Those of you who follow my page know that I received a new Janome FM725 felting machine as a gift last week, and although this isn't like my other "guide" posts, it's a combination review and guide. Mostly a review specific to the Janome with some tips on what I've learned along the way. If you've been thinking about getting one, I think this will help you make your decision.
What's in the box?
The machine arrived safely packed in styrofoam, with the presser foot/power cord (the two are combined into one plug) and the instruction book which contains a DVD. I highly recommend watching the DVD that comes with it prior to using the machine, as they go over a few things that they do not mention in the instruction book. The instruction book mainly goes over the individual parts and how to change them out. The DVD tells you how to use it. I did do a youtube search to see if I can find the actual DVD on there, but I'm not seeing it, so try not to toss it out until after you've watched it. However, there are a few videos on Youtube that do go over how to use it, so if you don't have access to a DVD-Rom or have DVD player handy, just go on Youtube and search for the model number. Actually, on second thought, just save this post because I watched the video Janome put up on Youtube and there is some information that is inconsistent with the DVD they sent. I suspect I know why as well. The Janome comes pre-installed with a fixed 5-needle punch and the 5-needle hole plate. The accessories are tucked away inside the extension table, which include the open hole plate, an additional fixed 5 needle punch, an interchangeable single needle punch, three extra needles, a screw driver, hex wrench, and lint brush. At quick glance, it appears as though all the needles shipped with the unit are a 38g triangle.
The felting machine also comes with a clear presser foot and an eye/finger guard. I love that both are clear so you can see what you're doing. The presser foot is height adjustable, OR you can just leave it up if you just want to quickly work on something quick but not worry about adjusting the height every time. Not keeping it down will not prevent you from using the machine (unlike my sewing machine which yells at me if I leave the foot up). I do recommend keeping the eye/finger guard down. It doesn't exactly prevent your fingers from coming close to the needle, the presser foot does that (and honestly that sounds so painful I really don't want to imagine what would happen... ouch!) but in the event one of your needles snap, it gives an extra layer of protection from them flying out like shrapnel and getting lodged somewhere in you. So far any needles that snapped on me remained in the project, but better safe than sorry!
Accessories Not Included
The 5 needle units that Janome ships with the machine are fixed - which means that you cannot replace the individual needles. You can purchase additional fixed needle punches if you like, for $20 apiece, or you can purchase the interchangeable 5 needle unit which comes with 10 needles for $50. Janome also sells replacement needles, 10 for $30, which is ridiculous if you ask me. There is someone on amazon who sells 50-packs of felting machine replacement needles in a 38g medium and 40g fine for $40 plus shipping, which is a much better price. Also, you'll want the finer gauge needles if you want to reduce the visible puncture holes. 38 gauge is not a finishing needle by any means and will leave larger holes. However, I am almost certain that you can, with a pair of steel wire cutters or possibly even tin snips (don't use regular wire cutters because they will not make a dent in the needle, but the needle will make a dent in the cutter - speaking from experience here) cut your own needles. You just need something that can cut through steel. That's all these needles are - they're standard felting needles that have been cut down to size. Knowing that, doesn't that make the $30 for 10 needles sound ridiculous? Yeah, I thought so. It's ridiculous even if they weren't standard when you can buy 100 packs of organ needles (sewing machine) for much much less.
Once I sort through the garage to find something that can cut through steel, I will update this with my results, but holding the needles up side by side, yes, they should fit.
Using the Felting Machine
As I mentioned earlier, the machine comes pre-installed with a 5 needle unit and the 5-hole plate. This is more than sufficient for felting fine materials/thicknesses. If whatever you're felting is not too dense, like some roving on a thin cotton flannel or piece of felt, that's great. However, if you plan on felting on anything dense, such as denim, or really densely felted thick piece of wool, make sure you switch to the open hole plate. This is where the Janome's youtube video is misleading and differs from the DVD they send with the unit. They say that the five hole plate will protect from unnecessary needle breakage when felting thick pieces. WRONG! The needles will deflect some while felting dense material, hit the plate, and snap. Also speaking from experience here. You can't tell in the pictures, but there are tiny scratches in the plate where the needle deflected, hit the plate and snapped. The DVD tells you to switch to the open plate when felting thick material to prevent needle breakage. Makes you wonder if they were lacking in replacement needle sales after producing the initial DVD but prior to the youtube video... I would even venture to say that if you are felting something really thick/dense, it might even make more sense to switch to the single needle. I noticed that when felting dense materials by hand, I had better luck/less breakage with a single needle than forcing a multi-needle tool. I'd imagine the same applies to the the felting machine.
Another tip here that they do not mention in any of their material is that, should one of the needles on the fixed unit break, stop and make sure it's snapped as close to the taper as possible. I noticed the one 2-star review on amazon's product page complained of breaking too many needles while felting denim (likely used the 5-hole plate instead of open hole) and that it tore up her work. My guess is the reason it tore up her work is that it snapped lower, and she continued felting with a half broken needle. Ever try stabbing a project with a broken needle? Same thing applies here. So definitely stop, reach in, and snap it as high up as you can. If you need a bit of extra help (if you have arthritic hands for example) use a set of pliers, grabbing the needle where the taper starts. You won't be able to snap higher than that, but it's more than sufficient because the taper does not punch through the work.
Make sure that, from time to time, you pull the extension table off and open the little door under the bed. That's your lint catcher. If you're like me and will hoard any scraps you can, this isn't salvageable because it's literally powdered wool at this point. You can dump it in the trash or compost it. The extension table does not have to be on the machine in order to felt. This does open up the possibilities, especially if you want to embellish a cuff or something else with a small opening.
You don't have to felt ON another material. Embellishing is definitely one of the machine's strengths, as is laminating multiple fabrics together, but you can also just stick loose, wool roving on its own under the needles to make a flat piece of felt. I've done this with my scraps, piecing together a colorful piece of felt. I did this with uncarded locks in order to piece together a wool trivet as a gift for my mother. I've done this with some of the alpaca fleece I washed and did not card because had tiny knots/nepps in it, so once I had a decent pile of it I just felted it all together. Speaking of which, this does a great job at felting fine fibers like alpaca. Yes, it does leave holes, but I think that can be solved by the choice of needle gauge. This DEFINITELY makes life easier because I no longer need to felt a flat piece on foam and then attempt to peel it off. No peeling involved, just a nice, thin piece of felt. The possibilities are endless if you need to create thin shapes, like ears, or felting clothes for one of your sculptures, or maybe a new background for a felt journal page! That will definitely knock it out quicker than wet felting, and there is no waiting time for it to dry.
While I cannot personally attest to the longevity of the unit yet, I can say that when I finally got to try it out, I loudly exclaimed "Why did I wait so long on this?!" Because, seriously, if you love needle felting, you will love this. Now, time for me to get back to knocking out some more felt journal pages! I feel like this might be what women experienced back when sewing machines first started coming out and becoming commercially available/affordable for the general population. There were a few who probably swore they didn't need it, or that it wasn't the same, or that they could get better results with hand stitching, until they finally tried one. And, just like those times, hand stitching still has its place, hand embroidery is still very much alive and loved, but you can't say that it doesn't make sense for certain tasks so you can focus more of your time on the detailed tasks that really makes the whole thing come together. Will it be the only way I felt? Of course not! And I'm still going to teach wool painting. But for getting backgrounds thrown together first before adding detail, or for embellishing clothes, this will definitely make my life much easier.