Needle Felting Wool And Terminology

lincoln longwool1Getting 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 (mines 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, Minions; 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. 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…

           A wedding fascinator and buttonholes I made using the wet felting method

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 all my needle felting kits (apart from the kitten which I will come to later)… 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). I will talk about my favourite wools and uses a little later…

wool tops

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: 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 difference directions. They come out in thick, springy sheets which are kind of ‘semi felted’. These are perfect for wrapping around a wire armature, giving a much softer and looser finish that requires much less felting.

I  use grey Jacob batting in my kitten needle felting kit because I was looking for a specific finish that didn’t show any needle marks. The mouse pictured is around a wire armature using the same batting…

                  Kitten needle felting kit, poseable mouse and carded batt                                                                                                               

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.

                       I have used some beautiful purple Teeswater locks for my sheep brooch

Micron: The measurement of wool thickness. The lower the number the finer the wool. My favourite for example is grey Jacob and at 33-35 microns thickness this is perfect for needle felting and shows very few needle marks; I use this in my grey hare, badger and horse kits.

                                          Grey hare  and Arabian horse needle felting kits


Merino, on the other hand, is a very fine 23 microns making it less suitable for needle felting as it takes so much longer to felt and shows more needle marks. That said; I use Merino in my fawn needle felting kit – I couldn’t find a British wool in a suitable colour – and it is lovely to felt with (quite rough for a Merino) so, over time, you will find your own selection of favourite wool to work with…

Soap box time; sorry but some things need to be said…

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 Merino I use is non-mulesed, ethically sourced from South America or South Africa and has full traceability. I do not use Australian Merino! Shame the same can’t be said for a well known ‘hobby’ store?

Staple: The length of the wool; this 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.

One of my recent pictures using pre-felt as the base

‘Midnight’ at The Northern Lights



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2 thoughts on “Needle Felting Wool And Terminology

  1. Terri

    thank you! Good to find the terminology, and also, I didn’t know about mulesing until reading this. Glad to have learned about it so that I can avoid buying this sort of wool and spread the word.

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