Complete Guide To Needle Felting Wool And How To Use It

Whilst I can’t call this a definitive guide to felting wool, it is based on my years of experience, using a huge range of wool and techniques and is quite extensive; you can find out more about me and my handmade business on the ABOUT page. I have put a lot of my time and knowledge into creating it and hope it answers most of your questions, making your needle felting journey a little easier. Also, at the bottom of this post you will find my list of useful links and tutorials on this blog, plus a few recommended books. In addition to that (I know , I’m spoiling you) I have created a needle felting wool guide in table form which you won’t want to miss. If there is something you want to ask please feel free to leave a comment or email me at: info@lincolnshirefenncrafts.com

It’s All About The Wool

Not all needle felting wool is created equal and for anyone new to needle felting it can be frustratingly confusing. However, all you need is one or two good needle felting wools in your craft box to create a multitude of wonderful needle felting projects. This guide will take away all the painful confusion so you can get started instead of ruminating for hours over which wool is best for needle felting. I have kept it simple and tried to answer the most frequently asked questions. At the bottom of the post you will find my easy guide to wool and my personal favourites. You will see a lot of British wool on the list because, well I live in Britain so it makes sense to use what we have around us. If any shops or books are mentioned it is because I love their products and I highly recommend them. I am not affiliated to them in any way.

Let’s get stuck in!

Did you know?

Worldwide, it is estimated there are 1000 distinct sheep breeds and around 60 of those are in Britain alone, more than anywhere else in the world. No wonder it’s confusing! Read about the history of British wool HERE

Herdwick sheep on the Cumbrian Fells

Can all wool be needle felted?

Short answer is no but most wool can be wet felted, or incorporated into wet felting. You will find my handy guide to needle felting wool at the bottom of this page.

Hands up if you’re confused about core wool?

Core wool means different things to different people and that is where most of the confusion lies. Put simply, it just means what you use for the centre or bulk of your project and it can be any medium/coarse wool. If your top layer is going to be a different colour or you are using a fine wool; Merino Corriedale or similar. Core wool can be used to needle felt your basic shape and then covered with dyed wool. However, for many projects, it isn’t necessary and if I am making a hare or a sheep then the whole thing will be made from natural Jacob, Shetland or Swaledale tops which is coarse and felts really easily. I will then add a few finishing touches and detail with a different colour wool, un-dyed where possible as I like the earthy, natural finish. Where a different core wool is really useful is when you are creating life sized animals, or using a more expensive dyed wool as your top colour for birds, realistic animals, Christmas baubles, fruit, dragons, Easter eggs, gnome hats etc. These types of projects would be much easier to needle felt with a core of coarse wool and then covered with a top layer of bright Shetland, Corriedale or Merino.

Do I need Core Wool?

Short answer is no. Core just means the inside of your project and, because most of my critters are small (usually no bigger than 15-20cm), I just use the same wool inside and out. It’s much less of a faff and it stops the wool, from the different colour core, poking through the top layer. My preference is natural, medium to coarse wool top (sometimes called roving) for most of my animal projects and needle felting kits and I usually encourage new felters to do the same, especially if they are going for a firm shape. For example, if I am making a grey hare or grey sheep then I will use my grey Jacob wool top (or similar) throughout only adding different wool for surface detail and contrast. Core wool is best used for realistic dogs, cats or other animals; for finer top coat of Corriedale or Merino where a different colour or blend of colours is required. Also, larger pieces such as life size hares or other animals would be more cost effective with a cheap core wool to build the bulk of your project. Shetland carded batts are a good option or a loose core. Visit tutorial HERE or watch the short VIDEO TUTORIAL

Brown woodland hare created using Shetland Moorit wool top; no core. White Jacob top and carded batt used for surface details and whiskers.
Sheep body using just grey Jacob wool top; no core.

Core wool for stuffing and wrapping

There is actually another type of core wool that is that is used almost like a toy stuffing, made up of shorter, lumpy wool fibres. It is perfect for soft sculpture and bigger rounder shapes and is ideal for wrapping wool batting around to create pumpkins, garden bases , mushroom tops, bee hives and all manner of soft sculpture where you want a particular look. They can be created in no time, are super simple and really effective. It can also be used for spinning and wrapping around a wire frame, although carded slivers may work better for some armature projects.

