Two Dimensional Needle Felting and Wool Varieties

I love all things fibery.  So much so that I opened a store, Big Sky Fiber Arts.  It feeds my fiber addiction, and allows me to experiment with textures, colors, and types.   Customers  who are new to felting often feel a bit overwhelmed by the variety of fibers that can be used in felting.  With this in mind, I would like to share some of my thoughts on different wool types for two-dimensional needle felting in particular.  This post will mostly be of interest to those who are new to needle felting, but perhaps some of the information will be handy to people who want to experiment a bit more.  I thought I would use a few examples of my own two dimensional work to illustrate key points.

When I make a decision about which wool to use, I think about:

  • Color
  • Staple Length
  • Micron count

Staple length refers to the length of the fibers.  Micron count describes the thickness of the individual wool fibers.  Wools with lower micron counts are finer (thinner), and wools with higher micron counts are coarser.  For example, extra fine merino is typically 18-19 microns. It is quite fine. Given this, it is great for nuno felting as you want the thin fibers to interweave with the silk. Some people like higher micron fibers for needle felting as the needle marks are less likely to show. However, you can achieve a lovely painterly effect by needle felting with fine carded merino on felt, linen, and other surfaces (2 D needle felting).

A handy reference for wool types and their micron counts was made by Pat Sparks. You can see it here:

http://members.peak.org/~spark/feltingwools.html

The length of the fibers is important in needle felting. If you want to create 3-D fur, long fibers going in the same direction (combed top) is helpful.   But, if you want a relatively smooth surface, you will likely find that wool made into batts with short fibers is easier to use.  The short fibers can be felted into place more readily than the long fibers found in roving.

3-10-2018 4-04-54 PM

In the wolf piece above, I used Maori (carded Corriedale and Coopsworth) wool.  It comes in a batt, and it has short fibers that go in all directions.  I needle felted it over yarns and locks for the background.  For the eyes and parts of the nose, I also used Maori.  The coat of the wolf is made with Shetland, Corriedale, Romney, and Tasmanian Polwarth combed top.   I carded the wools together to get shades I liked. These wools have a micron count of around 27. The Polwarth is a little lower. The staple length is around 4 inches or so with the Shetland being the longest.   I added a little sparkle to the coat with some nylon (synthetic) roving.

To enhance the 3 D effect, I used core wool first.  For core wool, you want a malleable wool that holds its shape well and felts quickly. I needle felted the core wool with a short fiber length over the nose.

IMG_0344.JPG

I made the fur by stretching out a piece of roving at the appropriate angle and needling a line down the center.  I then flipped the piece on the left onto the piece on the right. I worked from the bottom and side of the piece up to the face so that I could blend in the hair.

I used a similar approach in this needle felted ram.

SONY DSC

I used core wool first to build up the ram’s antlers and nose. The tree is made from extra fine merino combed top.  I carded it into a batt, choosing cinnamon, bark, black, and coffee.  Carded Maori is used in the background.  The ram’s coat is made from Corriedale and Shetland combed top.  I used some lovely rare Asen locks from Sweden for the chest of the ram.  You can’t see it too well in this photo, but I felted in locks in the foreground. Maori is used on the face of the ram and on his antlers.

Sometimes it can be fun to work with fiber that has a short staple length and is quite fine.  I’ve recently begun experimenting with camel and yak roving and down (like a batt) for just this reason. Camel and yak come in nice natural colors that are suitable for a variety of critters. The micron count is 17-19, and it felts quickly. It is quite soft.

rabbit

Camel and yak are wonderful to work with for two-dimensional needle felting because the fibers are so short — just 2 inches!  This bunny was a bit more golden than my camel roving so I mixed it in with some lovely chestnut Romney.  In order to make the short fur, I cut up the Romney into shorter pieces.  To make the ends look more natural, I took the piece of Romney in my hands, pulled it apart, and re-laid the fibers on topic of each other. This prevents all the cut ends from being on the same side.

It is great fun to use locks and fleece for texture.  In this picture, I used Leicester locks.  They are thin, long, and grass like.  The purple locks are mohair.  Wensleydale locks also work well and look quite similar.

It is also enjoyable to needle felt two dimensional pieces with short fiber merino. Merino in batt form typically has a short staple length.  Because the fibers are short and fine, it is easier to to control, and you can achieve a rather painterly look.

Half the fun in felting, in my opinion, is opening yourself up to the variety of wools out there and experimenting!  Happy felting!

Karen@bigskyfiberarts.com

BigSkyFiberArts.com

This entry was posted in Guest Writer, Needle Felting, Tutorials, Wool. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Two Dimensional Needle Felting and Wool Varieties

  1. meterrilee says:

    Wow! What an informative bit of writing–thank you! Your work is gorgeous. I appreciate the discussion about the wool types and fiber thicknesses (and how you illustrated their use). I generally dig through my stash and “feel” what I want for needle or wet felting (it’s such a pleasure to work with fibers)! You’ve shared very practical knowledge that can help people when ordering fiber–really good to know. I usually order based on color, with limited understanding of actual fiber length or thickness and best use. Then, it all gets sorted by colorway into big bins. And, most of the time I don’t even save the information about what the fiber IS–I just toss it all in the bins, then root around for what I think will work. Certainly not very scientific and probably more prone to mistakes over selecting the best fiber for the intended purpose… Thanks again!

