving can't move around in the jar as much as in the pot, there are more
variations in the color. An example is "Clear Blue Sky" on my
3) If I want to use multiple colors and have them blend together, then I
hand paint them, wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in a Ziplock bag and
process them that way. An example is "Caribbean Sea" on my
I use "hand-dyed" to define all of the roving that I dye. Some
others may use "hand painted" for all of theirs. You can get some
of the same effects
using each of the three methods I defined above and I am sure that others
may have even more methods that they use to get these or other results.
I have heard of people putting more than one color in a dye pot with roving
and letting it blend. I am not sure that I would like the result of that, so
I use the plastic wrap method whenever I am using more than one color unless
it is my intention for the colors to blend (in which case I mix the two dye
colors before putting them into the pot.)
Also, some time with hand-painted roving, the person dyeing it will use a
thickener to hold the dye in a particular place so that it doesn't blend
together too much. Other times, without a thickener, they will encourage
blending between colors. You just have to be careful about what colors you
blending together so that you do not create too much of the "mud"
color that you get when a red, blue and yellow (or colors formed using all
three of those
colors) blend together.
I am sure that I have not covered every way that roving and/or yarn can be
hand dyed, but for the areas that I have covered, I hope that this
explanation is a bit clearer than mud....
How do you decide how many needles to use on
In most cases, I use the maximum number of needles that my machine will use,
that is 7 on my Babylock Embellisher and 5 on my Janome XPression.
When I am needle felting something large, it takes less time with more
But, when I am needle felting something that is very thin and I do not want
to have needle holes except on the thin piece, I use one needle on my Janome
XPression and usually 3 needles (lined in a row) on my Babylock
Embellisher. You can use one needle on the Embellisher, but I have
become pretty good at keeping the 3 needles on the thin thing without
getting needle marks along its edges on the foundation fabric.
If you don't care about the needle holes even when you are attaching
something thin, you can still use all of the needles that the machine will
do this often when I am attaching something thin to a background that I have
felted from roving and which already has needle felting holes in it.
And, just a hint, if the holes bother you, you may want to wash the fabric
in warm water and let it dry. If it is all wool, you may even want to add a
bit of liquid dishwashing detergent and rub it against itself to help to full
the felt that you have made. Then rinse well and set it aside to dry. If you
are not comfortable doing that, then you can try steaming the felted
material. Often that will remove the needle holes.
Do you have any tips for using Vilene with
needle felted fibers?
Yes, click here to go to a page of tips
including how to make silk fusion fabric/paper with Vilene.
What size needle do I use when?
to see some of our recommendations.
How do I go about cutting my own needles?
Because of liability issues, I am not able to provide
any instructions for cutting needles yourself. I would, however,
caution anyone who wants to try to cut their own needles of a few things
that I have discovered in the process of learning to cut the needles.
First, I have been unable to find any wire cutter or bolt cutter which can
be used to cut the needles. I have found that they must be cut with a
blade made for cutting hardened steel. Second, if you attempt to cut
needles, be sure that you are wearing all of the appropriate safety
equipment including, at least, eye protection, a respirator, safety gloves
and that you are doing it in a place which will not easily catch fire.
You should also have a fire extinguisher handy anytime you attempt to cut
Can I use a needle felting/punching machine to
embellish ready-to-wear garments?
You could most certainly use
a needle felting/punching machine to embellish ready to wear items. Denim is one of my favorite foundation materials.
You can very easily punch roving and yarns into denim without any
problems. If the roving/yarn is wool and you punch from both the
right and the wrong side of the denim when punching, you will definitely
have a design that will stand up to many washings. This is because
wool is an animal fiber with scales on the fibers. When they are
felted together with the needle felting machine, they become interlocked.
That creates felt. When you wash it, the felt becomes
"fulled" which means that is is actually locked together even
tighter. So anything made with wool (roving or yarn) is going to
stand up very well. You can also mix other fibers with wool and get
very similar results. The wool basically traps the other fibers when
it is felted and so it holds the other fibers on the foundation fabric.
