The Felter's Guide To Needle Buying
It's just as important for a needle felter to have a selection of needles as it is for a painter to have a selection of brushes. Contrary to popular belief, there is no "one size fits all." The gauge, barb number, working edge and spacing can significantly affect the wool and final appearance.
The gauge is a numerical value that represents the diameter of the felting needle. Gauges range between 32 (coarse) and 42 (fine). Most needle felting projects will require a thick needle to felt the coarse wool fibers when you initially start a project and a finer needle to felt the thinner wool fibers when you finish a project.
Coarse and medium wool – 32/36 gauge
Medium and fine wool – 40 gauge
Fine wool and delicate fabrics – 42 gauge
Felting needles will go blunt over time, especially if you're combining other, more robust materials into your crafting project, such as pipe cleaners and cotton. Make sure you have a backup with you at all times; otherwise you could risk causing irreversible damage. For example, if you use a needle designed for coarse wool for finishing, you will end up poking small holes on the surface.
The number of barbs will affect the speed of the felting process. Needles with fewer barbs are slower but more precise because they will catch single strands of wool. This makes them suitable for applying small details and highlights. Needles with a greater number of barbs are ideal for single-color crafts or shaping large pieces of wool.
Most felting needles have evenly placed barbs that are spiralled. This provides an even finish inside the hole. Needles with barbs that are situated close to the tip, however, are primarily designed for finishing as they will close the hole and leave a smooth surface. Deeper barbs will transport a larger quantity of wool, but in a more aggressive manner. Deeper barbs are often required at the start of a new project in order to shape large quantities of wool.
The majority of felting needles have three or four working edges to allow wool to be grasped from each direction. Needles with only one or two working edges are designed to penetrate the felt deeper, as they have less resistance. In addition, they can be used sideways or parallel with the wool.
While these guidelines will help you choose the appropriate needles for each project, don't be afraid to break convention. There are no definitive rules for craft supplies. Personal preference should always take precedence if the project calls for it.