Sunday, 25 November 2012

A few tips on making needle felted animals

Mouse Angel by Catherine Lane
This isn't a step by step tutorial, it's just a few things I've learned during my time needle felting.

I was never a 'crafty' type until I found out about needle felting. I am a creative person ie I write songs and sing, but in the past, whenever I made an attempt at a craft, it always looked like something you wouldn't even want to give to your worst enemy. It was that bad! :D

Then one day I was watching Kirstie Allsop's Homemade Britain, it happened to be the needlecraft episode. you can watch it here on 4OD Kirstie Allsop's Homemade Britain Series 1 Episode 3  Needle felting was featured on the programme, and that was it. I was intrigued. People can actually make teeny tiny animals out of wool?! I had never heard of it and I spent the next couple of days constantly searching the internet for tutorials on how to needle felt.

What is needle felting?
Needle felting is basically just manipulating wool with a felting needle. The needle has little barbs in it and when you felt, ie stab the needle into the wool, the barbs pull and push the wool fibres so that they become 'knitted' or matted together. The more you stab the wool, the firmer it becomes and then you can also shape the wool with your hands.

There are different kinds of needle felting, this post is about 3D Sculptural needle felting, where the wool is dry and you use one needle at a time. There is also wet felting (which I only tried once and it wasn't my thing)where the wool becomes felted by wetting it and manipulating it whilst it is wet rather than using a needle.

How was needle felting first discovered?
I heard somewhere (can't for the life of me remember where though!) and my memory is a bit sketchy, but needle felting came about when some farmer/shepherd type bloke ages ago (historians would be proud of me) had to walk a long way every day and his shoes were giving him blisters, so he put some wool from his sheep into his shoes and the movement of his feet manipulated the wool. So when he took the wool out, it was felted. Hey presto, stinky foot cheese felt! :) It's a good thing we use needles now instead of our feet.

There are tutorials online and on Youtube that show the basics. Before I had ever tried needle felting, I did get a couple of basic books from the library, but I mostly just watched videos on Youtube. Here is one of the ones I found most useful....

Beth Stone's needle felting tutorial. Parts 1-7

Also, there is a fantastic series of needle felting tutorial DVDs that are so worth purchasing. They are by Kay Petal of Felt Alive. I didn't see the DVDs until I'd been felting for a while, but I learned so much from her. Thank you Kay!
Here is the link to Kay Petal's website, where you can buy her DVDs. Kay Petal Dolls Needle Felting Video Workshop 

I also have a make your own mouse needle felting kit available in my shop here: Mrs Plop's needle felted mouse and tutorial  kit. This kit is for advanced beginners/intermediate but you only really need to know the basics. It also includes a free month of tutorial support and advice from yours truly :)

If you prefer books, there is a good starting book you could buy called Little Felted Animals by Marie Noelle-Hovarth

So how do I start?
All you really need to start is:

Wool roving
A pack of general felting needles (but I started with just one needle)
A foam mat/pad
and that's it!

I'll talk about each of the above list in a bit more detail:
Wool roving (basically roving is unspun wool)
There are lots of places online where you can buy it, just do a search, or if you have a local craft shop, you will probably find some there. But I can't really recommend types of wool, because I only use wool from local animals, where I know what their living conditions are. It might make things a bit more limited for me, but that's just the way it is. I found out about the animal welfare aspect of Merino wool and now I won't touch it. Again though, search that if you're interested, because this is a craft blog not an animal welfare blog and I don't want to start waffling on about it, but if you can use wool from a small herd of sheep or from a supplier who gives information about the origin of their wool, much the better! When you first start, your pieces will be practice though, and wool isn't massively pricey, so you can experiment with different wool and see what suits you best.

Needle felting needles
Felting needles
You can buy packs of general felting needles at lots of different places online, but there's a lady called Heidi Feathers on ebay who sells them and provides an excellent service. The packs she sells are very reasonably priced and are colour coded. She also provides an online guide to felting needles. Very useful!
Here is the link to her felting needles:  Eight felting needles pack
And here is her guide to different types of felting needles A guide to felting needles

Spiral/Twisted Felting Needle
A little update about felting needles: I recently bought some fantastic new felting needles. They are called 'Spiral' or 'Twisted' felting needles, they are so great to work with, and they leave almost no puncture marks. Brilliant! :) You can buy them from a fellow needle-felter and friend of mine, Bianca. Here's the linky: Spiral felting needles from FeltSpecial

