Have you ever tried using a wool mat as your base for needle felting your wool animal sculptures? ….Hmm felting wool on wool? Surely that can’t work?
Well I can tell you that surprisingly it does work and really quite well. For the past month I have been using the Earth Mat by the Makerss and I can honestly say that I don’t think I will go back to using a foam pad! As much as my foam pad has been my old faithful ‘go to’ felting base for so long, I am really loving the new wonderful experience of this new wool mat!
There are many kinds of felting bases out there such as rice bags, foams, brushes, wool pads and more, but what you end up using really is down to personal preference and what you get used to and comfortable with.
Over the years I have tried a few different bases including making my own rice bag but I just kept going back to my foam. I found the brushes too small for the sculptures I make, the rice pads work well but I needed something more lightweight for when I am on the move and a piece of foam just did the job! But what about those annoying bits of foam you get in your wool? Yes they often frustrate me! And what about the impact to the environment when I need to get rid of an old foam pad? ..hmm not so great!!
So let me tell you more about this new kid on the block, the Earth Mat (full name ‘Earth Friendly Felting Mat’) which solves these issues straight away and is a joy to use.
As I have been so accustomed to my foam pad and it is the usual base that people buy, I will be reviewing the Earth Mat and comparing it to my old blue foam pad. Please note that these are my opinions and you may have a different experience but I would definitely encourage you to try the Earth Mat for yourself. I am not affiliated in any way with the Earth Mat or receiving any gains from it I just thought I would blog about it 🙂
My Felting Experience
I have a firm Earth Mat as the base and a softer one on top (as suggested by the Makerss). The idea is to replace the softer one or add another soft one on top as it wears down. Both are large (A4 size) and each one is 10mm thick.
They came with easy to follow instructions with pictures and tips for how to get the best use out of them.
Felting on a wool mat felt a bit strange at first, because I was so used to a foam pad. A foam pad is one thick base but with the Earth Mats there are two mats together (the firm and the soft). It is recommended to use two like this but you can just use one mat or two or even more if you prefer.
The two mats can slip apart whilst working or when moving them so you do need to felt the two together at the corners as per the instructions to keep them in place when you first start using them. Over time they naturally keep together anyway.
The Earth Mats are a tiny bit heavier than my foam pad but still really light and easy to transport. They are a thinner base to work on than my foam pad (mats together are 20mm vs foam pad at around 50mm) and they bend more easily.
This is completely fine when working on a table but you may want to put something firm underneath them if working on your lap – I use a lap tray.
When feeling the Earth Mat and comparing it with a foam pad it’s a little bit like comparing bed mattresses. Not that I’m going to lay on these and sleep on them (haha). My foam pad feels quite springy to the touch so if I press my finger into it, the surface will spring back. When pressing a finger into the soft top mat of the Earth Mat combo it feels like there is some resistance and it feels firmer. Though it doesn’t spring back there’s a slight indent.
Being made of wool, the Earth Mat has a nice natural wool smell. I love this! It doesn’t feel like you’re using something artificial. It looks, smells and feels very natural to use.
I actually quite like that it’s a light colour. This is great for when I’m photographing my work in progress for social media or making a step by step tutorial. The most common colours for foam pads I have found seem to be black or blue. My blue foam is not always great for photos. There are different coloured foam pads out there but they are not always easy to source.
For me, I quite like the crunching sound whilst felting as long as it’s not too loud for conversation and doesn’t drown out the sound of my music or tv. Thankfully the Earth Mat still makes a nice crunchy sound, though the tone is a little deeper than my foam pad.
Wool sticking to the base?
I mainly needle felt 3D animal sculptures rather than 2D pictures but I still make flat components such as animal ears. So a real test for the Earth Mat was to see if there were any issues with wool getting stuck to it. I was surprised that even when felting a dark colour wool on the light coloured mat (which would more obviously show up), not much of the wool was left adhering to the base as with my foam pad. The surface of my wool ears actually looked a lot neater and without loose pieces of wool hanging from them. So often I would have to re-felt the surface to neaten it when using a foam pad.
As I felt all over a flat piece (even when stabbing with multiple needles at the same time) it doesn’t feel like my work is sticking to the mat, and when I pull it away after felting this feels easier. When stabbing the wool with the usual foam pad, it easily sticks to the foam and it’s much harder to pull off.
It is also easy to remove any fibres that remain on the Earth Mat and the instructions suggest some practical and easy ways to do this routinely to keep it clean.
I’ve not used the Earth Mats for long so I can’t really say how long they will last but the fact that I can replace the top soft one or add another one to it as the original one flattens down and they say that you may never need to replace the firm one, sounds like they will last quite some time.
After stabbing for a while, you will see on the Earth Mat that there are indent marks from the constant stabbing of the barbed needles. You don’t tend to get this so much with the foam pad material which enables the needles to penetrate through it far more easily. This is more an observation and doesn’t seem so far seem to affect its use as a base. However I can see that after some time this will flatten the mat. After all, being made of wool, the mat will eventually become more and more compact – hence the need to replace or add another one.
What I do like is if you leave your barbed needles in the Earth Mat they are more firmly inserted since the material is so compact, whereas when you stick your needles into the foam pad, the needle holder wobbles from side to side easily and it feels like you could snap a needle.
I would however dissuade you from inserting a reverse barbed needle directly into your Earth Mat. A reverse needle is designed to pull out fibres from inside a wool sculpture so as expected, when you pull it out, it will pull out some wool from your mat. As the wool in the mat is so densely felted down it is not so easy to retrieve the needle as it would in a foam pad.
Fragments of the base coming off?
The bit that I love the most about the Earth Mat is that tiny fragments of my blue foam don’t end up on my needle felted animal as I am working, which so often happens with the foam pad especially when it is getting old and starts to disintegrate. Apart from it being annoying, it is very important to be able to say for certain to my customers that my products are made of pure wool. So even if a tiny bit of wool from the Earth Mat attaches itself to my felted animal then it is still fully wool and this is not a major issue.
A foam pad is usually made of some sort of polyethylene which can in theory be recycled but lots still end up going to landfill. So although they are fairly long lasting, eventually (especially if you needle felt often) they will need to be disposed of.
The soft top Earth Mat which will need to be disposed of at some point is 100% wool and so is totally compostable, and therefore very environmentally friendly.
Here you can see that the soft top is simply just layers and layers of natural wool.
The firm base is partially compostable, but is not fully compostable. I would need to eventually throw it away but I am mostly using the soft one and probably won’t need to dispose of it for a very very long time, which is great.
Additionally when I received my Earth Mats they came in a biodegradable bag -another win for the environment!
Foam pads are really cheap to get hold of. They often come in a starter kit if you are new to needle felting or you can purchase one on its own for as little as £3 and as much as £8 off Ebay/Amazon. Price usually depends on size and quality.
A pack of two (soft top and firm base) Earth Mats are £14 for the small A6 size and £23 for the large A4 size. A replacement soft top A4 is also £14.
Though these prices are more than a foam pad I think for what you get it is a pretty reasonable price and worth the investment for a good quality, long lasting felting material. It is a lovely natural felting base to work on and is far less costly to the environment.
The Earth Mat is well worth considering if you are starting out on your needle felting venture and looking for the right tools or if like me you have been felting for a while and your old base has come to the end of its life and you need to replace it. 🙂