Question: What needle is that? (Part 2)

Question: What needle is that? (Part 2)

When last we left off we had considered where we get our needles and the pros and cons of buying from the manufacturers or the resellers. We also reviewed the parts of a felting needle and the gauges we usually use (there are more gauges and shapes that we don’t tend to use too.)

Keeping track of your Needle Gauges

Usually there are a few ways to do something and you can decide which way works best for you. I do only have a few absolute rules about needles, here are two that I find useful;

  • -the sharp end goes in the felt and not in your fingers (this reduces the use of bandaids)
  • -an unmarked needle that has left the box (or original packaging) does not return to the box (It keeps the needles in the needles boxes from getting mixed so I am sure of what is in each box).

Now, let’s look at a few options on how to keep them organized once they have left their needle box or packaging.

Option 1 (one supplier or being extremely organized)

If you acquire only one colour system (use only one suppliers) or if you carefully kept track of each needle, use one gauge at a time, then return it back to its original packaging when you are finish using it, you will always know what needle you are using.  If this is working for you don’t change, unless it’s driving you mad. If this obsessive-tidy-neatness-technique dose not sound like you, we need a few other options. (I am not in this category)

Op.1 one supplier or

extremely organized

Pro Con
 For one supplier, It is easy to keep track of what needle is what gauge as soon as you learn the colour system your vender uses. You only have one place to buy needles!!! This can limit acquisition opportunities. (NO!!!!)

You have to be very organized, if you are working with more than one colour system.

Ann’s Option (2):

Re-colour to your own colour code. There are a number of ways to do this, the most common I have seen is Cheap Nail Polish (another reason to visit the dollar store). You may try warm (Red is a 32gauge) to cool colours (46Gauge is an Ice Blue). Or you could just go for odd colours that are on sail. Just keep track of what gauge is what.  Some of the holders do not suggest using painted or coloured needles with them.  If your favorite holder is one that does not like painted needles, leaving the needles un-coloured and just labeling the holder, may be the way to go.

Another ways to colour needles would be a spray paint for mettle like Tremclad or similar products. (Cover the working part and tips of the needles when you spray or you will reduce the effectiveness of the barbs.)

I have also seen a product described as “Tool Dip” used to coat the shank of the needle up to the crank. It was described as being more comfortable to hold than the thin needle on its own.

For my students I have used coloured kids hair elastics from the dollar store augmented by ones I have found on line. The best ones I have found were small circular ones that seem similar to the more expensive ones used to make bracelets. There are also hair elastics that are more plastic and less rubber that are larger but tend to brake quickly.(Try to avoid those.)  7 boxes of 500 needles each, with note stateing designation and colour of elastic that gauge/shape7) colours of elastics that go with each needle box I have presently.


Option 2 Re-colour

Pro Con
You chose the colour system o   Some colours chip, rub or flake off, leaving you guessing again, what the gauge is.

o   You need to acquire the colours of paint or dip and also have the mess and time of labeling each needle.

o   May not fit in all the holders after the colour is added.

o   Elastics will eventually brake and you are left with an unmarked needle (unless you can identify it by its lacking from the ones that remain.)

Option 3.1 (Grouping on work surface)

If you have Lots of unlabeled, unmarked or randomly coloured needles stuck into something waiting to be used (Yes that sounds like me.) I often use two similar working methods to keep my needles sorted when using them. On both my foam (pool noodle foam kneeling pad) and the thick wool pad, I keep track of my needles by where their located on the pad.  From left to right I have them grouped in course, medium, fine and extra fine if I have one.

sheep wispers in progress, working on pool noodle foam pad. the top end of the foam pad showing the parking sopts at the top for the various gauges of needles8-9) Working on the whispering sheep. Foam kneeling pad from dollerama. Keep working needles grouped by gauge in the top portion of the mat.  

If you have trouble remembering where each group is located, draw, sew or otherwise indicate the parking spots for your needles. Usually at the top of the mat is best, since it is not in the working area, you are less likely to accidently brake the needle by knocking it with your hand as you work. Try to be attentive to what your working style is and adjust the location to best suit you. (NB: if you have the pink, blue or red pen tool, which holds 1 to 3 needles. try not to stick them into the foam it is very easy to nock into them. Since they are taller than the average needle, they can easily snap when nocked by your hand or forearm). (Well, if you have an accident, at least that would mean you might be able to go shopping again!!)