Foam mat/pad
You'll need a mat or pad because you're using a very sharp needle and you're stabbing that sharp needle repeatedly into wool. Not only do you need it to protect you so you don't end up looking like a colander and being in a lot of pain, the wool needs something to support it during the felting process, and if you just felted onto a table you'd break the needles straight away. Felting needles break easily. Again, Heidi Feathers sells a foam mat which you can buy in her ebay shop. (this foam is the type of foam that is used to protect electrical items) You can also use upholstery foam, but I prefer the firmer foam as the upholstery foam tends to break up easily as you felt on it, and you end up with little bits of foam stuck to your felted animal. Plus upholstery foam tends to get thin in the middle after a while and then your felting area is all thin and rubbish for felting.

Before we go any further, a word about safety
Be very careful with the needles when you're felting, they are so sharp. When I first started, I was always stabbing my fingers with the needle, and it really hurts! My fingers were often covered in plasters. I thought this would just continue, but as I've got better at the craft, and got to know it better, I've stopped stabbing myself, which is always useful! ;P I'm sure I will again but it is just one of the things that can happen with needle felting, but just remember to be as careful as you can possibly be.

When I first started though, I tended to stab the wool too vigorously and I think that's one of the reasons why I stabbed myself a lot. As you get familiar with it, the pressure of your stabbing movements will become less vigorous, as mine did. My husband used to ask me to stop felting before he came into the living room in case I stabbed myself when he was there. Lol!

Ok, so you have your wool, needles and a foam mat/pad and your heart's desire is to make the cutest needle felted animal ever! It will take time to get to the point, and here is the main point of this entire post. Do not lose heart! Keep trying, if you make one and it's not good, chuck it out! So what? Just keep felting and practicing, you will get there, and that's a fact!

If you want to make needle felted animals then you must be someone who really has a great love for animals. I think that's so important. I risk sounding flaky here, but I don't care, because it's the truth. The more love you have for animals, the more your felted animals will turn out how you want them to turn out. Put all that love that you have for animals into your work as you make it. (ok, I was brought up by musicians, what do you expect? ;) ) Choose an animal that you want to make and then look at lots of different photographs and videos of that animal, look at photos of the animal in as many different positions as possible. Look at the shape of that animal, read about their lives, get to know more about them. You're making a 3D sculpture out of wool, so when you're looking at photographs, look at the shapes of the body, head, legs, ears etc very closely before you even start. Have a picture in your own mind of what your finished felted animal will look like. I'm not saying that you're aiming to produce something that looks real, but get all the anatomy and shapes in your mind as much as you can.

I don't use or make patterns, I just start. When I start felting, I always start with the head, and I'm not completely sure how other needle felters work, but I personally put on the eyes and sometimes the ears, reasonably quickly, ie after I'm happy with the basic head shape. I know that some felters don't put the eyes and ears on until they have the head attached to the body, but it's really whatever suits you best. I find that if I can see the eyes, I am then working with something that has the beginnings of an expression and a character and I work around that, if that makes sense! Some people use a wire armature, which is basically thin wire wrapped together to make a 'structure' for the animal that you build the wool on. I did try it when I first started, I know some people swear by it, but I found it wasn't right for me, and when I stopped using a wire armature, my felted animals improved.

Don't worry too much if things aren't looking right! That's a very important point. These things take time to create as I've already mentioned! And more time than you think! It won't look great to begin with anyway, until you've worked on it and shaped it. If something's not looking right to me, I'll put it away and go and think about it. I know that sounds daft and kind of obvious, but to me, the time away from a project is as important as the time making it. You need the breathing space to think about what it is that isn't right, and again for me, after I've had that time, I'll look at it again with fresher eyes and I can see what the problem is, and then correct it.

If you've over-felted something, and this happens if you work on an area for too long, it becomes too hard to work with, you can't shape it anymore and when you put your needle into it, it just doesn't do anything except make holes from the needle, but the wool isn't actually moving anywhere. I think that was one of the things I did most when I first started, I over-felted my projects. So if you do that, just think of it as part of the learning process and don't worry too much if you do it. If you over-felt an area, or you realise you've put too much wool in one area, just cut it out! It's not a big deal, you can easily cut it out and just re-felt the area with your needle.

Give yourself the time you need to really get to know the wool and the needles. You'll find you just become more comfortable with it and you'll get to know how it works and how to work with it. Don't ever think you can't do it if it's not turning out right, just keep going! Otherwise you'll give up before you've given yourself the time that is so necessary to learn this amazing craft!

