Hello, everyone! This is Catherine, one of the employees at our lovely store, and I’m here to start making my own contributions to the blog. You can look forward to reading about topics such as needle felting, natural dyes, and more on Sundays. I’m incredibly eager to start our adventure together, so let’s jump right in!
Probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get when it comes to needle felting is in regards to the numbers that come with the needles. If you’ve looked at the packages we sell in the shop or at others online, you can usually see needle gauges labelled as 32,36,38,40, and/or 42. As a beginner, these numbers may seem confusing and don’t seem to tell you a whole lot, but paying attention to needle gauge can be crucial in order to save on time, frustration, and broken needles. Unlike knitting needles, the number given to felting needles does not tell you whether a needle is thicker or thinner than another, but rather how many barbs a needle contains. Now, this part can get a little confusing so hold on to your hats.
If a number on a felting needle is lower, so 32 and 36, this means that there are more barbs on that needle. When you have a larger amount of barbs on a needle this will start grabbing at lots of fiber and you will have less control over what is being felted. Typically these kinds of needles work wonders with getting a bulky job done on your piece, such as the general shaping of a sculpture. The way I remember this is ” less is more is less“.
If a number on a felting needle is higher, so 40 and 42, this means that there are fewer barbs on that needle. Having fewer barbs on your needles will give you more control over what’s being felted, and can be very useful when it comes to smoothing a surface and doing tiny details. It’s also going to be important to switch to a finer gauge needle when the felt becomes denser (but hopefully not over-felted). The way I remember this is ” more is less is more ” . There is also a 38 on this scale, but it is usually a middle gauge that can be good for bulk work but also fine details depending on the project.
Now, that’s all well and good, but what happens when you use a bulky gauge for fine work or a fine gauge for bulk work? Well, things can get quite frustrating, and in some cases your needles will snap. Since you want to go into fine details with precision, having a needle that can be somewhat unpredictable is going to end up covering more area than you had intended, and in some cases deeper than you had intended (which will cause issues if you want to have a nice, smooth finish). Also, if your felted piece is fairly dense and firm, using a needle like this is going to put pressure in many different areas and will snap the needle. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as losing a needle tip in the work you just poured hours and hours into! On the flip-side of that situation, if you use a fine gauge needle to try and do bulk work you’re going to end up pouring in even more hours trying to get that large mass of fiber to hold together with only a small amount of barbs.
There is an exception to this that I have come across in recent months. If you are going to do bulk work with a fiber that is already fairly dense, such as corriedale, or if you want to do flat felting with a piece of craft felt as your canvas, it works best to start with a finer gauge needle. It may take a bit more time, but trying to wedge a bulk gauge in a situation like that is going to snap it. Fortunately, it’s usually easier to dig out, but it’s very upsetting to be productive on a project only to come to a halt because you’ve run out of needles.
Needle gauge isn’t the only thing to consider when working on a piece, but that is a post for another Sunday.