For the firm felt pads similar to those sold as quilters ironing pads (.5inch thick) some are very firmly felted and can be resistant to needle penetration.  If you have one of the extra firm options please see “Option 3.2 (Adjacent storage)” for some suggestions.

When I am working, the needles are stuck in across the top of the working surface. For storage in my foam pad (foam like pool noodles), I again group the needles but move them to the top edge of the pad. Don’t leave them in the end of the pad when you resume working.  You can hit one of the stored needles and break one or the other, or both.

diagram looking from the top of the foam pad, with the needles in both a working and storage location.10) Diagrams showing the top end of a foam pad. The needles are first shown on the top for working (grouped by gauge), then the end of the pad for storage and travel. (Push the needles in so they don’t catch and brake during storage or travel. Remember to move them all back to the top surface when you want to resume work.)

option Pro Con
Op.3.1 Grouping on work surface Needles are close to hand

Works well on larger and softer work surfaces

–        Needles are safer if stored deeply in the end of a foam pad for storage or transport. (storing at the end doesn’t work for all surfaces)

Storing needles in the work surface Can accidentally brake needles off in the pad if not careful.

–         If needles are forgotten in the end of the foam pad, needles can be broken when work resumes.

–        Before you dispose of degraded foam, check for needles stored in it.

–        Not good for thin hard or side-less pads.(some have slopes rather than sides)

Option 3.2 (Adjacent storage)

When I am using my 6” x 6” wool pad, there is often no space on the pad to hold and store needles.  When I can’t store them on the pad, I have used half a foam pool noodle (on sale in the fall when outdoor water activities become chilly and challenging).  Again, pull out your permanent marker, and label where you will put each gauge or grouping (course (32g) / medium (36g-38g)/ fine (40g-42g)/ ex-fine (46g)).  if you need to, add a spot just past “course” for reverse needles.  That will help keep you from grabbing them by accident, (which could happen if you were storing them just by gauge).

half a pool noodle labled in sections to store needles by gauge11) Half a pool noodle derived in sections labeled by gauge.

If you want to upgrade the look of your studio or work space,(pool noodle may not be the accent you had in mind for your desk?- they do come in other colours and shapes and you can use English spelling instead of mine.) I have seen and admired very cute tea cups filled with wool that can also hold needles like a pincushion. I would suggest if you only use one tea cup, using sections of different colour wool to suggest where to store each gauge or using a needle and thread to mark out the parking spots. If you have a bigger work surface, maybe a selection of tea cups, one for each gauge and for specialty needles would work.

option Pro Con
Op.3.2 Adjacent Needle Holder Using an adjacent space allows more workspace on your pad or work surface. Not attached to work so may get separated (mysteriously wander off).

Option 4: Use a needle holder and label the holder.

I have a number of different needle holders.  The holders I have can hold from a single needle up to one that will hold 20 needles. They make work faster and most are more comfortable than holding a single needle.  Getting a collection of some of your favorite holders/handles shapes allows labeling each holder with the gauge in them. If you keep the needles not yet in use separately stored and labeled, then you can be sure to switch out the occasional broken needles with the correct one.  I know my fake clover tool has T-42 222’s. If I can find the 10 needles I just bought (found them!), the Twisted/Spirals 40g’s, I can label the other punch tool so I will visually know which is which.


If you securely use painters tape on the holder, than mark the tape, you can change both the tape/designation and set of needle you are using until you have enough holders for each gauge/shape you would like to have in them. The multi tools with closer needle spacing work best with fine gauge needles, whereas the wider spaced multi tools can accommodate courser needles. Remember if your holder can hold 7 needle, you don’t have to put all 7 needles in.


A selection of differnt needle holders, from sigle needle holder to the 20 needle holder.12) a selection of needle felting holders, there are examples of holders that can hold as few as one needle to one holder that can hold 20 needles.


