As a beginner looking for needle felting fibres, it can be a real minefield out there in terms of deciding what to opt for.In thispost, we seek to help you to understand the differences and identify which types of fibre are best suited to which project. We’ll also include a few handy links to products we offer and can vouch for!
Felting wool and the various types:
In 3D felting, typically the main body shape, and various associated body parts will be built up with a coarse fibre known as core wool. The reasons for this are primarily economical as the bulk of the creation can be made with a less expensive fibre, with only the top surface utilising more expensive refined fibres such as roving, and slivers. It is also true though that the denser nature of core wool can aid the felting process in terms of shaping and speed.
As an example, the Hamanaka Watawata Core Wool products we stock come in the form of a carded batt, with short dense fibre properties, and these are loved by many felting artists worldwide!
Once you have your shape made, it’s time to start on the refined work of adding a top coat of wool. Depending on the creation you are making, there are a wide variety of fibres in a beautiful array of colours that can help provide the ideal finish to your work.
The first question to ask at this stage is "What type of a finish would I like to create?". Am I looking for a smooth neat finish, something a little more rustic, longer fur, or maybe even curly fur for something like a Sheep or Poodle? Perhaps even a shiny fibre to add a touch of sparkle to a felted fairy!
Smooth neat finish - Ideally the finer, denser and shorter the fibre length, the more effectively the fibre will felt down, and the less stray fibres you will have as a result. Merino is often much maligned for this because it is often offered in longer fibre lengths, that have been combed so that all fibres are aligned. In actual fact it can be very good if the fibre length is short and crimped. Look out for something like a carded sliver such as our HandCrafter Superfast Felting Wool range!
More rustic / Longer fur - In this scenario, a longer, straighter fibre is often ideal and will provide you with the ability to produce longer fur coats on felted animals. Advanced techniques such as fur planting have been utilised by artists looking to create a realistic finished appearance. Briefly, this involves adding layers of tops / roving onto your creation, felting through the centre point, and then folding over and trimming excess fibres. There are some wonderful exponents of fur planting, and the this video by Wakuneco in Japan is a really great watch!
Curly fibres - There are a wide variety of effect fibres such as wool locks that can help bring a curly finish to your creation. In our store, you will also find various curly fibres including the innovative Hamanaka Felting Yarns which are ideal for beginners, as you simply have to wrap them around your creation and felt into place! For a more realistic curly fur, take a look at the Real Felt Wool series, also by Hamanaka. The wool is held into curls by a second thread / ply which when removed, leaves gorgeous fluffy curls to felt with.This video introduces the product in a little more detail.
Shiny / Effect fibres – One of the most outstanding sparkly fibres available is Angelina which is available in a wide variety of colours and has gorgeous iridescent properties. Often felters will blend in with other wools to create a unique effect, and we’ll talk a little more about fibre blending later on.
One shiny fibre that is already beautifully blended is the Hamanaka Twinkle range! Soft merino wool is blended withnylon fibres which have an irregular cross section that diffuse the light to give a stunning pearlescent sheen!
Other fibres – Wool nepps resemble lots of tiny little felted balls that can give a super cute finish to your creation. Look out also for scoured wool slubs which again can give a lovely fluffy effect too!
Breeds of wool used:
There are a great many breeds of sheep in the world, whose wool has been used to produce fibres suitable for needle felting. In fact, Sheep wool is not the only fibre used for felting. Alpaca is also sometimes used, and its soft nature and hypoallergenic properties lend themselves well towards creating felted garments.
Two of the most popular fibres used are Merino and Corriedale. One of the key differences between the two are the fibre thickness, usually measured in microns. Merino wool tends to range between 18-23 Microns making it incredibly fine and beautifully soft. Corriedale on the other hand, tends to be a bit coarser, usually between 25-30 microns.
For this reason, quite a number of felters prefer the Corriedale over Merino for ease to felt. If taking both fibres in the form of tops or roving, then this would be a logical conclusion, as a coarser fibre is easier for the needles to grab.
It is not as simple as this however. As touched on above, the processes used to produce a felting fibre can give very different forms,which will perform differently and have a greater influence on their ease of use. Therefore it is worth looking at some of the various fibre terminology and processes used to create them.
