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Update Your Wardrobe Cheaply With Needle Felting

Mar 4, 2009

I made a vow with myself several years back: I Will Not Get Into Needle Felting. I figured I had enough "hobbies" (let's just be honest and call them "obsessions," shall we?) and I didn't want any more reasons to spend money that might detract from my knitting stash expansion efforts. Plus...I know myself. I love all things crafty. I just thought it wise not to add one more obsession to my already craft-crazed psyche.

That said...I've had these really warm and comfy felted slippers for a while, but they've started looking rather ratty and stained. Despite their embarrassing appearance, I love them and can't bear to give them up.

This week, as I was reading about different ways to Be Crafty On A Budget, I kept reading about embellishing clothes you already had: with sewn-on ribbons, with little knitted or crocheted flowers...and with needle felting. Suddenly, needle felting was everywhere I looked. And one day, I was pulling on my beloved battered felted booties and imaging them with little pink needle-felted birds on them....that's when I realized I was doomed. The time had come for me to try needle felting and see if it was something I might want to embrace in my crafty, obsessional repertoire.

I borrowed mats and needle tools from a friend, and then, because I'm a bookish sort, I pulled out the new needlefelt book we published this Spring, Simply Needlefelt. I read through the book last Saturday, thinking it would be all about arsty-but-impossible things done with lots of sheep fuzz. Wow, was I ever wrong! Did you know you can needle felt with yarn? Using a cookie cutter to make shapes? I thought of that little pink bird and immediately raided my husband's baking cupboard--and lo and behold, he had a birdie cookie cutter!

Two hours later, I had my little pink birdies on the slippers, each sitting on a tuft of green grass; the tatty old tops of the booties had been folded down and needle-felted with a simple braid of thick grey yarn.

The result charms me completely and has kept me from having to toss out something I loved; it has also saved my budget, because now I don't have to make or buy new slippers!

I was surprised at how easy needle felting was. And you know, there's something kind of therapeutic about sticking needles into something over and over. (Think about this. You'll see what I mean.)

I have an old grey wool skirt from my corporate drone days...I think that skirt could use some quality needle felting time to pretty it up a bit.

Enjoy. And let me know if you've caught the needle-felting bug!

-- Sandi


Curious about needle felting and want to learn more about how it's done?

Simply Needlefelt by Jayne Emerson is a great introduction to this addictive and enjoyable craft. The tools are inexpensive, and you can use all kinds of scraps and yarns you already have to brighten up everything from old wool jackets to hats and home decor. (I really want to try the french press cozy in here, since I have recently become a french press coffee snob.) I was amazed at all the little tricks and tips Jayne has in this book which I had never seen before...and Jayne, I gotta say that it's your fault that I am now eyeing my old clothes and thinking, hm, how can I stick some needles into those to make them look better?

Look for Simply Needlefelt at your local yarn shop, or purchase it online from us.



Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I started and finished a one-skein hat, and then needlefelted my booties this weekend! Two quick-and-pretty successes make me feel ready to go back and tackle a few of my other, longer-term projects with fresh energy.