Ergonomically speaking the single needle used directly in your fingers can become uncomfortable with extended use (muscle cramps and spasms can occur). Some felters will find it uncomfortable much faster than others will, especially those with finger and joint conditions such as arthritis.  Recently a larger version of the single offset wooden holder has become available which is, for most people, more comfortable than the thinner version.  If you do not find the pen shaped tools comfortable, then try the more nob shaped ones. The Nob shaped handles come in a couple sizes but usually have the ability to hold more than one needle, you can always decide to have only one needle seated if you need more control.

To reduce the likelihood of injuries, you can try to use larger muscle groups (larger muscles fatigue slower than smaller ones). Keep changing which joints are doing the primary work (shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers). Take brakes; drinking tea or water will have the bladder help remind you to take a break.  Slow down on the enthusiasm of both the rate and depth of stabbing the wool (remember working depth –the fiber is moved by the barbs so the depth of the barb is important.  Do not go deeper than you need to accomplish what you are doing.  Adding an appendage requires greater depth than blending a surface colour. A door mirror can be helpful if it is propped so you can glance at it intermittently as you work. Check if your shoulders are elevated or curled forward (protracted). When you are focused on felting you can forget about posture!

option Pro Con
Labeling holders You know what needles are in use as long as you




Ergonomics – most holders are more comfortable than holding a single bare needle and reduces hand cramping and muscle fatigue.

You need holders for each gauge and shape of needle you have purchased.  (Some of the holders are quite pricy)


Not all shapes are comfortable in all hands it may take a few options to find the ones that work for you.

Comparison set of needles.

A few of our local resellers have “sample or variety packs”. These are a group of needles in a variety of gauges and sometimes shapes. If you have an example of the main gauges you can compare the size of the working part from a needle you know the size of to one you are unsure of.  With spinning, there is a tool that allows you to check the size of yarn and the angle of twist. For knitting, there is a tool with different sizes of holes to determine unlabeled knitting needle gauges.  We don’t have a similar one yet for felting needles, hummm…. Let me think about that. If I could find my wire pulling plate that may be worth trying. (If only I could remember where what safe spot I put it in is… Drat oh well it might even be too fine!)

selections of labled needles from 3 different venders13) A set of needles from one of the china Resellers, Fibercraft has a larger sample pack but i didn’t find mine this is a smaller sample pack of star needles, Olive Sparrow has a set of needles in different gauges, and shapes.

Looking at the needles

I have a good ring light with a magnifying lens in the center. I purchased it for pulling guard hairs out of Quiviot fiber. It would also be helpful for those who are not as short sighted as I am, to look more carefully at their needles. Don’t just look at the gauge, sometimes there is an obvious difference between needles such as the 38g is a 333 barb needle the 40’s have the 222 barbs. While the 42 is a spiral 222 and the 46 is a crown needle so 111 barb designation. If you had a set like this, you could see the difference between gauges just by the barb number and working part shape.  There are also different barb spacing, so that may give you a clue as to which needle you are looking at. This requires you either, have the original specifications, or you made yourself a note when you bought them.

needles i have purchused but have not yet uised. they are in plastic tubes with screw top lids. there is a small lump of wool roveing at the bottom to keep the tips from dulling.14) Plastic vials with screw top lids. Add wool to the bottom so the needles don’t bang their tips on the end of the vile and dull.

Feel or palpate the needle (carefully)

You are likely also able to trust your fingers and carefully feel the working part of a known and unknown gauge needle. Palpation is a skill that gets better with practice but you can probably already tell the difference between course, medium, fine and extra fine. It is defiantly more of a challenge to separate the two fine gauges (40 and 42).  It’s also helpful to use the feeling (or end feel) as the needle goes into the felt. 42’s should feel smoother, and effect less fiber migration than the 40g, which is technically courser.  Palpation/Feel can mislead you on determining gauge; read the * in the “Con” column in the next table.