Roving / Tops – These terms are often used interchangeably, tops is more common here in the UK, roving perhaps more so in the United States.
These refer to wool that has been washed, carded and combed into a long length of fibre which have all of the fibres aligned into the same direction. The resulting fibre can be used for spinning into yarns, but is also often used for needle felting too. Technically, roving is pulled through a diz and this creates a slight but noticable twist to the fibre.
The long straight fibre properties are better suited to felting longer fur, and less easy to felt down to a smooth neat finish. As merino is often sold in this form, it sometimes unfairly gets a reputation for being difficult to felt, especially for beginners.
We have a variety of tops and roving in a wide spectrum of colours from natural animal colours to bright and pastel shades, so you can be sure to find the ideal material for your project
Batts – The typical properties of batts include a shorter fibre length, with densely populated fibres crossing over in different directions. They often come in a rolled up sheet from which you can tease off smaller pieces with ease. The properties of wool batts lend themselves to felting together much more quickly and easily, and they make an ideal option for beginner felters.
The Hamanaka Watawata core wool batts we stock are among our very best sellers and are loved by felting artists around the world for how quickly they felt, how easy they are to create detailed 3D shapes, and how well they receive the surface coat of fibre you felt onto them.
Sliver -Think of slivers like a long and thin version of batts. They have been carded and have crimped fibres in different directions, which again makes them ideal to work with and a great option for beginner felters. They are easy to tease off a small piece and layer onto your work, and will felt down to a neat finish much easier than you’ll find with tops.
Our popular HandCrafter wool range brings together the best of two worlds – the fine and soft nature ofmerino, with the ease of use of a sliver. Perfect to create that beautiful neat finish without stray fibres!
What about non-wool alternatives?
Whilst the above information reflects the fact that wool is the probably the most commonly used fibre, it’s hugely important that needle felting is accessible for everyone, and there are many among us for whom wool is simply not a suitable option.
For Vegan felters and also those who suffer from allergies to wool,there are an array of friendly alternatives with which it’s possible to do needle felting too. In fact there are so many choices that it would be difficult to name them all but let’s cover a few of the more popular ones.
Plant based fibres, such as Soybean, Cotton and Bamboo can be found in the form of tops which can be used for needle felting. It can be difficult finding the array of colours in some of these options, but perhaps you could consider dyeing your own!
Equally, synthetic fibres such as Nylon and Acrylic among others, have also been utilised to create felting fibres. One of the characteristics relevant to many synthetic fibres on the market is the fact that the fibre length is often quite long, which whilst great for certain projects, can have certain limitations in the finished appearance felters are able to create.
One very unique acrylic fibre, again from Japanese company Hamanaka, seeks to solve this problem. Marketed in Japan as being suitable for beginners due to it’s ease to felt with, the Aclaine series has a notably shorter, more crimped fibre length which felts together like a dream, and really provides a kind of versatility rarely found in non-wool fibres. An advanced dyeing technique developed of several years of innovation gives rise to a wide range of brighter colours, in combination with more natural blends suited to making felted animal creations.
There arevarious reasons why felters may want to blend fibres together. Perhaps most frequently, it’s to try and create a blend of colours that give a more nuanced and sophisticated realism to a top coat for felted animal, but of course there are many other scenarios in which a blend of colours can work really well.
This is often done through the use of carders (Essentially brushes with lots of tiny little soft metal tines – think pet brushes!) In fact, on a small scale pet brushes can work perfectly well. It is also possible to buy purpose built hand carders, or on a larger scale (but significantly more expensive) drum carders where you feed the fibre in and turn the wheel whilst using a secondary brush to pack the fibre onto the drum.
Rather than have me explain the carding process, this video from the famous Ashford Wheels & Looms in New Zealand, perfectly showcases how to blend fibres using hand carders.
We hope this has been helpful and uncovered some of the mystique surrounding various felting fibres. You may very well still have questions a plenty though, and if so we would loveyou to get in touch so that we can tryto help answer any queries you might have!
Next up, we’ll be taking a look into the various types of felting needles and helping you identify which needle to use for which process!