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Mamawsandy wrote
on Mar 6, 2009 1:48 PM
I need some kind of material I can put on the sole of some expensive house slippers. The tops are still good. Any suggestions? Sandra
Mamawsandy wrote
on Mar 6, 2009 1:46 PM
I buy expensive house slippers. They last a long time on the uppers, but the sole is worn out. Where can I buy the felt or leather pieces to put on the worn out sole? Sandra
CarolA@3 wrote
on Mar 6, 2009 8:22 AM
Hi Sandi, I love the pink birds on your slippers. After 6 years my felted clogs were getting holes in the bottoms, so last week I needle felted patches on the bottom. I knew I bought those felting needles for some reason. Love Knitting Daily. Thanks, Carol
KatyJ wrote
on Mar 6, 2009 5:45 AM
Hi Sandi, I always enjoy reading knitting daily. It's also fun to look at the galleries that you show for each magazine. Do you have a readers gallery that shows knitters wearing their finished interweave projects? I thought there used to be one but I don't know how to find it. If such a gallery exists where would one send the pictures to be included in it. I am on the verge of having 2 vests completed and think it would be fun to send in the pictures. Thanks Katy
rkr4cds wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 6:45 PM
May I answer for you about the soles? That though you mentioned gathering your needles and mats/brushes I'm picturing the Clover® tool sets, (used for just small appliques) but you have the premium, upholstery grade foam rubber block shown. The foam block is inserted inside the slippers or placed under any area to be needled (using the term 'needled' differentiates it from 'felted', which has been more commonly understood to refer to the traditional process of wet-work/felting) to keep the two sides of the slippers from bonding together. One must continually lift the slipper (or other fabric used to needle into/onto) off the foam or it will become embedded and permanently attached together! I'd say - every 8 - 10 thrusts - lift and move the foam surface. Add enough new fiber to the bottom sole area to fill in worn spots or just to give a contrasting colored area. A processing shock treatment of the traditional wet felting (which is basically alternating hot & cold water, friction and agitation) will bond the fibers to each other and to the slipper. They are also what originally shrunk the overly-large, loosely knit slipper. Any Google© search for Wet Felting will bring up instructions for wet felting and probably a free pattern for slippers like these! One great tip I'll share - because I 'invented' this on my own, from the manuscript of my upcoming book on the Art of Needle Felting: to keep the embedded fibers of one color from being picked up in other parts of the same work or into your next project, wrap your foam block snugly in fiberglass window replacement screening, purchased by the roll in any hardware or DIY shop. It must be overlapped and pinned through one of the sides placed horizontally to bury the tips inside. Leave 2 ends open but wrap snugly or this will not work: Occasionally, as you see fibers begin to build up on the surface, pick them all off and then slide your hand between the foam and the screening. Voila! A totally clean surface again to work on, as the last few fuzzies are drawn down underneath. The fiberglass screening will eventually break down (no matter how large our block is, we tend to use the same 4 sq inches in the center!) but I've purposefully shredded the screening many times as a test for the book and rubbed the fiber on my hands and face and there are no fibers that hurt/cut/embed/etc... Which makes me wonder if the fibers underneath the grey or black plastic coating aren't now just soft plastic themselves??
rkr4cds wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 9:36 AM
Ahhhh, it doesn't take much to become completely beguiled by this does it? I would like to add this though; as a more experienced free-form needler of miniature realistic animal creations, you should needle for quite a bit longer to 'attach the fibers or perhaps overlay the yarn with fiber of the same shade in an unspun state. The yarn strands are laying rather softly/loosely on the surface and run the risk of catching on things as you pass by and pulling out (I'm assuming that the motifs are on the outside ankles.) They won't become permanently attached to your slippers until you needle them in much more extensively—gradually reducing your needle sizes, wet felt them to bond onto the front and on the inside or tack it all down with sewing stitches. From a pure needling standpoint, I'd needle it in. Unspun fibers bond more easily to each other and to your surface than do those whose ends have been plied into a central column like yarn. Yarn, especially large, loose, bulky yarn like left-over Lopi® and cookie cutters is an excellent way to start children see the magic happen in short workshops. You've got a great start and I hope you can budget a small bit of needling time into each week: as you've found, it's a great stress reliever and your mind is free to go where it will, thinking creatively or solving your own or the problems of the world.
SueS@4 wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 7:55 AM
Pattern for the booties, PLEEEEEEESSE??????
BreannaS wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 6:39 AM