Another option is using a caliper tool

I bought a caliper tool for assessing armature wire as well as a couple metal plate wire gauges. (There are a couple of systems to size wire using the plates so it gets confusing. There is math involved when you look up how to use the info from a caliper with a wire gauge chart. Most of the charts I was looking at for armature wire didn’t get to the higher numbered gauges (40-46) which would cover our needles. If you have digital calipers that are fine enough to measure and compare to a labeled needle, with the unlabeled, then this is another option to sort our needles.  If you don’t find a fine measurement caliper already in your studio or workshop and suddenly want to acquire one, I found calipers on sail at Princess auto. One of the groups using them are sheet metal workers, to gauge sheets of metal (seems reasonable). You may have a friend who has one, check and see if you can borrow it to see if it would work for you.

Digital callaper in padded plastic box with instructions.15) Digital Caliper from Princess Auto

Ultimately, I can work just fine not knowing the gauge of a needle.  I can choose a needle by comparison of how they feel in use.  Is it moving the amount of fiber I want it to? if not, I will switch to the other one. That said, knowing what gauge you are handling is preferable since it can increase the speed of felting (no searching and testing needles each time you need to change gauges). It also lets you quickly replace a broken needle, ether in a tool or a loose one you were using. (This requires you to store spare needles safely, and labeled with some basic info; Designation: (ideally gauge, shape, barb number, length), the source so you can reorder when needed (their web address or store name), cost per needle or per group when purchased (it’s not necessary but it’s helpful to tack).

option Pro Con
2 groups of needles

-ones that are in use

-ones you have purchased and have not yet been pulled out to use. Labeled Gauge/Shape/# of barbs and where you got them (so you can get more)

You can compare the needle in use against the known gauges you have purchased.

Makes re-ordering easy

-Requires keeping track of your needle inventory

-Requires you write notes about each needle type (kept with the needle), where you got it and price.

-Requires that you find a storage option, that will be safe from humidity and prevent needle damage.

Look at the needle You may be able to sort some needles by shape or barb number if you remember their gauge. Memory….it can be a fickle thing…..
Feel / Palpation You can often tell from the feel of the working part or the way the needle enters the felt if one needle is finer or courser than another even if they look very similar. * You can get stuck looking at two T-40g needles that just have different barb number or spacing and not be sure if they are truly the same or different. (You may be feeling the difference in drag by the change in barb number or barb shape rather than the gauge itself.)
Wire Tools to assess the gauge Cool there is a tool that may help!!!

Digital calipers (can get expensive), see if you can borrow a pair if you are determined to use them to match mystery needles to labeled ones.

-Drat the plate versions I have don’t go fine enough for our needles!!!

-the really fancy fine calipers are not cheap, so look at the sale priced ones or “student quality” rather than Professional as long as they go fine enough (46ga).

I hope this gives you a few more strategies to sort out Mystery Unlabeled Needles or even better, Fabulous free gifts of needle from friends! I am sure you have tried or thought of most of them, but I hope I have something new for you to try too. Have I totally missed a brilliant solution that you use? Please let us know! It’s great to share ideas rather than having to find the same solutions independently. Let’s not have to reinvent Animal husbandry and selective breeding for fine fiber!!

Have a fabulous last long weekend of the summer, and the fall fiber festivals are just around the corner!!

my small clear box of tools, has multi tools, sizers and other usefull tools. the other needles are in another box if not in the foam or wool pad.16) My small travel box of tools I have the single needles ether in a second small box or in the work mat depending on what work surface I want to take with me.(yes the Smarties are candy coated chocolate and I am sure are valuable indispensable inspirational tools.)

14 thoughts on “Question: What needle is that? (Part 2)

  1. Wow Jan, I never realised there were so many different felting needles! I have to admit, I am not at all organised. When I bought my first set of needles, they were unmarked so I got into the bad habit of trial and error. I pick up a random needle and see how it works, moving on if I’m not happy with the effect. You’ve really given me food for thought.

    1. HI Welsh Felters!! No No random needle palpation to determan if it works isnt bad, its just slower. i work mostly with unmarked needles and with difernt shapes and barb numbers with in a gauge so i often poke and feel how it moves the fiber. if you have the needles grouped or tools lables its just faster to find what your looking for than totaly by feel. each method still works so modifie your working prosses to be easyest for you.
      maybe try placing your needles in similer feeling groops. maybe agressive, enthusiadtic and on a coffy brake? that way when you need to change needle you have a group narowed down already to select from. Nave fun and Keep Felting!