Visit tutorial HERE or watch the short VIDEO TUTORIAL

Create a simple, soft shape from core wool (takes less than 5 minutes) and wrap the carded batt around it.

‘Shroom houses with a soft core garden base and roof. House is natural white Jacob top which needed to be much firmer.

WATCH VIDEO TUTORIAL; working with soft core wool.

Life size Snowshoe Hare has a soft core of Shetland carded wool batts.

What is best, wool top or carded wool?

There is no right or wrong answer and it all depends on the wool you are using , what you are making and personal preference. The biggest problem is that a lot of people start their needle felting journey with Merino wool which is just not suitable. It’s is too fine, doesn’t felt easily and makes the whole project hard work – more on Merino below – then, thinking that all wool tops are the same they will change to carded wool (also great for needle felting), or give up on needle felting altogether, which makes me very sad.

Wool tops (AKA roving)

A coarse wool top ( sometimes called roving) is a joy to work with, felts up quickly and easily and is really cost effective. I use it for almost all of my needle felted animals and in the majority of my needle felting kits. I have been doing this for nearly seven years and have yet to find anything better for my needs. My HANDY GUIDE TO WOOL TOPS is further down the page.

Grey Jacob and Shetland Moorit both give a beautiful earthy, natural finish to needle felted animals and no need for a separate core wool.

Hares made from Grey Jacob top and Shetland Moorit top

Carded wool and carded slivers

Carded wool is also great for needle felting and carded slivers (long legths) are ideal for working around a wire frame where the finished project tends to be much softer. Carded wool sheets (batting) are also perfect for wrapping around a core base to create lovely soft sculpture like the fox and mouse shown below, pumpkins, gnomes and larger life size pieces. However, I don’t use full wire frames very much and favour wool tops for most of my projects. The fox and mouse below were both created using a wire frame (armature) using carded batting sheets. Mouse is grey Jacob batting and fox is my own blend of Corriedale batting and wool top.

Pumpkins made using a lumpy core wool and covered with carded batting sheets. Traditional and Winter Wonderland Pumpkin needle felting kits are on the WEBSITE

Video tutorial

It’s only nine minutes long and explains the different types of wool (including core wool) and how I like to use them.

What is the difference between wool tops and carded wool?

Same wool, different processes. Wool tops are made in long lengths (usually around the thickness of your wrist), quite dense with the fibres brushed in the same direction. Carded wool fibres are much shorter and brushed in lots of different directions, resulting in a much loftier wool. Click HERE for the wool shop.

Is Merino any good for needle felting?

Not for three dimensional projects or anything with a lot of bulk that needs to be firmly felted. Merino is a beautiful wool, when used for the right application – especially wet felting, top coats, long animal fur and pictures – but I have lost count of new felters that have contacted me asking why their needle felting project isn’t felting properly or is full of needle marks and is taking an age to shape. I can almost guarantee that they are using Merino or have started with a needle felting kit that uses Merino. It saddens me when this happens because it is really disheartening to start a new craft, often with much trepidation, and not be able to complete it. It stops many new would be crafters in their tracks because they think their lack of know how is to blame. Such a confidence shaker and definitely a case of ‘It’s not you it’s the wool’ and I am at a bit of a loss as to why Merino is used in many needle felting kits?

Ethical Merino

I am often asked about Merino and the practice of mulesing. My advice is to check that any Merino you purchase is from a country that doesn’t practice sheep mulesing; a horrible and painful practice used to control fly strike. The fly species that harms sheep only exists in Australia and New Zealand so Merino from non-mulesed sheep is easy to get hold of. Notably South America, South Africa and Spain. My rule is if a supplier doesn’t know where their Merino is from then I don’t buy from them.

Curly wool/locks

Curly locks can be used for almost any project, to add texture and interest. Teesdale and Wensleydale are really popular and come in a raft of colours. You can also make your own out of knitting yarn and I have created a short video HERE on how to create your own. I must admit I am a bit of a curly locks hoarder and I like to open the drawers and just admire my stash; I know I’m not the only one who does this… There are lots of fabulous lock sellers online and I have popped a few of my faves below. Or, why not make your own with simple wool yarn. Click HERE for video tutorial.

