I've recently re-discovered needle felting, and I'm having so much fun with it that I wanted to write this post to introduce it to those of you who might not be familiar with the technique!
An Introduction to Needle Felting
Needle felting is an incredible technique for adding unique and beautifully textured fabrics to your projects. The process doesn't use thread to join pieces of fabric together. Instead you simply drive very sharp barbed needles through the fabrics. The barbs on the needles catch fibres on their way down through the upper fabric, which meshes the upper and lower fabrics together.
By blending fabrics in this way you can creative some wonderful effects, and the free hand nature of the work allows you to get really creative. Take a look at this forum post for some examples of what can be achieved with needle felting.
There are no limitations to what you can do to get the effect you are looking for. You can punch through either the front or the back of the fabric, depending on the effect you prefer, and you can use a whole range of different types of fabrics, including wool, felt, denim, silk and many more. It is also a great way to reuse scraps of thread or fabric which would have otherwise been discarded.
What is an Embellisher Machine?
An embellisher machine, also known as a felting machine, can be used to speed up the needle felting process, which if done manually is very time consuming.
Embellisher machines may look very similar to sewing machines at first glance, but are completely different beasts. For starters there is no bobbin and no thread. And instead of a single needle and a presser foot you have a unit of up to 12 barbed needles. The needles normally sit behind a needle guard, which will keep your fingers safe and avoid any risk of injury should a needle break. The machine is operated using a foot pedal, and you guide your fabrics under the needles in the same way that you would doing free motion embroidery.
This video by Evy from A Bit of Stitch really illustrates the process well:
Embellisher machines typically come with between 5 and 12 needles. Normally the more needles the better, but machines with more needles also tend to be a lot pricier. Some machines allow you to replace individual needles within a unit, whereas with other machines if one needle break the entire unit needs to be replaced.
It is possible to buy felting foot attachments for sewing machines, which allows you to needle felt on a regularly sewing machine. I know that Bernina have such an attachment. These generally don't work as well as an embellisher machine though, and you need to be careful that the lint which builds up doesn't cause issues with your sewing machine.
Popular Embellisher Machines
Janome, Pfaff and Babylock are the most popular brands for embellisher machines.
If you are just getting started and don't want to shell out too much, I would recommend the Janome FM725 (also known as the Janome Xpression), which is one of the most popular embellisher machines out there. It comes with a five needle unit, which is fixed. This means that if one needle breaks, the whole unit will need to be replaced.
The FM725 also comes with a single needle unit, which is quite unusual, and which can be very handy if for example you are working on a particularly delicate piece.
The Babylock Embellisher has an impressive 12 needle in total (although I believe older models only had 7 needles), which will definitely speed up felting process. It also allows for individual needles to be be replaced.
The flip side is that the Babylock Embellisher is a fair bit more expensive that the Janome and Pfaff machines!
Pfaff Hobby 350P
The Pfaff Hobby 350P is similar to the Janome FM725, with 5 needles, but has the advantage of allowing individual needles to be replaced.
If you're looking to learn more about embellisher machines and the process, I highly recommend the book Embellish, Stitch, Felt by Sheila Smith, which you can buy on Amazon.co.uk.