Structuring Needle – Forks, lets investigate

Structuring Needle – Forks, lets investigate

Today I wanted to have a chat again about needles. After searching “locally” (ok I looked within a couple hours driving distance) with no luck, I looked online and have got my hands on 5 at 42g needles that are new to me. Before we get into checking them out with fibre, I think we should have a quick review of the two main categories of felting needles as they are used in Industry.

5 felting needles with pastic case and card with gauge by colour list 1) A new needle style to add to my needle collection. (Unlike Pokémon you don’t need to catch them all, but it’s fun to try. I do want to acquire an example of each variation of shape. If I can I may try to track down some of the different barb types and placements to compare.)

Felting needles

From previous posts, I am sure you will remember there are two types of needles. The first group that creates the felt, which is quite reasonably called “Felting needles”.  (This group encompass most of the needles in industry and are the ones we use most.) These needles are set in the needle beds of the felting machines and are repeatedly inserted into the non-woven web of fibre to create the felt. In industry, this is all very fast-moving and noisy, for us it is less noisy and hopefully more carefully considered  insertion of a needle into fibre (ok, stabbing!)   In industry, the different working part shapes, as well as barb type and spacing and even the tip chosen will affect the type of felt produced. Some of the factors that the different needles can affect are the tensile strength, uniformity, low damage to fibre within the web and carrier material (ground fabric as well as longevity of the needles in the machines.  With the variations of gauge, working shape, barb shape and location as well as tip types, the needle manufacturer Groz-Beckert (Germany) says it has thousands of different felting needles to choose from.

Structuring needle

The second type of needles, “structuring needles”, are used after the felt has been made by the “felting needles”. Groz-Beckert describes their purpose as “structuring previously bonded nonwoven fabric”.  This means they will be adding a surface texture (velvety, ribbed or grainy) or pattern (geometric or linear) to the nonwoven fabric (felt).  They do this in a different machine than the one that made the felt. The structure machine usually has a brush conveyer, which holds the fibres in place during the needle insertion process so the velours fabric does not distort the uniform loops. This may be where the concept for the clover brush tool came from. It allows the crown needles to make a loop structure.

diagram of Crown needle in structuring machine. 2) Crown needle interacting with felt on brush conveyor surface creating loops   Watch the video here;

diagram of fork needle in structuring machine. 3) Fork Needle interacting with non-woven fabric   Watch the video here;

There are two Structuring needles in Industry, the Crown and Fork needles. when they are used together they will “produce very dense velour fabrics with a uniform surface quality.” Structuring needles make products for the automotive industry, such as floor coverings, foot mats, rear shelves, door and luggage-compartment panels, and headliners.

Crown Needle

The first I have discussed previously is the Crown needle. It has a triangular working shape and has one barb per side located close to the tip. In industry a bed of crown needles, with their shallow barb placement, creates an even and uniform engagement with the fibre, resulting in a homogeneous surface. They are intended to pierce the felt and push a bit of fibre (loop) to the opposite side the needle entered from,  producing the textural element. This is not the way we usually use them, but may be helpful when pushing a colour from one side of a thin structure to another.  Since we are using the needles by hand we can adjust the angle of penetration (shallow) as well as the depth of insertion (just enough to engage the barbs) to isolate the entanglement (felting and insertion of fibre) to one side of a very thin structure. As an example do you remember the iris flower peddles I made?  I was able to add blue to a white petal. Where I wanted I could keep the blue from showing on the other side.

Ann showing thinness of iris petals before assembly felted Iris in sunlight showing how thin petals are and how colour is different on each side of petal4 -4.1) Iris petal, and finished Iris

This is also helpful if you are making ears that have a different colour on the inside and outside of the ear. (As found on mice and other cool creatures)

Although the Crown needle is considered a structuring needle, it is still useful as a speciality needle and worth having in your collection for the occasional time it will be just right. (Now I am thinking about Porridge!)

Fork Needle

The second type of structuring needle is called a Fork it again is used after the felting needles have created the nonwoven fabric. In this case, Fork needles are used, in industry,  to create what is described as “grainy structure”. Fork needles are manufactured in gauges 17–43(Groz-Beckert), although we tend to use a smaller range of gauges in our felting needles.  Online I was able to find Fork needles in gauges 38 to 42, most were on Etsy but I did also check other spots.  Heidifeathers had the good price when I considered the shipping,  but at the time only had them in the extra fine 42 gauge. I would have liked to have found a course one to photograph so you could see the working end clearly.

Fork needles are not like other felting needles. Let us compare and see what makes them so strange.

diagram comparing a felting needle with a fork needle.5) Comparing a Felting needle with a fork-structuring needle

I am sure you will have noticed 2 changes in the Fork needle. First, the point has been replaced by the fork and second that there are no barbs. The working area is smooth and cylindrical. GB said this would give better strength and less breakage but for hand felting the finer gages should still be used carefully to ensure less breakage. You will probably notice that the fork is directional. It is not the same on all sides.

