First things first, why do you need a needle felting mat? Because we sell our kits both with and without mats, this is a fairly common question we get so I thought I'd try help out with why you'll want a mat if you're new to needle felting and then if I convince you of that, share with you some of the types of mats you can get.
Why a needle felting mat.
Your felting needle has a sharp pointy end with small barbs on it which is what brings the wool fibres together. I'll tell you from experience, they are sharp. When felting you'll stab the wool together and often, particularly at the start the needle will pop out the other side of your piece.
If you start stabbing it into a hard surface such as a table top you'll find that you blunt or even break the needle pretty quickly and probably damage the table surface as well. If you felt on your lap, then you may find it's your legs or even fingers that take the stabbing and that's not great either. A felting mat gives to a surface to felt onto where the needle tip will be able to pass into the mat with low resistance protecting you and the surfaces around you. A mat will also give your project support meaning you can keep your fingers that bit further away from the needle.
What sort of mats are there?
There are a number of different sorts of felting mats available and I've covered some of the most common below. They all have different benefits and everyone has different favourites for a whole range of reasons.
There are 2 sorts of foam mats often used; EPE foam and high density foam. Foam mats are popular because they are lightweight, cheep to buy and can be picked up in a whole range of sizes. They're probably the most common form of mat used for beginner felters. The EPE version has a smooth top surface which means the wool doesn't stick to the mat so much.
Available in large sizes
Smooth surface (EPE) particularly good for 2d felting
The foam breaks down over time and can get stuck in your work
Foam needs replacing regularly due to softening or breaking up
Foam mats are not recyclable or biodegradable
You need to move your piece around as you felt as wool will stick to the foam
Filled Cotton Mats
This is the style of mat that we include as an option with all of our felting mats and are also a great mat that you can make at home. A bit like a bean bag they are a cotton sack filled with a natural filling. In our case we use buckwheat hulls which make them lightweight but rice is another common filling. They last are long lasting and biodegradable so perfect if you're crafting with the environment in mind.
Lightweight (when using buckwheat filling)
Moulds to support 3d pieces
Fabric outer means there's lots of pattern options.
Need to move work around particularly if doing larger 2d pieces due to shaped surface.
Brush mats are essentially an upturned clothes brush and the needle passes into the bristles when you felt. The wool is less prone to stick to a brush mat which is why some people prefer them over other types.
Wool is less prone to sticking to the bristles
The most expensive of the mats, particularly for larger sizes.
I'm afraid I don't have a picture of a wool mat and I've not included a list of pros and cons as I've not yet tried one out, but in recent years they have become more and more common. A wool mat is essentially made from wet felted wool. It gives you a dense surface to felt on and like the cotton mats are 100% biodegradable. It's definitely something I'm keen to get my hands on a give it a go. Rumour has you can make one in your washing machine...
I hope this helps a little when you're thinking about the sort of mat you want and need. When considering the sort of mat that we wanted to include in our kits top of the list was the environmental factor and second was to make it affordable. This is why we settled on the cotton filled mats which we get made specifically for us. We also offer all our felting kits without mats if you already have one. No need for the extra waste or pennies spent!