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.