Donna enjoys using her arts background to create fun craft projects with a special focus on using repurposed or handy household materials.
You can add colorful custom decoration or design to a plain sweater using the fun and easy technique of needle felting. Needle felting is the process of binding wool roving to another material or surface using a sharp felting needle. With this process, you can add any design to your favorite sweaters. You can see a video of the needle felting process on my blog.
This tutorial will show you the basic technique and tools of needle felting. The design I made is only a sample of the many surface decorations you can create with needle felting.
Basic Materials for Adding a Needle Felted Design to a Sweater
- a wool sweater - although I've seen needle felted designs added to other materials, I recommend using a sweater made from at least 80% wool or cashmere for your first project. The wool roving will best adhere to another woolen fabric.
- wool roving in a number of colors - this is available at some craft or yarn stores and on the internet. You can usually get a selection of colors in a needle felting kit.
- a felting needle - available at most craft stores and on the internet. You can buy a single needle, or a larger felting tool that uses many needles at the same time. You will need a single needle, however, to add detail to your design.
- a felting pad - available on the internet or in a needle felting kit. This pad protects both the surface you are working on and the tip of your felting needle.
- (optional) cookie cutters in the shape of your choice - to use as stencils for the design of your decoration. You can also cut stencils from paper, or freehand your design.
- (optional) buttons, beads, and embroidery floss to embellish your sweater decoration
- scissors and a pencil are always handy to have
Directions for Adding Decoration to a Wool Sweater Using Needle Felting
1. The first step of the needle felting process is to create the design for your sweater. You can do a search on Pinterest or the internet for some ideas.
I knew I wanted to add a heart to the middle of the back of my sweater, then flank it with two birds and fill in the space with flowers. So I tried on my sweater and decided on the placement for my heart on the back. Then I had my husband mark this spot with a safety pin. Once I had my heart in place, I could decide on the arrangement of the other design elements.
2. Then I placed my heart stencil over the safety pin on the back of my sweater. You can use cookie cutters for your stencil, or you can cut your own from paper or cardboard. My cookie cutter was too big for my design, so I made my stencil from paper.
If you use cookie cutters, be sure to hold them firmly against your fabric as you needle felt. If using paper, you can just pin your stencil in place.
3. Before beginning to needle felt, place your felting pad under the area on your sweater where you are working. Make sure your material is flat and that you are only working on one layer of material. You do not want to felt one section of your sweater to another.
4. Take a small piece the wool roving of your color choice and shape it roughly to the area you need to fill (see above). Then using your felting needle, begin to bind your roving to your sweater surface. Use the video above as reference. Work in small areas to build up the surface of your decoration. Generally, you want to create a flat area of solid color using your wool roving and needle felting.
I didn't fill my heart stencil completely with one color. Instead, I added a contrasting border with a thin line of red wool roving. I simply twisted my piece of red roving into a thin string before felting it into place.
5. Once your design is completely needle felted, remove your cookie cutter or template and clean up your edges. You can fill in any thin areas and trim any loose hairs after your stencil is removed.
Adding Different Shapes and Elements to Your Needle Felted Design
6. Continue to build your design by adding different shapes and images to your sweater.
For my sweater, I cut another stencil of a bird using an image from the internet as a guide. I positioned this stencil on one side of my heart. Then I began to fill in my bird shape using the same technique as with the heart. I tore off small pieces of roving and shaped them to fill my template, building up the shape and surface.
Helpful Hint: I like working the felting needle into the smallest areas first, like the bird's beak, to get the roving to stay in place. Then I move on to the larger areas.
7. Once I had one bird completed, I flipped over my bird stencil for a mirror image and positioned it on the other side of my heart. I measured my template's placement so I knew it was in the same place as my first bird. Then I pinned my stencil and began to fill the shape with wool roving using my felting needle.
Using Freehand Shapes in Your Design
8. Once my birds were in place, I added some simple flowers in bright colors around my design. To create these flowers, I shaped a small piece of wool roving into a teardrop shape for needle felting. You can see this process in this video.
9. Then I added centers to each of my flowers by making a little ball of roving and needle felting each into place.
Adding More Needle Felted Decoration to the Front of Your Sweater
10. I used the same process and stencils to add a coordinating design to the left side of the front of my sweater.
Finishing the Needle Felted Design on Your Sweater
11. To finish my sweater, I added little embroidery knots to each bird for eyes. I also sewed on an array of buttons to complete the design. You could also add beads, sequin, or other embroidery stitches to complete your sweater decoration.
12. I used the same embroidery and button details to finish the needle felted design on the front of my sweater too.
I hope this basic tutorial and project has inspired you to try adding a needle felted design to your favorite sweater!
© 2016 Donna Herron
Donna Herron (author) from USA on April 21, 2018:
Thanks, Linda! Needle felting is very addictive and a fun way to add decoration to any number of items. I hope you gave it a try. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 20, 2018:
I love the decorations that you've added to the sweater. They are so pretty. Thanks for sharing the instructions. I'm very tempted to try this project myself.
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 20, 2016:
Hi teaches12345 - I love your idea! I have an orange sweater and was thinking about needle felting some colorful fall leaves on it, but I like your pumpkin idea too. Thanks for your suggestion and your comments! I appreciate it!
teaches12345 on October 19, 2016:
I do like the look of the decorations on the sweater. Very nice. Perhaps pumpkins on a sweater would add fun to a fall outfit.
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 07, 2016:
Hi Margaridab - I don't think that needle felting is hard. The technique offers quite a lot of options for projects and creativity. I hope you give it a try! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 07, 2016:
Hi Sally - Most likely I'll get poked by the needle, not hooked - LOL! I've been doing needle felting for a while and have always enjoyed it. This project has been on my list to do for a long time. So glad you like it. Thanks so much for your comments!
Margarida Borges from Lyon, France on October 06, 2016:
I have never tried felting. I've always thought it was difficult. Once I bought some felted wool on a flea market but I crocheted it into a necklace. Perhaps I should give it a try..
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on October 06, 2016:
Nice one! glad to see you doing a little needle felting! Careful, you might get hooked:)