So far, this doesn’t sound too promising for most needle felters. So who is buying these needles (other than industry)?  There are doll makers who make life-like “Reborn” dolls. They need the needle to make a hole, grab a hair then force it into the vinyl head, (Sounds painful). They are using Crown, Triangle and Fork needles. Some of their resellers have renamed the needles; Crowns are now Ultras, Triangles are Regulars and forks are just forks. (poor things,  not getting a fancy second name.)   Fork needles have a notch in the pointed end and have to be aligned correctly with the hair to grab it. For micro-rooting technique, the forked needle at the correct gauge for the fibre being rooted will tend to grab only one hair per insertion. Different gauges or an increased number of barbs for the crown to triangle needles will determine how many hairs you grab as well as the size of the hair.

Doll makers are using either Human hair ranging from 40 to 80 microns, or Mohair and wool ranging from 18 to 39 microns diameter. As we know from needle felting, the depth of the barb determines what size of fibre a needle can grab. The finer the needle, the smaller the barb depth, so, a fine needle had trouble grabbing a fibre that is larger than the depth of its barb. Remember that feeling of “I’m not getting anywhere with this felting needle”, try going to a larger gauge needle so the barb will also be bigger and can grab the fibre more effectively.

Doer Fork Needle, showing forked tip6) Doer 42g Forked needle. This will be similar to the ones I purchased online.

Here is another view of the working end of the Fork needle from the Doer needle company.


diagram showing forked tip and sizes of various gauges of fork needles.7) more info from the working end of the Fork needle, from the Doer Needle manufacturers

So far, we know that the fork needle is a structuring needle, used to create texture on a non-woven fabric (felt). It is a directional notch at the end of the needle. The doll makers have suggested that it will require a specific orientation of the needle to engage the fibre if the fibres are all running in the same direction, as you would see in combed top (or rooting hair). Fibre engagement due to needle orientation should be a little less important if you are using carded roving or batts due to the disorganized nature of the fibre alignment in a carded format some of which should align with the fork orientation. The gauge and thus size of the fork will determine the number of and the size of the fiber it will hold and then transfer into the felt or for the Doll makers the doll’s head. (see table on the diagram above)

Next week will be very busy (but also fun) leading up to the local Weavers and Spinners Guild Show (OVWSG) so I am not sure if I will get a chance to do the hands-on investigation of the fork needles before the next blog post, but I will try.  I am particularly curious about the descriptions of orientation to engage fibre but also about the security of the embedded fibre.  I hope you will share your experience if you have had a chance to try these odd needles. If, as I suspect I am run off my feet next week, I may give you a quick tour of the sale for those who can’t make it to Ottawa!



14 thoughts on “Structuring Needle – Forks, lets investigate

  1. Now that’s what I call an embellishing machine! 😁
    I get the impression from the 2nd video that the fork needle has a blunt tip, is that right? In the video the needle seems to push its way between the felted fibres, rather then stabbing into them as the crown needle appears to do.
    I’m looking forward to the next episode Jan, these needles really look interesting – I’m thinking surface fur here. I know that we can use the reverse needle for this, but for longer fur the fork might be better. I’ve various ideas flitting around in my head now.

    1. i am trying to think of an aplicaltion of coat with a dence under coate and occational tufts of longer gard fiber, maybe a summer coat or a partly shed coat?
      Yes the fork needle seems to just push its way into and through the non-woven web. it seems to grab fibers from the web but is it actualy entangling them rather than just pushing them out the other side. for us inserting fibers will they stay intangled without another step to lock them in? the vinal of the dolls head seems to hold the hair but it may be the nature of the material. i may have to try a few differnt felted seerfaces from prefelt, to firmer felt for sculputeral felting.
      i am not sure how much force is needed compaired to the crown needle and its sharp tip. i can think about how to meusre that by felting on a scale.
      i will also investigate the directional nature of the fork. Groz-Beckert siad fork needles could be positioned in the needle bed in two ways “Configuring the fork position as a V or D allows the resulting loops to be aligned in the desired direction.” i did discover that it ment you could get the tuffting to run vertical or horizontaly across the web. (industry docutmentation is fun to surch through.)
      i am suspecting as the doll makers are useing them needles will not be as apealing since their gole is one hair per insertion (so it dosnt look like a bad hair weave) we tend to be more intusiastic. so a larger gauge may be of more intest lets see what we can find out from what i have now.

