Needles, Wool, Mistakes, Advice and the One Tip - Natalie Brooks from Natalie Brooks, Artist

1. How did you discover needle felting, what inspired you to have a go and what was the first thing you made? 

During my fine art degree, I transitioned from being a painter to a sculptor and had a particular interest in using mixed media. I was a little obsessed with the work of the sculptor Sally Matthews and in Wolverhampton art gallery at the time, there was a pony made from wool(not felted, but I just loved the look and texture of the raw fleece) so I started to experiment with fibre and animal hair. At the time, I was mixing it with things like plaster, resin, and glue. Just after I had finished my degree, completely by chance, I found a book on needle felting in a book shop. I was fascinated that wool could become so solid and began to teach myself how to felt. There was much trial and error but I think it is safe to say that I became quite enamoured with the technique! 

The very first thing I made was of course a horse. I was quite pleased with it on the whole, but the legs and feet were pretty terrible on that first one!

2. Do you have a favourite needle felting artist whose work you follow?

I adore the work of Gea Van Eck… it’s so visceral, often poignant, and technically brilliant, a real showcase of what felt can be. I follow quite a lot of felt artists on Instagram, @rachel_felts_felting_fanatic, @frartedesign, and puddleduck fibre art are wonderful makers of horses. Two others that I really look forward to seeing on my feed are @houseoffelts and @thegentlemanfelter. 

Non-felt artist influences are many and varied, but they include Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Daphne Wright, Mr Finch, Michele Harris, and Polly Morgan.

3. Which projects do you find the trickiest and what has been the hardest thing to learn?

Anything small, I think when the scale goes down the difficulty goes up. I admire anyone that can work in miniature.

4. What are your favourite needles to use?

I do the majority of my work with a simple 36 triangular. I don’t get on with multi-tools so I like a coarser needle. I then do any smoothing with a spiral (usually a 38 or a 40)…. But if I could only work with one needle for the rest of my days, it would be 36 triangular.

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

A Perendale batt over good core wool. I love perendale, it is coarse enough to felt fast and firm but still gives a lovely smooth finish. Very versatile and readily available.

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

“Practice with a cheap kit first” … cheap kits (the sort that tends to pop up occasionally in supermarkets) often have poor instructions, and usually give you poor quality wool tops and a polystyrene core. I’m not against polystyrene, it can be very useful in certain situations, but I would never ask a beginner to start out with it and wool tops over those are the absolute worst combination…. Certainly enough to put people off before they get going! 

Kits can be a great way to learn, but if you are going to buy kits, make sure that the creator of the kit is someone that felts themselves.

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

Trying to do the majority of a sculpt with tops…. Core wool and wool batts are a much more user-friendly combination. I only tend to use tops for fur and effects. Don’t get me wrong, you can get some beautiful smooth finishes with wool tops but it takes practice and a lot of work. The reason for this is that the fibre in a top is all facing in the same direction, unlike a batt where they are crisscrossing and laying in all directions…. Because of this, there is less opportunity for the needle to catch hold of the fibre as you felt. As a result, you will be making things much more difficult for yourself.

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

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is an essential part of the learning process. In this age of social media, you don’t often see the practice pieces, experiments and woolly lumps languishing in the bin that didn’t work out. Experimenting and just having a go is far more valuable than staying in your comfort zone. If it doesn’t work out, so what? You have learned more by just doing than you will by just thinking.

About the artist:  

Natalie Brooks has a Facebook page, and an Instagram page

She usually has work on display at The Art Yard in Cradley Heath. 

Natalie also has work in the West Midlands Open on display at The New Art Gallery, Walsall. Although it is a drawing and not felt,  it is a study for a future felt piece. The West Midlands Open runs from 20th May until 25th September. 

She also regularly teaches face to face workshops at the below venues:

The Art Yard, Cradley Heath

Well That’s Just Crafty, Cradley Heath

The Wool Ladies, Bilston

And the National Trust Properties Moseley Old Hall and Wightwick Manor, both Wolverhampton.

Full details about upcoming workshops can be found on the events section of her other felt page