Pre-Felt

If you want to create needle felted (or wet felted) pictures then pre-felt is the perfect base. Pre-felt is partially felted sheets of wool which are lightly carded and felted. It is stretchy and pliable and makes a great base for wet felted and needle felted pictures, allowing you to lay out and layer all your fibres on the top before wet felting or needle felting. You can make your own by wet felting a couple of layers of wool top or carded wool but is is also available to purchase online. My favourite is natural Shetland pre-felt which I add to my picture needle felting kits and use for my own projects. You can find it in my wool shop.

Needle felted onto 25cm pre-felt
Simple needle felted picture on Shetland pre-felt

The possibilities for needle felted pictures are endless. I have added pearl beads and French knots to this one, called ‘Asleep Under The Cherry Tree’.

Angora and Alpaca

Too fine for bulky needle felting but, like Merino, good for blending with a coarser wool for different textures, wet felting and top coats.

What’s the best wool for long animal fur

Anything that works, including Merino. My Herdwick sheep, naturally have a long coat of Herdwick but for dogs and cats Merino and Corriedale is good. I spray mine with hairspray to keep everything in place. Some say it can discolour white wool, over time, but I have never found it to be an issue. CLICK FOR TUTORIAL

Long coat created using Herdwick wool

Sustainable and ethical wool

It makes sense, wherever possible, to buy local or from the country you are in. The carbon foot print is reduced, you are supporting your community and the economy, and traceability is much easier. Much of our wool is from animals that are used for their wool and meat but that doesn’t mean that they are not cared for and, for the overwhelming majority of farmers, animal welfare is a top priority. We do live in an imperfect world so there will always be rotten apples in the barrel. All my wool suppliers are British, family run businesses (some large some small) and I have never had a question on traceability or ethical farming go unanswered.

Where does British wool fit into ethical and sustainable?

Quote from the British Wool website at: https://www.britishwool.org.uk/

In global terms, UK sheep farms are small, having on average approximately 350 sheep.  UK sheep are raised naturally outdoors on pasture.  As a result, the scale and method of UK lamb production is such that it is not considered an ‘intensive’ farming activity by animal welfare campaigning bodies.

Sheep are required to be shorn of their wool once a year for their own comfort and health.  Hence, wool is a naturally occurring by-product.  Every year British Wool puts over 800 people in all parts of the UK through our two day shearing training courses that are tailored to their existing level of experience and skill.  It goes without saying that shearing in accordance with best practice industry standards ensures that the process is stress free for the animal (as well as maximising the value of producers’ wool). Please visit our Shearing pages for further information.

For further information, please email mail@britishwool.org.uk or telephone 01274 688666.

Dyed wool

If you want to inject some colour into your projects then Shetland and Corriedale (a Merino Lincoln cross) are my favourites but there is a huge range available and lately I have been looking for natural plant dyed wool which is not an easy task. These two dyed wools are ideal for any project that needs colour, be it landscapes, brightly coloured Christmas decorations or a vibrant topcoat. You can also blend colours to create different effects using your hands or a blending brush. If you don’t have wool blending brushes, dog slicker brushes work really well. Dyed wool and bundles are available HERE

Can I use plant fibres for 3 dimensional needle felting?

You can but it’s a struggle and a chore and the result isn’t nearly as good as wool. Plant fibres, like bamboo, don’t felt well because the fibres are much smoother, whereas wool has tiny scales that interlock when rubbed, agitated or compressed with a felting needle. A few years ago I put together a test ‘vegetarian’ needle felting kit, using only plant fibres, bamboo mostly. I then sent them out to a few customers for testing and each said that it was really difficult to work with and the end result was quite poor. Although plant fibres alone may not needle felt well they are still lovely to use for many other projects, especially when mixed with wool or added to finished wool projects. Bamboo, and especially silk tops add a lovely luxurious texture, contrast and sheen to your project. I use a lot of silk in needle felted pictures, on pumpkins and gnome beards and hats.

Can I buy vegetarian wool?

You can and availability is increasing. Vegetarian wool, also called slaughter free wool, means that the when the animal dies it is not sent to slaughter and does not end up in the food chain. I love the organic, vegetarian wool from the Doulton Border Leicester flock. It is a lovely coarse British breed wool that felts beautifully. Ellie refers to them as ‘sheep that live to grow old’ and even has a seperate area for her OAP sheep. You can find her on ETSY or via her WEBSITE and she also sells the most gorgeous vegetarian knitting yarn. I use Ellie’s wool in my VEGETARIAN NEEDLE FELTING KIT

Can wool be over felted?

