While wet felting has been practiced for thousands of years to create shelters and clothing, the art of needle felting by hand for personal projects is a much newer technique.
In the early 1980s, David and Eleanor Stanwood borrowed ideas from the large, industrial needle felting machines and came up with small, handheld needle felting tools that could be used by home crafters.
Today, felting as a hobby is steadily gaining popularity, but many newcomers are often confused about wet felting and needle felting and when or if the two methods can be used on the same project.
Can you combine wet felting and needle felting? Wet and needle felting may be combined to join two items, add decorative elements, repair loose or damaged areas, and close needle holes. Wet felted items may be needle felted for embellishment, and needle felted items may be wet felted to finalize the piece.
Once you know a bit more about how, when, and why to combine wet and needle felting, you’ll understand and appreciate the new possibilities that have opened up for you, and you’ll have the confidence to try it out for yourself.
Can Wet Felting and Needle Felting Be Used on the Same Project?
Both wet felting and needle felting effectively turn fibers into felt by interlocking the individual fiber strands together to form a new, solid material.
However, they are two entirely separate methods.
Wet felting and needle felting can be used on the same project to incorporate design elements or to finalize a desired look. However, the two methods are done separately.
Why Use Both Wet and Needle Felting?
Wet felting involves soap, hot water, and agitation to interlock fibers to make felt. Needle felting relies on notched needles to interweave fibers together, forcing them to felt.
If you’re not familiar with these methods, I go into further detail in my article Wet Felting Vs. Needle Felting.
So, if both methods result in felt, why combine them? You see, wet felting and needle felting both have limitations.
Wet felting is usually done to create a flat sheet of felt. Colors can be added, of course, but intricate designs are nearly impossible to accomplish with this method.
On the other hand, needle felting is perfect for adding detailed elements and for making three-dimensional shapes but is very labor intensive.
When you combine the strengths of each technique into one project, you can enjoy the best of both worlds and increase the design possibilities endlessly.
Advantages of Combining Wet and Needle Felting
Once an item has been wet felted properly, all of the loose fibers have already meshed together, making it impossible to wet felt any additional items to it.
Any last minute additions would have nothing to grab onto and therefore would not felt to the original piece.
That’s where needle felting comes in.
The wet-felted item becomes the base, or canvas if you will, and the needle felting is the new medium which allows you to build upon and add to the base.
Combining methods allows you to:
- Add detail and intricate designs.
- Hide visible needle holes or mistakes.
- Build up thin spots.
- Repair damaged areas.
- Join two items.
Needle Felting After Wet Felting
This is the more well-known and more widely practiced procedure used to embellish material that has been wet felted previously.
Crafty felters often use the wet felting method to create a flat sheet of material and then needle felt various designs onto the piece.
An excellent example of this technique can be found in creatively decorated felted soaps.
To make small details, such as eyes for a smiley face, soap is wet felted as usual, then needle felted to add details and embellishments to turn an ordinary felted soap into something truly unique.
This combination also comes in handy if certain areas of a wet-felted item didn’t fully felt or came out thinner than the rest of the piece.
Just add more roving to the area and needle felt to repair it.
Some felters actually needle felt one wet-felted piece onto another wet-felted item and then finish up the project by needle felting on additional decorative touches.
The item is then wet felted one more time to cover up the holes caused by the needles and to smooth out the appearance overall.
Let’s go over that one more time. Wet felt two pieces, needle felt them together, needle felt details, and wet felt one final time.
See the creativity that’s possible by combining the two methods on the same piece?
Needle felting after wet felting can be used to:
- Cover up mistakes and disguise imperfections.
- Join two wet-felted pieces together.
- Add detail and fancy designs.
- Repair thin spots or damaged areas.
Let Wet-Felted Items Dry First
Before needle felting a wet-felted piece, you’ll need to let the item dry completely.
Depending on how saturated the piece is and the humidity levels in your home, drying time could take as long as a day or two.
Squeezing out excess moisture with a dry towel can speed up the process, as can laying the item out in the sunshine.
Some felters even pop their project into the microwave for a few short bursts of heat to accelerate drying.
Tip: To reduce the appearance of holes when needle felting, insert the needle(s) into the fabric at an angle. A size 40 needle designed for fine, detailed work will help as well.
Wet Felting After Needle Felting
A lot of people don’t realize that needle felted work can be wet felted as a finishing touch and that it provides several key benefits.
- Wet felting can be used to close up holes left behind after needle felting, a problem that can be especially unsightly if a larger needle was used.
- Wet felting can effectively smooth a needle felted piece, giving it a nice, finished appearance.
Another instance in which this method is used is when an item is needle felted first, but not completely – just enough to hold the design in place. Wet felting is then used to complete the felting process.
Finally, wet felting can be used to “full” a needle-felted piece.
Fulling is the final step in the wet felting process when the wool shrinks, the air trapped in the fibers is forced out, and the piece is hardened.
It’s true that when needle felting, the motion of the needle meshes fibers together to create a dense piece of felt, but when wet felting is done afterward, the fibers mesh further and the shrinking will be complete.
An item that has been wet felted after needle felting can even be gently washed without being ruined because shrinking has already taken place.
When wet felting after needle felting, you must be careful to wet felt gently to avoid shifting or blurring the edges of your design.
Wet felting after needle felting can be used to:
- Remove needle marks.
- Smooth out designs and stray fibers.
- Hold design in place for wet felting.
- Shrink the item by fulling.
What Is Artfelt?
Not many people are familiar with this new technique that is a combination of wet felting, needle felting, and paper.
Paper, really? Yes, paper, but it is a special paper that dissolves completely in boiling water.
Using Artfelt paper speeds up the felting process and minimizes the amount of labor required to felt fibers making felting possible even for those with hand-strength issues or arthritis.
Basically, you cut the paper to whatever size is appropriate for your project, and place wool roving on top to create your chosen design.
Next, you needle felt lightly to tack the roving to the paper – just enough to hold the design securely in place.
The piece is saturated with water, a piece of thin plastic is placed on top, and the whole thing is rolled up tightly and secured with rubber bands.
You then toss the roll into your dryer to complete the felting process. Once felting is complete, pour boiling water over the item to dissolve the paper and rinse in hot water until the water runs clear.
That’s all there is to it!