This is what a felting needle looks like. It has tiny notches along the shaft:
When poked into a pile of wool, the notches grab the top layers of fiber and tangle it with the layers underneath. This happens because each fiber has overlapping scales that allow it to latch onto other fibers and hold tightly. This is the magic of felting! There are many techniques to make this happen, but the end result is the same—interlocked fibers.
You may have heard felting needles erroneously called “barbed” needles. Think of barbed wire:
Notice the protruding barbs. Now take a look at the felting needle picture again. Notice there are no protrusions like the barbed wire has. It has notches to grab those fibers. If the needle had protrusions, it would be nearly impossible to poke it into the wool, and just as difficult to remove it again. And when removed, it would bring the fiber back out with it. The notches are pointed towards the tip of the needle so the fiber stays in place when the needle is removed. Now you know the correct term—notched needle…and doesn’t that make sense?! I changed Wikipedia to reflect the accurate terminology.
There are many different sizes of felting needles, and specialty needles as well that will do specific techniques, and more being invented all the time. But the premise of the felting needle remains the same, and now you know how it works. Spread the word!