Even though wool is one of the easiest fibers to use
and many people use both roving and yarns to decorate RTW, you can also
use other fibers and even fabrics to embellish your items using a needle
punching/felting machine. Novelty yarns do very well with needle
punching as do lightweight fancy fabrics including silk dupioni, satins,
rayons, boucle (silk, acrylic or wool), and even lightweight, inexpensive
lining material can be used. If you use this type of fiber/fabric to
embellish RTW, I suggest using a fusible mesh (polyester knit) interfacing
on the wrong side AFTER the embellishment is complete. The fusible
will help to lock the fibers that have been punched through to the wrong
side since those fibers do not have scales like wool. You can also
use Free motion embroidery or machine embroidery to help to secure your
embellishment to your garment.
Right now, I am working on a project that will
combine needle felting and machine embroidery. I have purchased a
black wool and cashmere blend scarf and I am embellishing it with flowers
that are needle punched. I am also digitizing the outlines and some
detail of the flowers so that I can use my embroidery machine to provide
the finishing touch. I am really excited about this project.
You might also want to check out some work that was done by Evy Hawkins
and was published recently in Creative Machine Embroidery.
Evy's website is www.abitofstitch.com.
So make a wrap by punching together fabrics to create the wrap which was
them embellished with embroidered designs. It is really beautiful
(and I am so excited that I will get to see it in person next month at an
embroidery class that she is teaching. I have also made felted
fabric to use with some of her applique designs and they came out awesome.
How about a felted teddy bear applique for a kid?
I have also worked with felting silk roving into
something that is most akin to silk fusion. This is a fabric that is
more like a paper in stiffness but like a fabric in shine. I have
used it with my embroidery machine to make butterflies using an embroidery
design that was not intended to be free standing. Because of the
texture of the silk fusion, however, I was able to cut out the design and
make it into a pin.
I have also used my machine to make flowers that can
be used to embellish clothing. I made mine into pins because I
wanted to be able to change them to match the color that I was wearing.
(I love black sweaters, but I like to add some punch to the sweater by
adding a flower or some other needle felted item to dress them up.)
How can I combine machine needle felting and
machine embroidery? What do I do first, the embroidery or the felting?
When I want to create a large background onto which
I am going to embroider small designs....for example a seascape background
onto which I will embroider small fish and other sea life, I decide the
size I want to background to be and I then create it using roving and/or
other fibers and fabrics. I almost always create the background on
Vilene (Water Soluble Stabilizer) first and then, when I am happy with the
background, I wash out the Vilene and let it dry. Then, I punch it
into the fabric I am going to be using. The advantage of doing it
this way is that if you decide that you do not like something in the
background, you can just cut the bad part away, put another piece of
Vilene behind it and have another go at it. When I have finished the
background, I decide where to embroider the fish and then place them
When I want to completely fill something like
an applique design, I create the felt again on VIlene and then wash out
the Vilene. I then just use the created felt in the same way I would
use any other fabric with an applique design. I usually like to
repeat the stitching that tacks down the felt, though, since it is a bit
puffier than a flat piece of fabric.
You can also use an outline design and
embroider it first and then punch the fibers into the fabric. This
works, but I am not as happy with the results, usually, because I am not
able to get as close to the design as I want to with the fibers. So,
when I am doing something like this, I create a piece of felt first, then
put it on the fabric and embroider the design. Then, I remove the
project from the machine BUT NOT FROM THE HOOP. I then trim around
the design just like you would with an applique design. I then put
the design back on the machine and stitch the design again. This
seems to clean up the edges around the design where the felt is not
entirely under the stitches and I like the extra detail that the second
stitching brings out.
When I want to needle felt on a purse made out
of washing machine felted sweaters, should I assemble the purse first and
then needle felt, or should I needle felt on the piece of the purse before
I would definitely needle felt the design
before assembling the purse. It will be much easier to handle on the
needle felting machine and, if you should make a "mistake", you
may be able to turn the sweater piece over and try again. I put the
word "mistake" in quotation marks because, I really don't think
that you can make a mistake with needle felting. Usually, you can
just add more roving/yarn/fabric/fiber and cover (enhance) what you
previously added. Also, I find that when I needle felt, I often add
some free motion embroidery to help to better define the needle felted
work. Free motion embroidery is definitely easier when you are
working on a flat piece then when you are trying to work with something
like an assembled purse.