  2. Wow! What a comprehensive guide! Great text and photos.
    Yes, for those with hand trouble, the holders are good.
    Your organisation of your needles, when working or storing, is absolute perfection.

    1. Thank You Both! the grouping by feel sort of evolved as i wound up with needles from many sorces none having the same system of markings and all the unlabled ones as well. i hope others will be able to use this or it will spark an Aha moment and they will invent something that will work even better!

    1. Thanks Janet! there is even more info about needle but i dont want to friten everyone with my inthusiasum! there are a few posts now about needles on the blog
      here is one about crown needls (there acutaly one of two types structureing needles)
      Needles and Their Uses
      Dose the twisted needle twist as it goes into the wool?
      and the related topic of Felting Surfaces & The new game, “What is that smell?”
      i hope this gives you a bit more reading but dosnt overwhelm you. (Needles are just so much fun!!)

  3. More useful stuff Jan, thanks.
    When I’m working I have a single needle holder/handle for each of my different needles, with the size & shape written on the top of the holder, then each needle is stuck into the holder I’ve made from a hairspray can lid (I think – it’s been around for so long now I can’t remember exactly what was in the can/bottle). I have put a piece of lead weight in the bottom to keep it upright, with some wool on top, which is now fairly solid after being stuck so many times over the years. The holder with the needles in their handles sits in the corner of my plastic box, similar to yours, which holds my tools etc. With the needles sitting well down in the holder they are shorter than the depth of the box so that I can leave them in there at the end of a felting session until next time. I do actually have a box of spares (all colour coded with nail varnish) in case I bust the one I’m working with and a separate “sharps” box where I place the broken needle bits.

    1. I forgot to ask if we’ll get to see your Whispering Sheep picture? It looks interesting.

  4. Thanks Ann, a sharps box is a great idea i usualy use tape and add to a pop tin. but a real sharp box is a much better idea. i usualy have the needle holders sitting beside me or on the lid of the box of tools. i have a multie tool that sits in a cilindrical storage too has wool at the bootom to keep the needle tips safe. i will have to check if the wool is getting compacted from storeing the needles! i found plastic test tubes with screew top lids for small groups of needle perches at the doller store holding erasors which i gave away and kept the tubes.
    i usualy take the wispering sheep with me when i am out demoing so it is not getting too much progress at the moment! but yes i am sure you will see more of the two of them. i chose that particular picture since it looked like a visual puzel, how many sheep am i looking at?

  5. Jan, you put my needle storage skills to shame! What a thorough post, thanks for this. Definitely one to come back to for help if I ever decide to find out which needles are which in my collection of Lost Ones 🙂

    1. thanks Leonor! i was hopeing we would have lots of other suggestions in the comments, i dont think my skeem is difinitive, but it works for me.

      the one thing to remember if you are sorting by palpation (or feel) as the needle enters the wool, is that feeling can trick you when compairing the same gauge but differnt numbers of barbs. but if its agressive at wool moveing and wants to hang out with the gauge to the left of it (if left is more aggessive in your working system) than it should probubly go there. Ultimitly its the way it moves wool thats important rather than the specifications of that particular needle.

      if i get realy insistant that i need to know what is that needle, i suspect the easyest answer will be to have a sample to compair the mistery kneedle to, that is a known gauge and maybe even the rest of its attrabutes (barb spacing barb type point type and we can see and feel the shape). ok since i havnt seen anyone try that i should make one. but not tonight i have a workshop i am takeing on Naalbinding. YAH!!! (its runs one evening a week for 4 weeks. this should be grate, i bet there is home work.)

  6. Thanks Jan for another fact filled post about felting needles. I store my needles in plastic tubes but I don’t have very many as I don’t use them much.

  7. Another brilliant post on needles Jan. Thank you. This information is invaluable to all needle felters. I do very little needle felting myself so all that I have are fine needles. I am very bold though because I keep putting my blunt ones back into their holders. I really must improve.
    Helene x

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: