Last winter I made a beautiful Medieval-style coat for my daughter. It had huge needle-felted flowers all over the hem and cuffs. She was thrilled with the gift and wore it all season, but oh my aching wrists! The problem with felting by hand is it takes a long time and the repetitive stress on your fingers and wrists can aggravate (or even cause) carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
Since the needle felting process involves stabbing a needle up and down through several layers of fiber and fabric, doing it by machine just makes sense. A machine can work much faster and more evenly than you can by hand, and you won’t hurt afterward. Best of all, it’s easy. You just move the fabric freely under the needles and watch your design come to life.
Which is the best stand-alone needle felting machine?
Stand-alone machines are the size of a standard sewing machine and have about the same table area. If you’re planning to work on large projects like quilts or wall hangings, you can purchase extension tables for some machines separately. There are several needle felting machines on the market including the Babylock Embellisher, the Fab Felter from Nancy’s Notions, the Pfaff Smart 350, Singer ER-10, and Huskystar ER-10.
But after researching for a while, I found the best machine for reliability, speed and features is the Janome XPression (now called the Janome FM-725)
What makes it the best?
First of all, it comes from one of the best manufacturers in the business. You know a Janome machine isn’t going to break down on you in the middle of a project. Considering all you’re getting is a set of needles going up and down, you don’t have a ton of extra features to make a machine more expensive. So, purchasing an inexpensive model from a reputable brand is a smart choice. Janome isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the least expensive of the recommended models.
The Janome XPression machine comes with a 5-needle unit and a single-needle unit, both of which use coarse-size 36 triangular needles. Recently, Janome has come out with a new replacement needle unit that takes individual needles, giving you the option of using different sizes and shapes needles like the other stand-alone machines. If you’re handy with a hacksaw, you can also cut hand-felting needles to the correct size. Hand needles tend to be cheaper and come in a greater variety than machine needles.
It’s possible to remove one or more needles if you want to attach something narrow like a ribbon to your project. Using fewer needles will prevent unwanted needle holes alongside of the yarn or ribbon. The new needle holder costs about $40, which is a great value considering you also get a new needle guard and 10 needles. It also comes with a separate needle holder that holds one needle. This allows you to attach yarn or other thin fibers without making unnecessary holes. It is very nice to have this extra needle holder. I don’t know of any other machine that offers a single needle holder as part of its standard package.
The Janome provides two throat plates, one with 5 small holes and one with a single large hole. And it runs at a speedy 900 rpm. Fibers can take time to feel properly, and the speed helps move projects along quickly.
Are there any drawbacks to the Janome XPression FM-725?
The only drawback I’ve found with the Janome XPression FM-725 is the difficulty with raising and lowering the needle guard. You want the guard as close to the fabric as possible to prevent needle breakage, but when you’re using different materials for different projects, the thickness varies greatly. So, you have to adjust the height of the needle guard from time to time. Some machines have a knob at the top of the machine to raise and lower the needle guard depending on the thickness of your project, but the Janome requires you to unscrew the needle guard at the rear of the machine, adjust it and re-tighten it. This does make the needle guard easier to remove when you need to.
Features for the Janome FM-725
- Five-hole needle plate (2mm x 5mm)
- Five needle unit
- Single-hole needle plate
- Single needle unit
- Free arm and flatbed capability
- Retractable carrying handle
- Easy clean lint box
- Clear see-through adjustable presser foot
- Clear see-through finger guard
- Clear see-through adjustable eye guard
- Standard foot control
- Bright work light
- Instructional DVD
- Machine Size: W389mm x H278mm x D150m
Is there any time you shouldn’t use a machine for needle felting?
I find most projects are best done with a machine, but sometimes you have tiny little details like fish scales or veins on a leaf where it’s better to work by hand with a single needle. You get more control and can work with really small amounts of fiber. Fortunately, all felting needles are the same–whether they’re designed for machine use or by hand. So, you can just take one machine needle out and use it like a hand needle with no problem. (Note: you can’t use hand needles in your machine unless they are specifically cut to size.)
What about needle felting attachments for regular sewing machines?
Two-needle felting attachments are available for Bernina and Brother machines. These are just snap-on presser feet and work with the drop-feed mechanism on the machine. These may seem like a great deal, especially if you already own the correct machine. But beware! The needle felting process leaves a lot of debris behind. I don’t recommend using your sewing machine for needle felting because you’ll clog your gears and feed dogs with lint, dust, and other particles which will severely damage your machine if not cleaned out thoroughly on a regular basis. Plus, the attachments can cost almost as much as a stand-alone machine. Think of it like buying a cheap printer for your computer. It’s not a good deal if you have to spend a fortune on ink. Trust me, it’s much better to pay a little more for a separate felting machine.
Where’s the best place to buy a good needle felting machine?
If you have a dealer nearby, that’s a great option. But I find most people don’t have this luxury. And many dealers don’t keep the felting machines in stock. I prefer to purchase my sewing machines online, from Amazon.com if possible.
If you’re interested in learning this simple but elegant embellishing technique or just want a way to save your wrists from the pain of hand felting, I urge you to check out the reviews and pricing on this machine for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.