Clearing the Record

This article inaccurately described Bryn Lafferty's online presence; she is one of thousands of participants in the shop-online crafter marketplace Etsy.


Crafting has been on the crest of a huge wave, with dedicated Web sites, "stitch-n-bitch" sewing circles, and patterns that run the gamut from the bunnies and mushrooms you sewed with your mom to swallows and pinups cribbed from Sailor Jerry.

But the newest needle craft - that's right, after all this time, there's a new one - is needle felting, the process of sculpting raw wool into two- and three-dimensional items that range from hats and purses to small dogs to strangely popular trolls and elves.

Needle felting requires no sewing skills and, with the manic poking movements it requires, is the perfect outlet for the nervous energy you've been holding in all day.

It evolved from the process of wet felting, a labor-intensive and messy method of creating felt from regular wool. Wet felting itself has undergone some simplification in recent years, with instructions for washing-machine felting popping up all over the Web. Felting by hand with needles, or dry felting, makes the process even easier.

Bryn Lafferty, a 2004 University of the Arts graduate and crafts major, says that though she wet-felted in school, creating huge installations such as a felt jungle, she found that she couldn't get the fabric to adhere the way she wanted.

She recalls, "About a year ago I heard someone mention needle felting in a store, and I was so surprised that after being in the fiber department I'd never heard of it."

Emboldened by her success at December's Philadelphia Punk Rock Marketplace with a small table of felted accessories, Lafferty now has her own presence in the shop-online crafter marketplace, Etsy, where, as MissBunnyFace, she sells fuzzy dice earrings, woolly tree stumps, and felt-embellished sweaters.

As most felters will tell you, needle felting is a fairly new phenomenon. Bella Vista's Melissa Kosmicki, who has sold some of her felted children's clothing at the Fishtown boutique/gallery Bambi, began to wet felt eight years ago, and never heard dry felting mentioned until it "became all the rage."

Lafferty believes the process may have developed as a byproduct of mass production, after the slowdown in U.S. garment manufacturing. Felting machines used lots of needles at once; they poked into unspun wool, also called roving, over and over to bind the fibers together. The needles have tiny barbs along their sides to catch loose strands; the more poking into the wool, the tighter the fibers become, and the smoother the resulting felt.

Hand felting simply uses fewer needles than the machines: You can hold one at a time and poke the roving maniacally, or purchase a handled tool that holds several needles. Lafferty says, "All of my early needles were from felting machines." But now needles of varying sizes are widely available in packaged felting kits that often include small multicolored "muffins" of roving, a foam felting pad, and printed instructions.

Mount Airy's Stella Singleton, who publishes the blog "She Who Knits," bought her first kit at Chestnut Hill's Tangled Web. Her felting adventure began by accident, when Singleton, who attends the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival every year, "picked up some bags of unspun wool. My intentions were to spin my own yarn, but I was horribly terrible at it. I'm an instant-gratification person and I didn't want to spend all that time spinning."

After spotting some patterns at the Tangled Web, she ordered the kit, used up all her roving, and ended up teaching needle-felting classes at the store, which, she says, "were always sold out."

For more evidence of the addictive nature of needle felting, let Chadds Ford artist and clothing designer Jane Porter, a member of the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers, describe how it has taken over her life:

"I started trying it last year, when my sister-in-law bought me a kit on Etsy. Well, I just bought $500 worth of wool batts on Etsy, and I have set up my whole dining room to do needle felting." Porter moved on from her first kit and invested in a needle felting machine, the Babylock Embellisher, which is "smaller than a sewing machine" and uses seven needles. "If you have carpal tunnel," she advises, "the machine is really handy."

Prices range from $300 to $500 for the machines, but starter kits are far more affordable, with prices ranging from $12 to $25. Even better, Porter says, "I made a purse the first time I tried it with no stitches!"

For those left out in the cold, who can't tell a feather stitch from a fly stitch or a knit from a purl, but who want to take part in the handmade revolution, those words just may be the key to your DIY freedom.

Needle Felting Help Online

If you're ready to start jabbing away, or even if you believe there aren't enough Band-Aids in the world to make you want to give needle felting a try, these Web sites highlight the craft's possibilities, all from a safe distance.

Instructions for Needle Felting an Easy Ladybug

Felting Forum (answers to your felting questions)

Flickr's Needle Felting Group (a collection of photos of needle felting creations, from very simple to outrageously intricate)

The Tangled Web

(needle felting supplies, wool roving)

Jane Porter's Etsy Shop

Bryn Lafferty's Etsy Shop

Stella Singleton's "She Who Knits" Blog

Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers

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