If you want to work on a purchased purse,
however, I would try to needle felt on the purse rather than trying to
disassemble it. I often needle felt onto ready-to-wear
articles. Occasionally, I remove a seam to make the needle felting
easier such as when I want to needle felt on a pair of pants. Rarely
would I attempt to disassemble an entire garment, however.
Can you compare the Babylock Embellisher and the
I actually own and use both the Babylock
Embellisher and the Janome XPression. Since I sell needle felting
supplies and teach classes, I really needed to be well acquainted with both
machines. Here are the good and bad points for each of them.
1. Needles: The Babylock Embellisher uses 7 separate needles.
The XPression originally used either a single unit with 5 needles or a holder that
holds one needle. Recently, Janome came out with a replacement part
that includes a new 5 needle holder that uses individual needles, 10 replacement
individual needles and an extra needle guard. This part retails for
approximately $40.00 and is definitely worth even penny in my opinion. I
have used it with all of the needles that I sell and they work great in
it. It is also nice to have a replacement needle guard, just in case you
break one. This have really made the Janome machine (renamed the FM-725) a
real competitor with the other machines on the market. Just be careful to
make sure that you are getting this new needle assembly in any machine that you
purchase in the near future. I have heard of quite a few people who did
not get the new needle holder with their machines purchases in October through
December 2007. So just make sure that your dealer guarantees the you will
get the new needle holder that uses 5 individual needles or that they will
provide one for you at no cost.
When using a machine that lets you replace needles
separately, if you break one needle, that is all you replace. It also
allows you to use other size and style needles. Babylock only makes size 40
triangular needles, but you can use other size and style needles which have been
cut to the appropriate size in the Embellisher and other machines that allow you
to replace needles individually. That means that if want to felt on to a
tightly woven fabric, I will use a size 42 needle and will be much less
likely to break a needle than if I use size 40 needles. With the older
style machines that have a 5 needle holder that does not allow you to replace
needle individually, if I break one needle in the unit, I can either replace the
entire unit or cut off the broken needle. You don't want to have a
broken needle going into the fabric or roving because it can make too big
of a hole or even tear your project.
One of the things that I do like about the XPression is that it has a
holder for a single needle. When I am applying a strand of yarn to a
fabric, it is nice to have only one needle so that there are no holes that
show. With the Embellisher, I can remove 6 of the needle (or remove 4
needles so that I have 3 needles in a straight line) and get the same
result. But, with the XPression, it is nice to just change the unit
and not have to deal with individual needles each time you want to change to
one needle. With the Embellisher, you can buy another needle holder (I
own one) so I can have it set with the 1 or 3 needles for using with yarn.
If you have the second needle holder with the Embellisher, you can also keep
one holder set with size 40 needles (the size the manufacturer sells) and
another with size 42 needles (which I often use when I am working on tightly
woven fabric.) The down side is that the needle holder costs about
2. Size of the machine. The Embellisher and the XPression are
approximately the same size and the space that you have to work with the
very comparable. Although the photo on the Nancy's Notions website
might suggest that the Fab Felter has a smaller workspace, it is the same,
or perhaps a bit larger than the XPression workspace. You can buy an
extension table for the Fab Felter from Nancy's Notions. After market
tables are available for the other machines.
3. Speed of the machine. This is the one area where I think
there is a real difference. The Embellisher has a faster motor than
the XPression. The Embellisher does 1000 punches per minute with 7
needles...so that is 7000 punches a minute. The Janome does 900 punches
per minute with 5 needles....so that is 4500 punches in a minute. They are
both one-half Amp motors. So, with a faster motor and more needles, the
Embellisher will felt things faster than the XPression. If you are
mostly working with felting yarns or other fibers on to a base fabric, you
will probably not notice a real difference. If you are using the
machine to make felt from roving, then you may notice the difference in time
that it takes for the roving to felt. I make a lot of felt from roving of different kinds.
