Needle felting is hard on your hands. The repetitive motion of stabbing the needle into the wool is not only a hazard for your fingertips — those needles are sharp! — but it can be a strain on your wrists and finger joints, especially if you are working on a project for any extended period of time. Sitting for hour after hour stabbing at a clump of wool can lead to aches going up into your arms and your back as well.
Here I’ll share with you a few of the things I do to try to help prevent these aches, or in the cases where it seems inevitable, at least recover from them. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments.
Let’s do whatever we can to make needle felting a more fun and less painful experience.
THIMBLES. I recommend always using thimbles to guard against stray pokes. As noted above, these needles are sharp. I have drawn blood more times than I care to count, even while wearing thimbles. Without them, my fingers would be riddled with scars. Even if I’m just going to do a few “touch up” pokes, I put my thimbles on. It’s the best policy.
I like to use leather thimbles so that I can manipulate the wool with relative ease and feel where exactly the needle is while still being well protected. You can find these thimbles in the quilting section of most craft stores and there are many online sources for them as well.
WORK SURFACE. Using a pad of some kind as a work surface. This is something that I moved away from and then returned to throughout my needle felting life. I have learned the deeper wisdom of it over the years. Not only does the pad provide protection against the sharp needle stabbing into your leg or any other appendage, it lets your supporting hand, the one not doing the stabbing, rest. I felt a lot of long and thin shapes, like snonkey eyestalks and tapir stripes, and I often hold the strip of wool in between my thumb and finger while I stab at it. So exhausting! My left hand quickly cramps up. I’ve found it is so much easier on the hand to let the wool rest on the work surface and hold it minimally in place.
There are different types of work surfaces to use with needle felting. When I first began felting, I used a piece of foam. I didn’t like it because it crumbled after being poked so many times. It also made loud noises whenever the needle went into the foam, so pretty much … Every. Single. Second. I was working on my project. Maddening. Then for a while I used a pillow, which got wrecked in short order. Now, after years of not using any work surface at all, I use a Woolbuddy, which is actually itself made of densely felted wool. I highly recommend it.
STRETCHES. Taking the time in the morning to do a few stretches and exercises to specifically strengthen your hands and fingers can really help. Every day before beginning my felting session I spend about a minute opening and closing my hands in fits in rapid succession. After the minute is up, I roll my wrists in circles and shake my hands out till they feel comfortable again. This has really helped stave off aches in my hands and wrists.
Here is an excellent short video for more great exercises: exercises for tendinitis (tendonitis) or carpal tunnel (cps)
Another video that I’ve found helpful: Yoga for Wrists & Fingers – Yoga for Wrist Cramps & Carpal Tunnel
When I’ve overdone it and my hands and shoulders are aching, yoga in general has been very healing for me. Try a few different things and find what works best for you.
TAKING BREAKS. This is an important one to keep in mind when you’re in the middle of a project and want to get “just one more” piece of it done. If you’ve been at it for more than an hour, take a little break and rest your hand. Get up and get a glass of water, pet the cat, or simply daydream for a moment. It will really help give your hands that little bit of recovery that enables you to get that much more done when you can come back to it fresh.
Those are the major things I can recommend to help you with this fantastic hobby. I’d love to learn more methods so let me know any good tips and tricks you’ve figured out in the comments.