  2. Oh Jan….who knew there were soooo many needles!

    You are certainly well on the way to collecting one of every type, and must be extremely well organised having each labelled. Woe betide you if you had a few out and didn’t put them down carefully in the right place 🤪 you’d need a strong magnifying glass to identify each!

    The crown and fork seem to produce similar results looking at the videos with the exception that the fork also pushes a dominant fibre through at an angle. So I haven’t quite understood the ‘why’!

    I have to finally admit, I have done only a tiny, tiny, amount of needle felting (not a rabbit hole I’ve fallen into….yet) for which I have one basic type of needle that I have used over the years – carefully manipulated in different directions.
    Perhaps looking at & feeling the work of an expert (you) would be an eye-opener in terms of achievement & quality.

    Good luck trying the fork out and with the sales.

    1. thanks Antje!
      you dont need a thousand needles to felt! origonaly we had access to one or two gauges of triangles with a few barbs. all needles move fiber some are more or less agressive. if you get frustrated with the speed they are moving fiber you may want a more aggesive needle. if its doing your bidding and you are happy you have the right needle! i keep going back to my 36T-333 (i do have a nice selection to chose from now but that speeds up the underlayers of a sculpting so nicely)
      i hope you have somewhere made of note of your favorite needle so you can get more eventualy! (the trailing edge of the barb will ware down over time makeing it grab less fiber. this will be a long time for us. we should expect to start noticing beteween 600 and 800 hours of felting, if we go by industry standerds. humm another blog topic?)
      there are a few more felting needle shapes i have not chatted about so there may be a few more needle conversations to do. i hope you will have fun reading about intersting as well as obscure needles!

  3. Wow Jan, I am not a needle felter (I have a few to keep my fibres in place). Up until I started reading your posts, I had no idea that there was more than one gauge. Thank you for opening my eyes on this.

    Like Antje I thought that the crown and fork needles produced the same result – has it something to do with the base material that the needles are being inserted into in the machine?

    All in all, another fascinating and educational read. Looking forward to your next blog. x

    1. the crown is discribed as more uniform producing small loops in the far side of the web. While the Fork are discribed as able to make homogeneous pronounced loops (granular structure). when used together (but from what i had read early not in the same needle bed but adjacent ones) they will creat a “luxurious velour” surface. the fork needle in fine gauges also was prazed for its small insertion point leaving smaller penetration holes.
      i also found discriptions of making a corderoy or ribed like pattern but not which or whether both structuring needle was requierd for this. the ability to set the orientation of the fork needles to produce a pattern across the web or along the web was intersting and i will likly have to follow that info into the mechanics of the equipment to find out more.

      how they were intended to be use is intersting, but what we can perswade them to do for us is likly going to be more intersting!

    1. thank you both! there are more little used by us shapes that are in the felting needle catagorie i would like to chat about in the future. i also found some ware comparisons that are facinating too. so much exciting info!! i will let you know what i find out!

  4. Jan, is there a video on the crown needle? I must confess I didn’t quite understand the “does not add colour to the other side” part… The iris is lovely, though! <3

    1. Leonor, sorry the vidio for Crown neeles are here i am not sure why the link isnt linking.
      when i made the pettles i started with white wool and a bit of wire, then added the blue which is much more prominent along the edge and on one side of the peddle. to keep the blue colour form showing on the white side where i didnt want it i changed to the crown needle and worked at an angle that was very low almost parrelell to the surface of the pedle. with the barbs so close to the tip i did not have to insert the needle very deeply to acheave entanglement with the felt pedle. this was keeping the blue on one side isolated from the white on the other. in spots where i wanted a bit of blue to show on the prodominantly white side i could increse the angle of the needle to more vertical. this pushed blue from the outside (more dominent in blue) to the inside (the more white side) giving me the dots of blue on the white side. i went back and needled from the whiter side again at a shalow angle to smooth the blue pushed throught from the other side. i hope i am makeing sence?

  5. Thank you for all the research, information, and application ideas, Jan! So useful and helpful. Hats off to you!

    1. Thanks Kristina! i hope with more needle options we will have more fun! we dont need all the variations of needles but its nice to know what exsists in case we have a need of them. Crown needles are not your everyday needle but its handy to have one or two when you want to do sculptures, to afect a thin serface or working on a fine edge they may sute your need. but a few trangle needles can make a lot of things!! Have fun and keep felting!

  6. They just keep coming up with more needles for you to collect Jan, it’s seems a lifetime project to investigate them all. I look forward to hearing how the fork needle works with wool.

    I am also looking forward to seeing your photos from the guild exhibition and sale. I wish I was closer so that I could attend.

  7. I guess if you’re wanting to start a collection it’s handy if you make make it something as small as a felting needle. I knew there were lots of them but turns out it’s a staggering number of variations. I think Ruth’s right, you’ve got yourself a lifetime study going here Jan!

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