Have fun!

If you have any questions about needle felting or you need some help, I'd be happy to help you. You can just email me: 

You can visit my Etsy shop here: Mrs Plop's Shoppe on Etsy
Catherine Lane X

Here are a few of my felted animals...
Sleeping white mouse in a vintage teacup by Catherine Lane
Homeless Mouse - Will Work For Cheese!
Needle Felted Miniature Palomino Pony
A Puppy For All Seasons-Autumn Spaniel by Catherine Lane

Little Carmen Miranda Mouse by Catherine Lane
Needle Felted Martin 'Marty' Mouse of Facebook Fame! by Catherine Lane
Oliver the Orpan Otter 
Needle Felted Little Christmas Mouse by Catherine Lane  
Needle Felted Miniature White Samoyed Dog by Catherine Lane 
How D'ya Like Them Apples? Needle Felted Apple Scrumping Rat by Catherine Lane

Mouse Angel by Catherine Lane by Catherine Lane
Cocker Spaniel by Catherine Lane

Custom made Guinea Pig by Catherine Lane


  1. Ooh how lovely have faved this to try at some point :)

  2. Hey Hannah, thanks for your comment. Let me know if you do give it a try! :) x

  3. Thank you for giving us these tips...your babies are beautiful!

  4. I feel inspired to try having read this! Thank you for the links!

  5. Hi Leslie. I'm pleased it inspired you! Have a go and do please come back and let me know how you got on :)

  6. Catherine You reminded me as I started with the felt. Many or most are self-taught, we learned from the videos of Kay but each one have our way to do it. Thanks for putting my blog on your list. I have also put yours on my blog. Your work is very beautiful and well done. Kiss Asun

    1. Hello Asun!
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a lovely comment! You are so welcome. I love your work, it's so innovative and brilliant! I've just finished one that I'm most proud of so far. My little Carmen Miranda mouse. She's the first post on my blog at the moment. Big hugs, Catherine x

  7. What a great blog, loving your animals and Thank YOU for all the great links x

  8. Brilliant advice, I got a little started kit of a penguin, I didn't have a clue what I was doing and just made a mess, the instructions was not very good, the foam mat was so thin I made a dotted table pattern much to hubby's annoyance, I think I went to hard, I really wanted to make something other than a card, I have spent the last 3 days on you tube and reading things and just watching, now the instructions was pants never said anything about making shapes, so I ended up with a right wonky penguin with a massive nose and eyes almost as bit has his head :0) I have not thrown it away as I am going to keep it as a reminder of where I started...

    Your advice is so good and I hope one day to be as good as you, I do have to say it is relaxing, but I must have made lots of mistakes my fingers are all holes and throbbing like mad, but I guess this is about learning as I know now to go gentle :0)

    Hugs Pops x x x

    1. Hi Pops
      Your comment made me laugh! Don't worry, my first attempts were a bit of a disaster too haha! I have a very confused hedgehog which was one of my first needle felted.....err things. It will never know what it's supposed to be. Poor thing ;) You'll get there! What you're doing is great. Just keep watching as much and reading as much as you can online. I never bought books, I just spent hours watching videos and reading, just like you're doing now :) And as I mentioned in my blog post, check out Kay Petal. Her advice is brilliant. Feel free to email me anytime you need any advice. I'm always happy to help
      Hugs to you too!
      Mrs Plop xxx

  9. i Catherine,

    I came across your blog when searching for needle felt animals..your animals are so neat! :) Just wondering how do you do that? I've just started needle felting, and had tried to do a few, but my animals have a lot of the wool fiber sticking out here and there.. while yours are very "clean-cut".. I'm just wondering if there is any solution or anything that I can do to fix that? Any help is greatly appreciated ;)

    Thank you :)


    1. Hi Felicia
      The answer to your question is a lot more simple than you might think! All you need to do to get rid of what felting artists call 'fuzzies' - ie bits of fibre sticking up all over the place - is just very carefully snip the stray fibres off. Just be sure you snip them in really good lighting! Daylight is best, so by a window is a good place. Good luck and I hope you're enjoying your felting!
      Catherine :)

  10. Catherine you are excellent in felting, Your teeny tiny animals are so cute and lovely :)

    1. Ah, thank you! I'm so pleased you like them. Thank you too for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment :)

  11. Your little mice are so whimsical!