So, for that purpose, I tend to gravitate to my Embellisher. For most
other things that I am doing, I just use the machine that is currently on my
work surface. I had spent a lot of time using the Embellisher before I
got the XPression, so I may just be a bit less patient when felting roving.
If you have never used an Embellisher, you probably would not really notice
the difference between the two machines.
4. Support. I like that the XPression came with a DVD tutorial
and a sample kit. Neither machine comes with much of a manual, but I
think that is because the machines are pretty easy to use. But what I
have found is that many people don't know where to start using the
machine, so having a kit and DVD is really nice for a beginner. Once
you do your first project on either machine, though, you should be OK.
(I do recommend the book "Indygo Junction Needle Felting" as a
really good book for someone just starting because if offers both machine
and hand felting projects. It is available from www.Amazon.com for less
than $14 plus shipping or retail at $24.95.
5. Safety. Both the Babylock Embellisher and
the Janome XPression have needle guards to protect your fingers while you are
using the machine. The needle guard on the Embellisher is raised and lower using a knob at
the top of the machine. It is very easy to use. The guard is built
into the machine so that it would take quite a lot of work to remove it.
The XPression's needle guard is attached at the back of the needles in the
area where you would attach a sewing foot on a sewing machine. To adjust
the guard, you loosen a screw knob and then raise or lower the guard. It
is not as convenient, but is not horribly inconvenient. I am concerned,
though, that the needle guard can also be easily removed. So, if you
expect to work with your needle felting machine with children, then I would
suggest that the Embellisher would be a safer choice. Regardless,
though, children should not use these machines without appropriate adult
6. Cost. When the machines are on sale, you can expect to pay more for
the Embellisher than for the XPression but the prices of these machines seem
to be coming down significantly from the time that the Babylock Embellishers
were first introduced. Dealers don't quote actual
prices on the Internet, but from the best that I know, the Janome FM-725 will
likely cost about $250-300 (or more if you have to also buy the replacement
needle holder) and the Embellisher about $300-450.
Do you recommend purchasing generic attachments for
old sewing machines that you might never want to use for sewing again?
I have never used one of these attachments, but
I have done some research on them and have talked to a number of people who
have purchased them. I would not recommend purchasing generic attachments.
The only attachments that I recommend are those made for the machine by the
specific manufacturer. Bernina does make an attachment that works on
some of their machines. It does a good job. If you happen to have
one of those machines, then I would suggest that the attachment is a good
idea. Brother also makes one for some of their machines, but the Brother
attachment does not take individual needles, so I am a bit more hesitant to recommend
it for the same reasons as other machines that do not take
individual needles. If, however, you are looking at an attachment made
for any generic machine, I would be wary. My concerns are as follows:
1) All of the attachment of this type which I
have seen advertised do not come with a needle guard. I feel that this
is a REAL safety issue. All too often I find that my fingers touch the
guard when I am working. Without the finger safety guard, I am sure I
would have been punctured more than once by now.
2) The needles on these attachment are spaced
very far apart in comparison to the placement of the needles on the standalone
machines. On my Embellisher, I imagine that the 7 needles are in a space
of just over 1/4th of a square inch. The Janome, Huskystar and Pfaff
have their 5 needles in about the same space. The wider the needles are
spread apart, the more likely you are to have holes poked in areas that you do
not want. It also result in having to move your project under the
needles more since the needles are not concentrated in as small a space.
3) All of the attachment that I have seen use a
piece of foam instead of a throat plate. All of the standalone machine
use a throat plate. Getting your project stuck in the foam could be a
real problem (like some who needle felt by hand have come to know.)
Unlike the machines that use foam, those with a throat plate have an area to
collect lint and nothing else for the project to get entangled with.
Consequently, this is much less of a problem with one of the standalone
machines or attachments made for a specific manufacturers machine.
4) Using a generic attachment on an existing
sewing machine is a decision that is not easily undone. Should you ever
decide to use the machine again for sewing, you would have to do a very
thorough cleaning to remove any lint accumulation, but more importantly, you
would also likely have to reassemble parts of the machine since you usually
have to strip out parts of the sewing components when you put in the