Needles, Wool, Mistakes, Advice and the One Tip - Gabby from Flippity Felts

1. What are your favourite needles to use?

I always say to my students when I teach them that if they had to choose only one needle (in some sort of strange worldwide needle shortage!) then they should go for a 38 gauge (either triangle or star). You could do everything with a 38 if you needed to - build up a pretty sturdy core, attach the top colour, carve out facial details, attach long fur or smooth over the surfaces - it might take a little longer than using more suitable needles but you'll be able to get everything done quite well. It's what I call a good all-rounder. But I also love using reverse needles too, but that's something you'd only use for a very specific purpose!

2. What is your favourite type of wool to work with?

My absolute favourite wool of all time has to be the NZ Carded Wool that is sold by the Felt Box! I honestly think I would have given up on felting long before now if it hadn't been for this wool! I could wax lyrical about it for hours! It comes in so many beautiful colours (so many!!) and they blend together so flawlessly, but the main selling point for me is that it's so usable. It's fast felting, amazing value, easy to keep neat, very versatile - it's basically idiot-proof, and I would know! I would say that it's better used as a top colour rather than a core,but if you've ever wondered what felters use to make their felts really really smooth, this is the answer.

3. What is the worst piece of  advice you keep hearing for needle felters?

The worst advice I ever hear for felters is that you can't 'cheat' when it comes to felting. What do I mean by cheating? Taking shortcuts or using non-traditional methods or materials to create your art. For example, I tend to sew my heads onto my bodies - it results in a far more stable creation. If I didn't do this I would always worry that the head would fall off, or just be off-puttingly wobbly! Felters - do whatever you need to do to make your felts come alive! Sew bits on, use glass eyes, chop bits off, make fabric clothes instead of felt, use armatures - do what you need to do, just make it purposeful!

4. What common mistakes do people make when they start out?

The biggest mistake new felters make is not realising how firm their felts need to be. Whenever I do classes the first thing people say when they see my prototype is that they didn't realise how solid the final result is going to turn out, and many people seriously under-felt their work when they first learn the techniques. Most of the time this is down to fear of the needle (so many people worry about breaking needles! It's going to happen at some point, don't sweat it!), or because they've only seen online tutorials, and both of these reasons are completely understandable! You need to felt the core quite, quite solid - if you don't, it won't keep its shape very well (either when being gently handled or even while you're still working on it), and when the time comes for you to put the top colour onto the model you're in danger of further distorting the shape, or at the very least having a really hard time applying it. There needs to be a high level of tension from the core so that the colour doesn't sink into the base and make it go misshapen.

5. What is the one thing a beginner could learn today that would  make a difference to their work?

The one thing a beginner could learn today that will make a massive difference to their work is that not all wool is suitable for felting, and not all felting wool is suitable for all purposes. When I first started I wasted a lot of time (and money) trying to make cores out of merino - pretty impossible! I nearly gave up straight away! Same goes for alpaca. Both of these fibres are lovely for long fur or top colours, but made it pretty miserable making a core! Similarly, some core wools are far better than others - you want to use a mid-level fibre such as Jacob, Cheviot, Shetland - something with a bit of grip and softness - and avoid fibres that are too coarse, too springy, too soft or too stringy until you've got a bit more experience behind you. Once I started using more suitable fibres life got so much easier!