Well almost ‘ultimate’, I’m not the oracle, but I have been needle felting since 2013 so I know quite a lot about needle felting wool, and it’s a pretty decent guide, even if I do say so myself.
It’s quite special and I spent many hours putting it together so, to access it you need to be part of the Facebook live workshop and events group, or a member of the VIP Felt Club news letter. It is just another way of being part of the LFC (Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts) creative community where I am on a mission to get as many people as possible involved in this amazing craft. Both groups are completely free to join and, to access the guide just enter your password, or find it in the Facebook group topics section.
Please note that this is for personal use only. Do not share anywhere online, in groups or on social media.
When it comes to crafts and wool storage, there is no such thing as a spare room; what an utterly ridiculous concept!? However, the easier it is to access our precious wool the more felting can be done. So, assuming we don’t have an entire house free for wool storage, what is the solution to storing our wool efficiently and safely?
There are three simple but important rules for keeping your wool in the best condition:
Direct sunlight will, over time, bleach the colour out of your wool. A brightly lit room is fine (moths hate the light) as long as your wool is in containers that protect it from UV rays or the containers are facing away from the light. IMPORTANT! Don’t use sealed bags in a warm room because the moisture will build up inside and moisture is also wools enemy.
Much of my wool is in a very brightly lit room (below) but I remove it from the plastic bags and store it in black bins with lids, or open fronted stacking boxes, facing away from the windows. I don’t have any problems with fading wool or moisture (even in the summer) because the air can still circulate. No moth problem either because they hate bright light. For smaller amounts in bright rooms you can use cardboard shoe boxes, craft boxes, drawers, jute bags, etc.
What if you can’t store it in a brightly lit room?
If you are keeping wool in a dark room, drawer or cupboard – and many of us do – make sure they are in airtight containers or bags; this will keep the moths out; if you are concerned about moisture then pillowcases are a great solution or, wrap some kitchen roll or a tea towel around your wool before sealing. Silica gel sachets are also another moisture deterrent. Also, if your wool is stored for long periods, it is good practice to take it out occasionally air it and check for moisture.
Moth Deterrents Without Chemicals
A proactive approach is always best and Lavender and Cedar are good natural deterrents as the smell confuses the moths, throwing them off the scent in the hunt for your precious wool stash. However, neither will kill an infestation and, if the moth eggs are already there you will need to remove and dispose of the contaminated wool. There are hundreds of ‘remedies’ on the internet for getting rid of them but, as with everything, prevention is better than cure. Thankfully, in the nine years I have been using wool I have never had a moth problem (or used Lavender and Cedar) so, hopefully, neither will you.
I recently asked my Facebook communityhow they were storing their wool and they had some cracking storage solutions for large, and small amounts of wool which I thought I would share with you.
Jane has inventively stashed her wool in cardboard poster tubes with all the colours cleverly sticking out of each end. Or, if If you want quick access to all your lovely wool, then Lesley’s easy desk set up, using takeaway containers, is just the job. It’s also a great way of ogling your wool stash and thinking about which wool you are going to try next?
Sharon has stored all her lovely wool and locks in these handy compartment boxes. I think I have seen similar in B&Q and Argos? The tool storage aisle is always a great place to look and probably cheaper than the hobby stores. Sock drawer organisers are also a great way to store your wool in a similar way. It’s also a great portable solution so you can take your wool anywhere.
How’s this for super space saving ingenuity? Michelle has come up with a great solution for storing small amounts of wool in these fab jam jars which are the perfect shape for getting as much in a small space as possible. The six sided hexagon means that no space is wasted and is also the very reason that bees use the same pattern in their hives.
Open ended stacking trays are a great solution for storing wool, especially for a business that needs to store a lot of wool in the most efficient way possible. Door tidy’s are also a great way of utilising your space and keeping everything in one place.
Lin has cleverly used plastic shoe storage boxes and labelled each one so she can grab what she needs at a glance, and I love my craft drawers on wheels.
Kathy’s suitcases are an imaginative solution for storing your wool. However, Verity’s cat had other ideas???
I know there are hundreds more storage ideas but I hope this has given you some inspiration for keeping your own wool stash in the best condition possible and, if you are still struggling for space then the only option really is a second home???
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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: email@example.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
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 tutorialHERE or watch the short VIDEO TUTORIAL
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.
‘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.
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
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?
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 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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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 *
GOOD FOR NEEDLE FELTING
Yes. Earthy finish
Yes – slightly wiry finish
North West England
Yes – very wiry finish
Corriedale (Merino and Lincoln cross)
OK – needs more work. Good for topcoats, pictures, wet felting and blending.
No – best blended with coarser wool. Good for topcoats, pictures, wet felting and blending.
White* Faced Woodland
Yes – Smooth finish. Quite slippery.
Blue Faced Leicester
Somewhat – smooth finish. More visible needle marks.
Yes – smooth finish
Isle Of Man
Yes – smooth finish
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
It’s the one thing that gets us needle felters confused when we first start this fabulous craft. A gauge for this, a star or triangle for that. What’ s the difference between a size 32 and size 38, and what on earth do I do with this reverse needle felting needle I bought? Well stop tearing your hair out because I am going to give you the short version, and what I like to use as my own personal preferences. I will also tell you about the felting needle tools I couldn’t live without!
WHAT DO THE SIZES MEAN?
