Question: What needle is that? (Part 1)

Question: What needle is that? (Part 1)

I had another question about needles. This time it’s about keeping track of your needles.  On a positive note, if you have this problem you have enough needles to get them confused, Congratulations!!  For those of you who only have a few needles and don’t have the problem of keeping track of them, I should give you the opportunity to expand your collection and be part of this discussion!


Where we get our needles:

If you are not buying from one of the various original manufacturers of industrial needles (Groz-Beckert and others) you are likely dealing with a reseller of smaller quantities of needles.  Let’s start by looking at the options for needle acquisition.


If you prefer to go to the source you will get the best price per needle but do you really need 500 to 1000 (minimum order) of the same needle? (The shipping cost for a box or two of needles can be quite painful too!) If you are teaching, and supplying your students their needles for class, as well as doing your own felting projects, then you may go through 500 needles over a not unreasonable length of time. If you are only buying for yourself, I hope you are not breaking needles in quantities that make the purchase of 500 needles a financially good idea. (If you decrease your rate of insertion (speed) and are attentive to entering and exiting the felt at the same angle, it will save you a lot of needles, and will likely require fewer bandages!) (Also, I have a blog post I’m working on about safety implements for those who are either over enthusiastic in their stabbing or are still practising/perfecting their eye-hand coordination. My hand-eye coordination occasionally still goes wrong too!)

Felting Needles set in needle bed (in industrial needle felting macheen)  1) Groz-Beckert – needle board

Original manufacturers sell their needles mainly to people buying multiple boxes of 1000 to fit in their large industrial machines, used to make non-woven fabric.  New needles are needed when the barbs become worn or a new type of product is required. (Different needle shapes and gauges make different types of non-woven fabric and can run the web through the machine at different speeds. Groz-Beckert has more than 2,000 needle options when you look at all the variables.) As you can see from the picture above these needles are not colour-coded since they have to fit into the needle bed extremely precisely.  They have all their identification information on the end of their shipping/storage box.

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   2-4) Doer Needle boxes and Open box showing 100 needles wrapped in wax paper

One advantage of buying from one of the manufacturers will be, that you will hopefully have the entire needle code. This will give you more information about the needle and make it easier to get replacements when you are running low. The needles in the boxes above are from the Doer company and are wrapped in wax paper in groups of 100 needles all stored in a secure plastic box.

There is, unfortunately for us, a new trend with some manufacturers offering “added security” to their industrial customers. Instead of the helpful needle designation, they are adding “customer codes”. This is to cut down on industrial spying and fit with customers’ warehouse codes, which reduces getting mixed needles in the bed. Yes even in industry they can grab the wrong box of needles! “If needle types are mixed up and placed in a needle board, this can have a major impact on the end product. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to instant needle breakage due to the needles being overloaded. The result is machine downtime, additional set-up time for equipping the needle boards, and scrap material, leading to increased costs.” Unfortunately, their solution may lead to less information for our resellers.

Buying from the manufacturer Pros: Cons:
Price; per unit cost is cheaper than resellers’ prices Price; minimum number of needles is usually 500 to 1000 of one needle size and style per box.  Also, a box and shipping can be quite pricy.
Information on needle specifications is usually on the storage box. For added security, ageist industrial spying some companies are dropping the standard “15x18x40x3 R222 G…” for “individualization” of package labels with no needle designations.
Companies not selling over-runs (from industrial orders) can sell you exactly the specifications you want, (overall length, working part shape,  gauge, barb type and spacing, and point type). Not all the manufacturers are interested in selling in “smaller quantities”, most have a 1 box minimum of each needle type purchased.
Keeping an eye on advances in the industry via the company’s websites, technical information or newsletters can keep you up-to-date with advances such as new coatings to prolong the working life of barbs or increases in the run speed of the machines. These innovations might be helpful to us if the needles have better flexibility while in use. Not everyone is excited about modification in barbs or reading technical papers.


a selection of needles offered by various resellers. showing that there is no comom colour sekeem to indicate the type of needle 5) Sample of some of the resellers, note that the colour systems are different for each re-seller.

 Many of the resellers of needles will colour code the crank of the needle to match their colour key of gauges and shapes. “Harrah, problem solved we can all have chocolate now to celebrate!”….. Not so fast, they are not all using the same colour key!!! So if you have more than one reseller you are dealing with, you need to know if this gold one is from Seller A or if the gold needle is from Seller B (or C or D or E….)? Unless you have only one source, you again can confuse what needle you are about to use.

Where can we find resellers?

Look for needles at Local stores, Fiber festivals and online at Amazon, Etsy, out of China and Mr. Google can help too.  Try to support local stores so we can keep having local stores, if you can’t find what you’re looking for then check farther afield.

Most of the resellers are felters and understand the needles they are selling. They can tell you about the uses of different gauges and the differences between different shapes of the working part.  Some can even explain the basic concepts of how the spacing and type of barb can change the enthusiasm of fibre moved by that needle.

Pros Cons
Re-Sellers Are usually colour-coded There is no consistency to the colours used between most vendors.
Most have a selection of the available gauges and working  part shapes May not have the number of barbs or the shape or gauge you wanted.
You can usually buy single or small quantities The cost is more per needle than buying a box of 500 or 1000
Cheap “Bulk Needles” sold in lots of 25, 50 or 100 Mostly don’t list gauge, actual length or number of barbs(“S, M, L”)
May not know the exact specification of the needle, other than the gauge so hard to get exactly the same needle.
A Gift Fabulous Free Needle(s)! My not come with gauge (S.M.& L)

Might forget the gauge in the excitement of new needles

Now we have had a brief overview of where we get needles (and have given everyone a chance to get too many to keep track of), we can return to our question, Which needle is this?