Definitely. The more you needle felt the more you are breaking down the wool fibres. If you over felt, by repeatedly poking the wool in the same spot for too long, the fibres will eventually break down and start to go soft. If this happens it is best to start again with fresh wool.

What do I need to start needle felting?

Only four things are needed and you are good to go;

  • Good quality wool
  • Felting needle; size 38 or 36 to start with. Both are good all rounders. European needles are the best.
  • Soft but firm felting base of either foam, wool or a hessian bag filled with rice.
  • Enthusiasm

My GUIDE TO FELTING NEEDLES can be found HERE

At a glance – My needle felting wool guide in a handy chart

This chart is so useful and if you are ever unsure whether a wool is suitable for needle felting then just look at the micron count. This is the measurement used to determine how fine or coarse the wool is. The lower the micron number the finer the wool. For example: Jacob is 33-35 microns – coarse and perfect for needle felting. Whereas Merino is 23 microns, fine and not so good. Most of my animal needle felting kits use Jacob, Shetland or Swaledale. Of course, as you become more confident, you will develop your own preferences and the best way is to try a few yourself. Here are some of the most popular (although not exclusively) in a handy chart.

My favourites are marked with *

WOOLORIGINTEXTUREMICRONGOOD FOR NEEDLE FELTING
Jacob *EnglandCoarse25-35Yes. Earthy finish
Shetland*ScotlandMedium/
Coarse
25-30Yes
Swaledale*Northern
England
Very
Coarse
36-40Yes – slightly wiry finish
HerdwickNorth West
England
Very
Coarse
36-40Yes – very wiry finish
Corriedale
(Merino and Lincoln cross)
New ZealandFine/
Medium
25-30OK – needs more work. Good for topcoats, pictures, wet felting and blending.
MerinoSpain Fine

Super Fine
23

18
No – best blended
with coarser wool. Good for topcoats, pictures, wet felting and blending.
White*
Faced Woodland
EnglandCoarse28-38Yes
MashamCoarse34-38Yes – Smooth finish. Quite slippery.
Blue Faced LeicesterFine24-28Somewhat – smooth finish. More visible needle marks.
Border* LeicesterNorthern
England
Coarse30-40Yes – smooth finish
Manx LoaghtanIsle Of
Man
Medium/
Coarse
27-33Yes
Lincoln LongwoolEnglandCoarse33-45Yes
TeeswaterEnglandCoarse30-36Yes – smooth finish
Alpaca South AmericaFine26No
GotlandSwedenMedium/
Coarse
27-35Yes
TexelNetherlandsMedium/
Coarse
26-26Yes
NorweigianNorwayCoarse28-35Yes

How do I know what wool top I am using?

If you are new to needle felting and handling wool you probably won’t be able to tell. It’s easy for me as I have been handling wool for a long time and can even name some of the sheep breeds by running the wool through my hands. If you are finding it difficult to needle felt, and it feels smooth and silky, the chances are it is a Merino or other fine wool with a low micron count.

And Finally…almost. Don’t miss the really useful stuff below!

This is just a guide to impart some of the knowledge I have gained over the last seven years but I hope it helps you in your felting journey. Just experiment and have fun because there really is no right and wrong. Many people start with a needle felting kit which usually has everything you need to complete your first project. Just try not to start with one that uses Merino as it will make the learning curve harder. All my felting kits, wool and accessories are available on the LFC website HERE

On this blog – really useful links and tutorials

Free Download

Getting Started: Do’s And Don’ts

Felting Needle Guide

Easy Tutorials

Video Tutorials

YouTube Channel

How to needle felt a firm head shape

Using wire for needle felting

Types of wool and how to use them – video tutorial

Shop

Needle Felting Kits

Needle Felting Wool

Needle Felting Accessories

Patterns

Book Recommendations

Sheep breeds

The Field Guide To Fleece – Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius

British Sheep Breeds – Susannah Robin Parkin

Beginners

Complete Photo Guide To Felting – Ruth Lane

Little Felted Animals – Marie Noelle Horvath

Beginners Guide To Needle Felting – Susanna Wallis

Advanced

A Masterclass In Needle Felting Dogs – Cindy-Lou Thompson

Copyright Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts 2020

3 thoughts on “Complete Guide To Needle Felting Wool And How To Use It

  1. Michlou

    Wow! I have learned so much! Thank you compiling all the above. I am going to share it with a friend who wants to start needle felting. 😀

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