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.
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.)
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.
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.
2) Crown needle interacting with felt on brush conveyor surface creating loops Watch the video here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWE4tvHF0xU
3) Fork Needle interacting with non-woven fabric Watch the video here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU7tZSy9vOE
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.
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.
4 -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!)
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.
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.
6) 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.
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!