Getting to grips with needle felting terminology and types of wool can seem like such a chore and more than a little daunting! So many different types of wool, needles and terms; so little time or inclination to find out…
I mean, ‘what the fluff’ is the difference between roving and wool tops???
It’s all about the preparation of the wool; so untie those twisted knickers, make a cuppa (mine’s Yorkshire tea) and I will try to keep it simple…
Needle felting: Felt is made using needles with notches on the end (often referred to as barbs even though they are not) and repeatedly and carefully stabbing into the wool fleece. You will tangle the fibres together until the wool becomes firm. You can make flat or 3D needle felted pictures, sculptures, jewellery… the list is endless and no sewing.
Wet felting: This more traditional method uses water, soap and friction to tangle the wool/fibres together and produces some really stunning results. Merino is perfect for wet felting because it is a very fine wool. I really enjoy wet felting but still have so much to learn. Keeping the water in just one room is one of those lessons and so, until I have mastered that, I will continue to wear my wellies.
Micron: The measurement of wool thickness. The lower the number the finer the wool. One of my favourites is grey Jacob and at 33-35 microns thick this is perfect for needle felting and shows very few needle marks; I use this in many of my needle felting kits and for my own projects.
Thoughts On Merino*: I never use it for three dimensional needle felting unless I am blending colours or for contrast and detail. It is just too fine (around 23 microns) making it less suitable for needle felting (perfect for wet felting and some flat felting) as it takes so much longer to needle felt and shows a lot of unsightly needle marks. I don’t know why there are so many kits out there that use Merino but it can be really disheartening for a new needle felter who will not realise that it is the wool that is making it harder for them to learn.
Fiber: Wool or whatever material you are using to felt with.
Raw Fleece: Straight off the sheep’s back. And so begins the long and not altogether pleasant process of washing, washing, washing some more, processing then dyeing (if desired). Been there, done that, never again! I saw things in that fleece I can never un-see so I shall just leave it to the experts…
Wool Tops: This is probably what most of you are using for your projects but it is often referred to as roving as the two are commonly and, not surprisingly, confused but don’t worry because everyone will know what you’re talking about and, those that don’t will just think how knowledgeable you are on the subject of wool types. Win, win… Wool tops are what I use in many of my needle felting kits and for my own projects. It just means that the wool has been washed and combed so that all the fibres are going in the same direction. Tops normally come in long lengths wrapped up into a ball and are about the thickness of your wrist. You can choose from a vast range of natural and dyed colours and breeds. Wool top separates easily if you pull gently; pull hard and the fibres will lock together (wool has tiny scales which lock together which is why it is perfect for wet or dry felting).
Roving: Is a slightly ‘scruffier’ version of wool tops. Although it comes in long lengths it is thinner, more loosely carded (see below), tends not to follow the same direction, gives a rougher finish and will most likely have small pieces of vegetable matter within the wool. This is still a great needle felting wool which gives a rougher finish and is great for working around a wire armature.
Carded Batts And Carded Slivers: Wool that has been washed and then carded on a machine or hand carder (like a giant round hairbrush) which blends the fiber so that it is running in different directions and creates much shorter fibres. Batts come out in thick, springy sheets and slivers are in long lengths; perfect for wrapping around a wire armature.
Wool locks: Love these and fabulous for adding texture and details to pictures, brooches, for beards and hair on gnomes and fairies etc. They are usually just cleaned and left natural or dyed.
Staple: The length of the wool which depends on the sheep it has come from and can be long or short. As I live in Lincolnshire it seemed only fitting that the photo at the top of the page should be the Lincoln Longwool.
Core Wool: This is a cheaper wool used by some for the core/middle of larger 3D needle felting projects. You then felt the top layers with your ‘best’ wool. Some people use polyester toy filling as their core but I can’t comment on it as I have never tried it…For my average size needle felting project I just roll up the wool I am going to use and felt that way. It really is personal preference but life size pieces can become quite expensive if you decide not to use core wool.
Pre-felted sheets: The wool fibres are only felted until they are matted but not yet shrunk. It is then rinsed, allowed to dry and can be used as the base for a design, usually pictures. Pre-felt can be bought or you can make it yourself. I always use Shetland-pre felt.
*Always check when buying Merino that it is ethically sourced from non-mulesed sheep (do not look up this procedure unless you have a strong constitution).
Many of you, I know, are unaware of this procedure which is why I have brought up the subject. There is just no place for this kind of farming practice and non-mulesed wool is just as easy to get hold of and shouldn’t cost any more; even if it does it is worth paying the extra few pence…
South America and South Africa do not carry out this procedure and New Zealand is in the process of bringing in new legislation to make sheep mulesing a criminal offence. Australia, sadly, continues with this practice with years of ‘chit chat’ but no sign of change…
All my Merino is non-mulesed and ethically sourced from South America or South Africa and has full traceability.
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