The Needle:

parts of a felting needle labled.(6) parts of a felting needle

Let’s consider the needle. By now, we are reasonably familiar with the parts of a needle. There is a wide variation in needles used in the industry, with over 2 thousand options from GB alone.  The most obvious difference is overall length. The most common Needles (Triangles) come in needle lengths: 2.5”, 3”, 3.5”, 4”, 4.5”, 5” (most needles we see are either 3” or 3.5”, occasionally a 2.5” turns up.) so that may not be too helpful for us. If you have the option to have different lengths for different gauges that may be helpful but most of us already have lots of needles and almost all of them are the same length.

Let’s look at the shape of the working part, where the barbs are located.  We can group our needles by shape reasonably easily. (Triangular, twisted/spiral, Star ether quod or tri, crown and the less common to uncommon; Conical needle, Teardrop, Vario barb and fork.) Unfortunately, the way we use them is by gauge, working from larger diameter-courser gauges to smaller-finer gauges, which is much trickier to guess by eye. While a 32g is drastically different when compared to a 42g, sorting a bunch of 40g’s from the 42g’s or 38g’s is much more challenging.

Let’s do a quick review of gauges (you can skip to the end if you have this memorized!)

  • Courser needles (32g and some people also list 36g)
    • for courser fibre,
    • move fibre more quickly,
    • good for building the under-layers of sculptures and used for adding appendages/parts.
  • Medium Needles (36g to 38g)
    • For medium fibre,
    • Not as aggressive fibre movement as the course needles,
    • Good for under layers of colour for a picture or more fine-tuning the shapes of a sculpture
  • Fine needles (40 to 42g)
    • For fine fibres
    • For the final layer or finishing work in both sculpture and pictures
    • Moves less fiber but creates less resistance and leaves less dent entering the felt
  • Extremely fine (46g)
    • For fine fibres
    • For the final layer or finishing work in both sculpture and pictures
    • Moves the least fibre, but creates the least resistance and leaves less dent entering the felt

Other needles that may be in your collection;

  • Reverse (36 to 42g) barbs pull fibre as the needle is extracted. Good for blending and for pulling up under-layer colours to create a nap on the surface.
  • Crown needles are easy to pick out with only one barb per side very close to the tip. They are excellent for shallow surface work or working on something very thin (pestle or wing membranes).

You may notice some resellers are less knowledgeable about what they are selling than others. I have found sellers, mostly on Amazon and from China, that describe their needles as “small, medium and large” which describes the length of the needle rather than the gauge. The ones I have seen with this listing have all been Triangle-shaped. Unless you are looking for an unidentified gauge it’s likely better to look at the ones that give you more information.

Part 2 will continue  on September 12 with  Keeping track of your Needle Gauges

Have a fabulous last long weekend of the summer, and the fall fibre festivals are just around the corner!! (except for those of you who are just about to come out of winter and begin  spring!!)

13 thoughts on “Question: What needle is that? (Part 1)

    1. Thanks Kathryn, the hole topic seemed a bit bigger than i had anticipated so it was suggested i split it. it was 14 pages in word and i was a bit afraid it would be a short novel ! i hope you will come back and check out part 2, there are new diagrams (my poor publisher 2010 program is struggling to become an illustration program! and not just make cards!!) have a fantastic long weekend!

  1. SO appreciative of this information, thank you! I am a wet felters and use needle felting from time to time for finishing/ detail and even small repairs. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Deb i am glad its useful! Felting is fun whether its done Wet or Dry! Even more fun if you can do both! (would that classify as Damp felting?)
      my first introduction to felting was making a small vesel with a resist then needle felting a bit of detail when it was almost dry. i remeber it as a course needle but i liked it very much!
      i hope you will come back and read the second half of this post! in the mean time have a fabulous long weekend!

    1. Thanks you both, we probuly will eventualy get a conssensis of colours for gauges and shapes. As with the evil Mr. Gootenberg and his moveable type setting engish spelling the way he thot it should go, (i still say enuff at least needs to have one f in it!! stupid spelling rules.) one sellers colour skeem will likey be adopted by the rest of us. untill that happens we get to play “Name That Felting Needle ” (some of us have the delux home eddition of the game!!!)

  2. Great article as usual Jan.
    Would I be jumping the gun if I say that I colour code my own needles with cheap nail varnish? I stick to 2 suppliers here in the UK – Wingham Wool Work and Adelaide Walker, both so far (I think) do not colour code but pack individually so I just paint/varnish the end of the container and the shanks according to my own scheme. If they ever start their own colour coding I’ll have to go over the needles with white and then my own colour, which will be a nuisance.
    Looking forward to part 2.

  3. I learned the hard way to choose a source and stick with it. The various color systems drove me to distraction! I tried to color code my own. Not! The other thing that drove me away from various sources were the different lengths that often did not fit some of the holders I’d invested in.

    Beyond fed up, two years ago I moved to Groz-Beckert exclusively. I read an article from a reliable source that that tested various needle brands. Hands down, G-B makes the best and I’ve happily stayed with B-G. Happy to pay more for quality because I enjoy my felting more using great equipment.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful education! I hardly knew any of this, and now I can come back and check whenever I need to. Really looking forward to part 2 .

  5. Great article Jan. You are the go to person on needle information for needle felting. I am learning lots from these pieces. Would you consider contacting Felt magazine about submitting an article for publication?

  6. Great info, Jan. I wish I had enough volume to justify buying from the manufacturers, it seems exciting to get 1,000 needles in the post!

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