In short, needle sizes work like this: The higher the number, the finer the needle, and needle sizes range from as low as 19 up to 42. You will hear them referred to as:
Triangular: 3 sides
Star: 4 sides
WHAT FELTING NEEDLES SHOULD I START WITH?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked, along with “What wool should I use?”, and it can be confusing when you first start needle felting. I prefer the simple approach and advise just one, or two sizes to start with. The 38 star is a good all rounder, and a 40 triangle for finishing your work; more details on those below. Once you are more confident with your needle felting you can start to introduce others into your felting stash.
The 38 star is my favourite as it will complete most needle felting projects from start to finish. TOP TIP! Always have a spare felting needle in case one breaks as you can’t just nip to the Co-op for a new one.
HOW DO FELTING NEEDLES WORK?
Wool is full of tiny scales that run up and down its length, and they just love to tangle together with each other. Felting needles have tiny barbs which allow you to do this ‘tangling’ by hand, whilst creating almost any shape and detail you can imagine.
HAVE YOU JUST STARTED NEEDLE FELTING?
All the needles, tools, and starter kits discussed on this post are available on the Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts Website and Etsy Shop.
GOOD ALL ROUNDERS – SIZE 38 AND 36
Suitable for most needle felting projects, and less prone to breakage
A 38 or a 36 star (or triangle) can be used to start, shape, and build up any three dimensional needle felting project, or flat felted picture. I use 38 star needles (I like the four sides for faster felting) all the time, and they are the ones I also use in many of my needle felting kits. A 38 star felting needle will complete most projects from start to finish; a 36 gauge is too robust for finer details.
TOP TIP! Reduce needle marks by inserting your needle diagonally when finishing/smoothing the top layer. Rolling the body part in your hands (before attaching) is the fastest and most efficient way of smoothing your piece; your hands are just as important a tool as your needle!
WHAT TO USE FORBFINER DETAILS?
40 triangle is ideal for much finer detail: Bends more easily so don’t be heavy handed with it.
I use this when I am finishing delicate eye and nose detail. Especially if the head is quite soft and I don’t want to distort the lovely shape I have made. It is also great for reducing needle marks on the top layer. You will notice that this needle is thinner, bends more easily than the 36/38 and is much more prone to breakage if bent too much. TOP TIP! Be careful when using it around a wire armature to avoid breakage
REVERSE FELTING NEEDLE
Barbs go in the opposite direction and pull the felted wool back out. There is also a great blog post dedicated to this fabulous needle felting tool
It took me a while to get used to this one, but now I wouldn’t be without it, and I just love subtle effect it gives to, an otherwise, smooth finish. It all depends what wool you are using but I used mine recently to rough up the top of my moon gazing hares head to add character and dimension. I think it worked really well… The wool is natural Grey Jacob and you will find it in a lot of my kits; one of my favourite wool’s to needle felt with. I also include it in my Flamingo needle felting kit to ‘fluff’ up the body and base of the neck. Also great for use on 3D cats and dogs, perfect for hedgehog spikes, and adding detail and dimension to my fox head.
TWISTED FELTING NEEDLE
The first barb on a twisted needle is slightly closer to the tip of the needle than the 38 and 40 triangular, reducing the penetration required to start tangling the fibres together. It is just personal preference but if you are just starting needle felting I would recommend starting with a 38 star and 40 felting needle; you can try other sizes once the needle felting addiction has taken hold…
WHAT ARE MY FAVOURITE NEEDLE FELTING TOOLS?
None of the following are necessary but I use them all the time for certain projects and they really help speed up the felting process. Especially useful if you are now a needle felting addict (you know who you are…) and unofficial member of the Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts NFA group, ‘Needle Felters Anonymous’. Hmm, I’m thinking T-shirts and badges…
WOODEN NEEDLE HOLDER – UP TO 3 NEEDLES
Can be bought with 3 or 4 needle holes, uses standard needles (supplied) and needles are removable and interchangeable.
My preference is the 3 needle holder (using 38 or 40 triangular or star) as it can be used for starting off your 3D shapes quickly, as well as being used for flat felting e.g. big bunny or hare ears. Top tip: If flat felting, try starting with a coarser gauge needle, such as a size 36, which will speed up the process.
NEEDLE FELTING PEN
Does pretty much the same as the wooden needle holder (above) but also works really well on wool batts and the hessian felting mats filled with rice. Save money: You will see these in pink (Clover tool) and blue. The blue is half the price of the pink and the difference…one is from Hong Kong and one is from China?
Bring on the big guns! 7 needles (replaceable and interchangeable) with retractable guard. I can’t tell you how much I use this for flat felting ears, brooches, legs (before they are rolled and shaped), pictures etc. I use this one on my hessian felting mat (it doesn’t work as well on bouncy foam), and it powers through ears, wings, legs, gnome hats, poppy/flower petals, and pictures at a rate of knots! TOP TIP! Ideal for teaching the kids because of the locking, retractable guard and much less prone to breakage.
FELTING NEEDLE HOLDER
This is very useful if your fingers are sensitive to the thin top of the felting needle, you have dexterity problems, or you are felting for long periods.
SAFETY! Needles are sharp and I always advise using a finger guard when starting, especially for work where your fingers need to be close to the needle. On the plus side, it doesn’t hurt for long 😉
I use it for all of the above as well as my foam. I make my own Hessian felting mats and they are available in the shop; just add 2/3lbs of Basmati organic, free range rice…just kidding, any rice will do.