A couple of days ago I was watching an online demo of Needle Felting Faces done by Marie from living felt out of Texas. She was using one of the new firmer wool felting mats (it looks similar to the ironing felt mats). She was using a 42Triangle (42T) needle. She said she chose this needle because she wanted to “have the fiber sit on top of the picture and not underneath”. I am not sure if she is using a triangle needle with 3 barbs per side (a 42T 333) or only 2 barbs per side (a 42T 222). A T42-333 would be more aggressive at moving fiber than a T42-222.
I asked in the chat; “Since you are focusing on adding the wool mainly to the surface have you tried a 40 or 42 Crown needle? A crown needle has the barbs very close to the tip of the needle so works with little (depth of) poking.” I did not get an answer from Marie but it started a side conversation about Crown needles with a European felter in the chat.
I was surprised that Crown needles were not well known. They have been available for a few years; at fiber festivals, online and if you are lucky at the local fiber arts stores. I am sure most of you have bumped into them but may not have had the opportunity to try them out.
Let’s look at where they come from, the working parts of the needle, why would you want one and what is it good for?
Where the Crown needle comes from;
One of the manufacturers of felting needles is Groz-Beckert, who classifies crown and fork needles as “Structuring” needles. A Structuring needle works on “structuring previously bonded nonwoven fabric” in a machine to produce a Velvety or grainy surface texture. They are designed originally to plunge through the felt pulling fibers to the opposite side as can be seen in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWE4tvHF0xU
As felters we tend to look at items not originally intended or designed for felting and turn them into felting tools. Bubble wrap, lids of Tupper wear jugs, pool noodles, garden kneeling pads and we look at the industrial felting needles and go “AH!! I could do this with them instead!” In this case, instead of pushing fiber to the far side of the felt and through creating a surface texture, we can reduce the depth we work at and secure fibers close to the surface of your work.
1) a close up of the end of a Crown needle. https://www.groz-beckert.com/mm/media/web/3_felting_1/bilder_14/composings_3/FN_Composing_23.jpg
2) Parts of a felting needle
How the needle works and the structure of the needle
Let’s review how a felting needle works. As the needle enters the fibers/felt, its barbs (notches in the needle which can vary in number and placement along the working part of the needle) grab some of the fiber and as it is inserted drags the fiber with it into the felt. Since the barbs are one directional the fiber carried by the barb stays at the depth it was pushed as the needle is removed. This repeated entanglement creates felt. The felt can be a 2D picture, a 3D sculpture or industrially the needles can create the non-woven fabric used to line the trunk or cover the door panels of your car.
With the Crown needle, the bards are located very close to the tip of the needle and are arranged one per each working side (3 working sides in a triangular needle). This means the working depth is the distance from the tip to where the barbs engage and entangle fiber into the web (felt ground). So on my crown needles, it’s about 1/4th of an inch. There are different styles of tips and different lengths of barbs so there can be a bit of variation if you look at the industrial options. But overall, the distance from the first barb to the tip is very close compared to other types of needles.
Where did I find mine?
Ann and I were both curious a few years ago and I bought a box of the Crown 40-111 from Doer out of china. The price for the needles (500 in a box) was good but the shipping cost was a bit painful (but still cheaper than a flight to China and buying them there!). At present, there are listings for 40, 42,43, and 46 gauge Crown needles from Doer. Groz-Beckert’s PDF lists Crown needles in gauges from 25 to 46. Some of the Groz-Beckerts range would likely not be useful to us but is an impressive amount of options! With both companies, the working part is triangular as you can see in the last picture from the group below.
3) box of 500 Crown needles
4) the designations for the 40gauge crown needles I purchased
5) needle are wrapped in bundles within the box
6) close up of one of the needles
For part of the surface decoration on the iris flower, I used crown needles individually and in groups of 2 or 3 held together with a small rubber hair elastic.
7) using crown needles to add detail to the Iris petals, note the shallow angle I was working at
Why would I want a crown needle and what do they do?
When you want to affect the surface of your felting, you can try the crown needles and/or you can change the angle that you are inserting the needles. A very shallow angle, (almost parallel with the felt surface) will keep the barbs from going through a thin petal or 2d picture.
With a crown needle, there is a reduced distance the needle needs to travel to engage the fiber and secure it into the web. This reduction in range of movement may reduce some of the strain on the body during the movement of felting, especially if the movement is slower and involved a more careful insertion of the needle. That said you will further reduce your likelihood of muscle fatigue or injury if you also remember to take (Stretch) breaks or let your bladder help remind you to take breaks by drinking liquids like ice tea or water. It’s not a good idea to ignore your bladder when it asks you to stop felting!
Gauge vs fiber size
As the gauge of the needle gets bigger, say a 40 crown vs a 46 crown the fiber diameter/fineness that will be most effective with the needle will change. A 46 crown needle will work better with finer fibers. Conversely, a larger courser fiber may not engage or be grabbed effectively by the finer needles and barbs. Fine needles will also leave less surface distortion than a larger needle. Sometimes if you are getting large dents when using fine needles, it may be more a matter that you just need to keep felting until the entire surface is evenly compacted, all at the level of the original dents. That said a finer needle and/or a shallow angle of insertion will also reduce the dented texture on a surface.
Depending on the project, you will likely have a couple of favourite needles you keep picking up. It may even be the same needles you gravitate to over many projects. So why, if you don’t already have crown needles, mite you want to consider adding another needle type to your collection? Their ability to work at a shallow depth gives them an advantage over other needles whose first barb placement is farther away from the needle tip. Crown needles can be very useful in portraiture, very thin structures like petals or butterfly’s or adding detail to your wet felted vessels, hats or garments. Basically any time you don’t want fiber added to one side to show on the other. (This may also require a very shallow angle of insertion.)
A Crown needle may not be the needle you reach for the most in your needle felting but when you want to work superficially, it is an excellent option to consider adding to your choices of tools.
If you are still curious and want to know more about other needles that are available in the industry you may enjoy looking through this PDF from Groz-Beckert.
possibly for my next post; Mr. Mer has been digging through the fiber Bernadette brought in to a library day to see if I could find some acceptable (to Mr. Mer), Mer hair.