The machine, which looks like a sewing machine, has a circle of very sharp barbed needles which work exactly the same way as using a hand held felting needle but of course much more quickly.
There are 5 needles on this machine (A Pfaff Hobby 350p) which thankfully can be changed one at a time. I say thankfully because I broke 3 in the first few days of using the machine.
The clear plastic you can see in front of the needles is a necessary guard which can be raised or lowered a little to accommodate different thicknesses of felt or fabric. However it can't be raised far enough to get your fingers underneath.
As you can see the needles compress the fleece into the base fabric forming felt. The base fabric I am using is a 'prefelt' which is very soft partly felted wool fleece which can be bought by the yard/metre. It is possible to make felt directly from fleece without a base fabric but I find it easier to work with prefelt. You can use any fabric as a base and any mix of raw fibre, yarn, lace, fabric etc to embellish.
Here are some progress photos of the little mermaid. She now has her scales and her tail and I've started to embroider the tail. The needle you can see in the sponge is one of the needles used for hand needle felting. They are actually the needles used in commercial felt making machines, which are huge flat beds with thousands of needles.
As you can see I've reinforced her bra, and I've given her a top made from white organza fabric. I also gave her a belt made from red wool, purple silk fabric and some recycled sari silk.
The next stage will be to finish embroidering her tail, embroider her face and give her some hair and some jewellery.
The final installment, part 3, will be the final one and she will be finished and ready to go back home.