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      My pleasure! Thanks for your comments. Sounds like you favor my approach…..eclectic and no rules! =)

  2. Kathryn Luciana says:

    Absolutely stunning work! I will try using core wool for dimension in some of my next pieces. Thanks for so much great information.

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Kathryn,
      Thank you! I’m sure you will enjoy the experimentation. Even just a little bit of core wool can be fun to try.

  3. Denise Taylor says:

    Wow beautiful work. Love how you simplified your information about wool. Please keep posting love your approach to your projects, mirrors mine!

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Thanks, Denise! Your post certainly made me smile. I’m glad you found it to be helpful.

  4. Leonor says:

    Karen, your work is stunning! It’s so good and I’m a little jealous 😀
    May I ask how you transfer the design onto your flat surface, and what kind of surface you use? I’ve been meaning to try 2D felting but so far haven’t come up with a decent way to take the drawing to the flat prefelt I’d like to use as canvas…

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Aw! Thank you! As someone who came to art later in life, this means a lot to me! I use different techniques to transfer. I came to felting from art quilting. So, for the wolf and the ram, I drew my design on totally stable stabilizer (available at quilt stores). I ironed it onto the back of a large piece of rustic prefelt from Fire Mountain Fiber in Colorado (http://firemountainfiber.com/). It is a family owned fiber mill. I then stitched it. When you flip the felt over after stitching, the design is on the front. You have to make sure that the design you stitch is laying the right way so that when you flip it over, the design is going in the right direction. You can then tear off the totally stable. It is on the back so it doesn’t bother me if there is some left. The stitches (from the bobbin thread) then show your design.

      A more common way to transfer is to draw your design on a piece of paper. Tracy it with a sulky iron-on transfer pen. You then place the paper on your felt, and iron it on. The image typically transfers. The pens I have were sometimes effective, and sometimes a little dry. Might have just been the ones I purchased. This is the approach I used with the rabbit.

      The prefelt from Fiber Mountain is quite thick. I like the fact that it is from a Colorado family. It was able to hold up to the amount of needling I did for the ram and wolf. But, for many projects I quite like 100% wool felt. It is thinner, consistent, and comes in a range of colors. People will do 2 D needle felting on many surfaces — wool felt, linen, cotton, cheap craft felt. For what I do, I like the sturdiness of 100% wool felt of the Fiber Mountain pre-felt. I hope that helps!

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks for the detailed answer! And yes, you were super helpful 😀 Let’s see if I manage to make things work and finally do some 2D felting soon 😁
      Nothing wrong with coming to art later in life, we all have a journey to make! I’m happy you embraced it, your work is really lovely 😊

  5. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Your needle felted pictures are fabulous. Thanks for sharing your process and the information on the different wools. I usually just use a little needlefelting on wet felted pieces for definition, but these are wonderful pieces of art.

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Thanks so much, Marilyn! I appreciate your kind comments. They were certainly lots of fun to make!

  6. ruthlane says:

    Thanks for the post Karen. You shared such useful information about fiber. The transfer technique you use is a great idea. I hadn’t thought of doing it that way with stitching from the back side. I will have to remember that one. We’d love to see more of your work if you have time for another post in the fall 🙂

  7. Your work is wonderful Karen, such beautiful creatures! Thank you for a very informative and enjoyable post.

  8. Lillian Johnson says:

    I’ve bought fiber from your shop☺.
    This information is a very heplful reference.
    How you use & blend fibers gives me encouragement to do the same.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Lillian Johnson

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Hi Lillian! Sounds like some creative time is in your future! I’m glad you found it to be helpful. Just shoot me an email if you ever have a question about wool that I can help with.

  9. craftywoman says:

    Thank you, Karen, for sharing fibre information and techniques, I was really interested in how you created the image before felting, also your preference on pre-felt and other materials, your pieces are beautiful 🙂

  10. Antje says:

    I think all the comments above echo my own thoughts. I have certainly learned a great deal about the different fibres and that has clarified a few things in my mind. Thank you.
    Please post more of your work – they have such realism.

    • karenbigskyfiberartscom says:

      Antje,
      I’m glad to hear it. It can be confusing when you are looking at all the beautiful felting on the web. It is not always easy to tell what people are using. Thank you for your kind comments.

  11. zedster66 says:

    Wow! Great pieces, Karen 🙂 It makes me want to get my needles out! I like yak and camel for wet felting, I hadn’t even thought about needlefelting with them. Thanks for all the detailed info too.

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