Can I Use a Sewing Machine on Leather? What Tools Are Needed?

A white and pink sewing machine on a table.

Needle felting both flat and three-dimensional projects is a fun, addicting hobby, but it can admittedly be labor intensive and hard on delicate hands. 

The repetitive, up and down stabbing motions necessary to mesh the fibers into felt can lead to issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome and be painful for those with arthritis. 

Isn’t there an easier way to complete felting projects without potentially damaging your hands?

Can you use a sewing machine for felting? Sewing machines can be converted to felting machines by adding a felting attachment, provided that the machine and attachment are compatible. An alternative for machine needle felting is an embellisher, which is designed specifically for machine felting.

If you love felting but are not physically able to enjoy the hobby as you would like, machine felting may be the answer you’ve been waiting for. 

Be sure to learn about both of your options when it comes to machine felting before you decide which one fits your needs the best.

Can a Regular Sewing Machine Be Used for Felting?

Many people are not aware that a regular sewing machine can be used for needle felting, but it’s true. 

Modifications are necessary, of course, but a household sewing machine can be converted to a felting machine in just a few steps.

Several companies offer felting attachments that can hold multiple needles and be placed on an existing sewing machine.

Before you get too excited, you should be aware that conversion may not be possible for every sewing machine.

You see, only a few companies still manufacture the necessary attachments, and they may or may not be compatible with your particular model. 

It’s best to get in contact with your machine’s manufacturer or the manufacturer of the felting attachment directly to check for compatibility before spending money on a part that may not work.

Once you’re sure that your machine and a felting attachment are compatible, the next step will be to remove some components from the sewing machine to make room for the attachment and its multiple needles.

With most machines, the following must be removed:

  • Sewing needle.
  • Presser foot.
  • Feed dog.
  • Metal plate.
  • Bobbin compartment parts.

Take the time to clean the newly exposed areas and oil parts according to the owner’s manual.

Next, follow the directions included with the attachment to secure the new mechanism into place. Most likely, an Allen wrench will be needed.

You should know that usually once a sewing machine has been transformed into a felting machine, the change is permanent, and the sewing machine can no longer be used for sewing. 

It’s often recommended that you keep your favorite sewing machine as is and either use an older machine that you don’t use often or purchase an inexpensive, used model as a designated felting machine.

Felting Attachments for Sewing Machines

Adding a felting attachment to your existing machine will change the way you felt forever.

Machine felting accomplishes the same outcome as flat needle felting by hand does in much less time and with less wear and tear on your hands.  

You can even use a converted machine to bind wool or other mammal fibers to loose-weave fabrics such as silk to create lightweight, one-of-a-kind fabrics. 

While the needles are busy punching away at the fabric, the silk will develop lovely puckers and wrinkles while incorporating the animal fiber into itself. The results can be stunning.

The one drawback is that they can’t be used for 3D felting.

I found two attachments options worth sharing here.

Brother Feltscraper Needle Punch Attachment 

This attachment was designed to work with the Brother PQ series models but will also work with the DZ1500F, Babylock BLQP, and Baby Jane models.

Included are the required metal plate, felting needles, and roving to get you started right away.

The sharp needles are housed in a protective guard case to keep your fingers safe and to keep the bobbin area clean of lint and dust.

Bernina Punchwork Tool

Bernina’s attachment is designed for rotary, B9, and Bernina hook machines. 

This attachment comes with the needle holder, presser foot with needle guard, an outer guide, a threading aid, and an Allen wrench. 

The special metal stitch plate must be purchased separately. Bernina also offers a similar accessory for CB hook machines.

This attachment can also be used to embroider ribbons onto your felting project – a nice bonus feature.

Watch the following video to see how easy it actually is to set up.

Can I Make My Own Needle Felting Attachment?

You may come across directions for creating a homemade felting attachment, but I wouldn’t recommend attempting this unless you are well skilled in machinery.

The process usually involves gluing the needles into place, which would make replacing broken needles quite difficult. 

Also, with homemade versions, there is often no needle guard to protect you from the razor-sharp needles and to keep debris out of the bobbin area.

Another Option for Machine Felting: An Embellisher

Although not particularly well known, embellishers are ideal for machine needle felting. 

Also known as embellishing machines or felting machines, embellishers mesh fibers together without the use of thread. Sounds a lot like needle felting, doesn’t it? 

They look and behave very much like a standard sewing machine but do not have a bobbin housing, spool pin, bobbin winder spindle, or any other parts associated with thread.

Instead you’ll find a rather intimidating set of notched felting needles (enclosed within a finger guard, thankfully) that will move up and down as you work the foot pedal.

Embellishers are, of course, more expensive than adding an attachment to an existing machine, but they are specifically designed for felting, and you don’t have to convert a thing!

As with felting attachments, embellishers enable you to incorporate other fabrics into your felting projects without the hassle and mess of regular nuno felting.

They are getting a little hard to come by lately, so your best bet may be to search online or in second-hand shops to find a used model still in good condition.

If you have your heart set on a new one, I found two that have received excellent reviews.

Babylock Embellisher

This felting machine features 12 removable/replaceable needles, built-in accessory storage, electronic foot control, a port and stand for yarn and ribbon, finger guard, and cloth presser.

The fact that it can use up to 12 needles at once is impressive, but you can also choose to felt with fewer (even just one if you need to), allowing for maximum customization to fit your current project.

The free-motion movement can take some getting used to, but that is true with all embellishers. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and learn to enjoy the freedom it provides.

Pfaff Smart 350P Embellisher

This is another great embellisher, however, it only features a five needle capacity, which is plenty to felt with, just not as quickly as with the Babylock. 

It features automatic needle positioning, meaning that the needles always stop in the highest position so you can remove the fabric easily and a presser foot that can be adjusted to low, medium, or high.

Like the Babylock, it has a convenient storage compartment and a needle guard for safety.

Final Thoughts

If you happen to have a seldom-used sewing machine or stumble across a used one in great shape at an affordable price, I’d say to go ahead and convert it.

This way, you’ll get a taste of what machine felting is like without having to purchase a fancy new machine.

On the other hand, if felting is truly your passion, it may be worthwhile to invest in a new embellisher that will last for years to come and keep you from causing permanent damage to your hands. 

Gently used embellishers for sale are fairly easy to find and are often priced well below what they are actually worth.

Should you happen to run across one of these, you’d do well to snatch it up.

As I mentioned earlier, new embellishers are not always easy to find, so if the opportunity presents itself, go for it! 

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I live on a mini-farm in beautiful North Carolina and am an avid reader. When I'm not busy writing and tending to my gardens and numerous critters, I can often be found trying my hand at various hobbies. I enjoy researching new ventures, and while I may not have mastered every one yet, I have a blast learning and love sharing my knowledge with others. My latest endeavors include woodworking, crafting of all types, soap making, and sewing.