I am not sure if you can be trusted any more. I may have to stop reading knitting daily (or I could jsut give in and try needle felting) I have been very good for months and I have not tried any new crafts but every time I go into my LYS they have a beautiful display of needle felting goodies. OOps! I think I just slid down into the black hole that is a new fiber craft, all your doing I say. ( So when my husband writes you a nasty letter about not having dinner for a few days just ignore his begging for food, he could stand to loose a few pounds while I start a new hobby).
busybees wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 6:36 AM
Learned about needle felting while visiting the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Show two years ago. Bought the basics and have shared the "craft" with dozens since...first projects were 3-d carrots, chicks and ducks; charming spring decorations. LOVE the "improvements" and "updating" on your slippers with simple embellishments, so "dear" and so inspiring. WITH WHAT and HOW did you cover the soles? Is that felting or applied? Please let us know! Thank you in advance!
Laine wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 6:29 AM
I would love to have instructions for your finished product (including felted slippers)!!! Very cute.
ElisabethM@2 wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 6:22 AM
Just before reading about your needle felting I had gathered all my needle felting supplies that I bought several months ago but never used. I was going to make some Easter ornaments using cookie cutters. You really inspired me to give it a try. I love the little pink birds on your slippers!
TeresaK wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 5:55 AM
Love the needle-felting you did! You've inspired me to try it. What about the soles of your slippers? Is the new sole sewn on or is that also needle felting?
SwampF wrote
on Mar 5, 2009 5:48 AM
Felting is a great idea. However, what can those of us who are highly allergic to wool do??????
Melissa@3 wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 10:32 PM
I thought I wouldn't like needle felting, but was I wrong! I now am really excited by it and want to do it all the time! I free-hand felted an Elvis themed logo ("TCB" with a lightning flash under it) on the front of a trucker type baseball cap for my brother and it came out great! I used wool roving and mostly used a single needle to do the fine shaping on the block letters and the lightning bolt. Before that, I needle felted a bird on a guitar (a la Woodstock) using shapes and a background cut from recycled wool sweaters and that came out nicely, too! The creative potential of needle felting seems endless!
Julie C wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 7:35 PM
Ooh! I love needle felting. I first tried it to embellish a purse I knit and felted in the washing machine. I LOVED it. You're so right about it being therapeutic or cathartic. Lately I've been itching to try it again, so I'm spending my birthday Joann's card on new supplies! Can't wait! My only question is this: What else can you needle felt on? I'd love to embellish some items in my home or closet, but I don't have much wool, living in Texas. Are there other fabrics that it will work on? Or, if not, would fabric glue or something similar work to attach felted items to clothing??
NelleW wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 5:58 PM
HI! Sandi, I agree that there's something to be said for sticking the needles in the yarn or whatever. A couple of years ago my knitting group got large enough that I did a directory for all the members with a note that they must needlefelt their covers. They did and even needlefelted their initial on the front of the covers. One of the members, who taught all of us to needlefelt, made my cover as I was hospitalized shortly after giving the gals their directories but when I was recooping I had to do my initial with roving. We all treasure our books and have asked to have another class as the first was so much fun. We made veggies and one gal made a cactus in a flower pot. It is a fun craft and there are so many ways to needlefelt. Mu daughter-n-law was the first one that I saw felting and am the proud recipient of a scarf she made with yarn using bubble wrap. Keep on felting and crafting. NelleW
LeslieB wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 5:45 PM
Too late, I have been sucked into the vortex of needle felting. Anything I can get my hands on is fair game. I haunt the charity shops on bag day to get already felted/fulled items (shrunken sweaters, woolens and such) to re-purpose into something else like a bag or a vest. Love what you did to your booties, very sweet.
on Mar 4, 2009 5:02 PM
I thought it was a "what ever" craft, but your article was an eye opener. Thanks. Phil
KateF wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 4:48 PM
I love the needle felting, but even more I love the fact that your hubby has a 'baking cupboard'! That's so cool :D
Michele wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 4:41 PM
I 'caught' the felting bug about 4 years ago at a fiber fest. I love doing little critters. Dogs, funny little gnomes and other animals. Working at a pre-K, gives me an opportunity to make up stories using these little gems. I have also made some simple Christmas tree orniments. I also do it by hand, the machines are too expensive and in my opnion, takes away the charm of this free form craft. There are some wonderful books that give exact instructions for those who lack confidence. (I now have more! confidence) M Grammy Michele
FrancisB wrote
on Mar 4, 2009 12:10 PM
I'm making Marta McCall's Cherry O pillow. It's my first needle felting project and I'm hooked. I love what you did to your slippers. It gives me ideas. Francis