How to Needle Felt: 6 Tips for Adding Texture

Texture is one of the most important elements in quilting. The juxtaposition of tiny stitches and cotton fabric, the raised lines of hand stitching, or fabric and fibers manipulated together to create a three-dimensional effect–they all contribute to the visual interest and tactile quality of a quilting project. One of the fastest–and most beautiful–ways to create unusual textures in quilting is through machine needle felting.
You can create an entire piece of fiber art with needle felting, blending fibers together with the barbed needles on a base fabric. Or you can use needle felting here and there to add texture and interest to a piece.

Fiber artist Barbara Schneider creates realistic fiber art leaf sculptures by combining many techniques, including machine needle felting.

“The felting distresses the surface of the leaf and softens it to look much the same as a leaf that is deteriorating over time,” Barbara says in a tutorial she wrote for the August/September 2014 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a needle felting machine, I encourage you to experiment with it and a variety of fibers to see what kinds of texture you can achieve.

Here are some tips on how to needle felt with a machine:

1. Keep moving. When machine needle felting, you have to keep the fibers moving beneath the needles. If you leave the needles in one place too long, you’ll create a hole.


machine needle felting project barbara schneider
Detail of Barbara Schneider’s fiber leaf sculpture featuring machine
needle felting, from Quilting Arts August/Sept. 2014.

2. Go fast. While you move the fibers slowly, keep the needles going at a fast and steady speed. You’ll break fewer needles that way.

3. Consider merging. The more you felt the piece, the more the fibers will merge and the colors and textures will blend. You can also flip the piece over and machine felt from the back, which will push the bottom colors and fibers up toward the top of the piece.

4. Vary your fibers.
 With craft felt or pre-felt as your base, play with different kinds of fibers and felting supplies. Anything soft enough for the needles to pass through is fair game: yarn, lace, wool roving, dyed cheesecloth, silk–even dryer lint!

5. Experiment. You won’t know until you try. What if I felted this white lace onto a white base? What happens if the base is a dark color? What if I twist the fibers? What if I felt from the back? Keep samples of your experiments and make notes.

6. Embellish. A few well-placed beads or hand stitches can really make your machine needle-felting projects pop.

We’ve featured many articles on how to do needle felting in past issues of Quilting Arts and plan many more in the future. Make sure you don’t miss a needle felting tutorial by subscribing to Quilting Arts now.

P.S. Do you have needle felting tips to share? Don’t keep them to yourself! Leave a comment below.

Main Image at Top of Page: Barbara Schneider creates a nubby, weathered texture on her fiber art leaves with machine needle felting. Featured in the August/Sept. issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

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