Starting Out With Needle Felting
Since I am based out of the United States, all the shops mentioned below are stateside. Some may ship overseas, but from what I know from my international readers is that there are excellent sources that are likely local to you, at least if you're based out of UK/Europe or Australia that won't end up costing you double just to ship it.
In the past I've made a few guides when it comes to needle felting regarding all the tools that you need, which I will link in here for easy reference. I recently realized, however, the need to have a more simple guide, if you're just starting out and don't want to hunt all over the place for tools, needles, wool and foam, etc. Or maybe needle felting is something you're interested in trying and want to suggest to someone to gift you a starter set, but know that having to shop around for all the necessary parts is going to be far too confusing. Or maybe someone you know is interested in trying, and you want to gift them a starter set. By starter set, I don't mean kits for specific projects - there are plenty of those out there, and I know that can be something more of a personal preference. These are basic sets that have everything you need to get started. I am not an affiliate of any of these shops - this is all personal unbiased opinion.
A word of advice: if you/the recipient are interested in needle felting, not wet felting, I would stay away from kits with merino wool. I know it sounds fancier (merino is pretty fancy) but it is not beginner friendly when it comes to needle felting, especially not for 3D objects. If it's for needle felting pictures (2D felting, or wool painting) it's fine, but not if you want to make a sculpture. Go with something that's a bit more coarse, like corriedale.
Weir Crafts $19-$56
This is the set I started out with years ago when I was interested in trying it out. I was working on a baby mobile for a friend, and I thought needle felting would be the perfect way to do it (it was) but I didn't know where to go or what to get. I love how this one, starting at $19, is incredibly budget friendly but gives you a decent amount to start with. All kits come with the foam pad, assorted needles, core wool, and basic instructions, and the upgrades are based on which/how much dyed wool you get. I started out with Corriedale personally, but from what I'm reading, it sounds like EcoSoft is their equivalent of Living Felt's merino cross-felting batts. I know I said to stay away from merino itself, but the blends of merino and a coarser wool do actually needle felt very nicely. The EcoSoft is a blend of 60% Corriedale and 40% other (I'm assuming finer) wool.
What I really love about this starter set is that you get to choose which colors you want, especially if you already have a project in mind.
Weir Crafts also has project kits available.
Living Felt, $25-$45
Living Felt has two starter sets, the basic starter set for $25, and the super starter set at $45. The basic starter set is geared more towards those who are interested in 2D felting/wool painting (what they call surface design) and the super starter set includes 8oz of core wool (4 oz more than the Weir Crafts one) and 12 of their Merino-Cross felting batts, which is a blend of coarse wool with merino and felts very nicely (like the EcoSoft stuff mentioned above). I would not go with the basic set for sculptural needle felting because it doesn't have any core wool included. Not using core in 3D objects was a mistake I learned early on, the reason being core wool is the cheapest wool you can buy. If you're making larger sculptures, you don't want to use the more expensive dyed wool in the core of your project because you're never going to see it. Think of it as the "stuffing." Not that there's anything inherently wrong with using dyed core wool, it's just that your projects are going to end up costing far more than they need to, especially if you're making something of substantial size. The only time I use dyed core is if I'm making something tiny. Most books and freely available guides to projects instruct to start with core and then you use the dyed wool to cover the object and essentially color it in. So my suggestion is to go with the basic starter set if you're interested in 2D felting and the super starter set for 3D objects.
Living Felt also has project kits available.
Woolery has one "Intro to Needle Felting" kit, which has all the supplies you need, including the foam, 8 assorted needles (2 in each size), core and dyed wool, and basic instructions. They do not mention how much wool you get in your kit.
Woolery also has project kits available.
Sarafina Fiber Art
I'm mentioning her here because I've seen people recommend her store when this question comes up in needle felting groups. Sara does not have any basic non-project starter kits available. Unless it's disappeared or sold out at the time that I checked her shop, the only kits I found available were all project kits. She has some really cute projects and tons of free tutorials on youtube, but this post isn't about specific projects.
Various sellers on Etsy have put together their own starter kits, which look really great. My issues with the ones I saw is that they either include 100% merino for the dyed wool and/or only .1 oz of dyed wool but TONS of colors. A tenth of an ounce is great for a project, and is common for working on project kits, but I don't think it's nearly enough for a starter kit which I think should provide enough wool to make at least a few things. Also, nothing wrong with merino - I love merino. It's just not the easiest to work with when it comes to needle felting, and a starter kit should be EASY. Plus it drives the price up, so you're getting less for more money. Save the merino for when you get the hang of it, for 2D felting, or for your wet felting projects. That being said, there are tons of beginner kits on there, and I am all for supporting tiny businesses, so just keep that in mind when looking through the listings. Personally, I'd stick to getting project kits there.
STAY AWAY FROM THESE
The starter kits at brick & mortar stores like Michael's, AC Moore, Joann's, and anything off Amazon. I've tested the ones available in the stores (the brand specifically is Dimensions. Stay away from Dimensions) and the quality of wool is horrible. It's so dry, scratchy, and not pleasant to work with. Yes, coarse wool tends to be more scratchy in general, but this stuff feels way over-processed. Also, it's way over-priced.
As far as Amazon goes, those packages of 20-30 Corriedale colors, while incredibly appealing, only have a tenth of an oz each. Also they sell Dimensions. There are project kits available, some of which I'm sure you've also seen on Youtube, in particular the kits from Hamanaka. I'm 99% certain their kits actually use acrylic fiber and not wool since they also sell acrylic fiber batting. Nothing wrong with it - in fact I've been wanting to get my hands on some acrylic fiber to try out, but it's surprisingly hard to come by stateside. Once I get my hands on some acrylic and other vegan fiber I'll be sure to share my results!
If you are interested in purchasing a la carte...
... here are my guides to the various tools and wool commonly used (and links to purchase):
- Felting Needles
- Felting Foam
- Felting Machine. This is not necessary for someone starting out and a high-ticket item, but if the recipient is interested in 2D felting such as embellishing clothes/fabric or wool painting, it's definitely user friendly enough for a beginner.
I also have guides to other tools which are fun to have and use (just go to my Learning to Felt page and scroll down to see all the guides), but I wouldn't get them for someone starting out. In fact if you're not sure if needle felting is for you, I'd also avoid getting the felting machine except for those who are already interested in other textile art because it can be used for other things and not just wool.