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:
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!