I see many posts asking what type of wool is best for using when needle felting. There are those who think that only carded batts work and those who think only roving/tops.
The answer is that both work; those starter sets that come with lots of lovely merino colours do work and carded batts do work. The key is to know what to do with them so that you get the finish you want in your needle felting creation.
So whats the difference?
Needle Felting Wool
There are many different types of wool that you can use for your needle felting. The most popular is wool from sheep but synthetic wools are available including some bio nylons, as well as plant based wools made from bamboo. The latter are becoming more popular for their eco-friendly/vegan qualities.
The wools that you will encounter most will be from sheep and are as follows: Merino, Corriedale, Shetland, New Zealand, and there are other types too.
Wool tends to be graded in microns where the higher the micron correlates to the coarseness of the wool fibres. Not only is the roughness of the wool fibres a factor in selecting your wool, but the method on how the wool is processed can also affect your choice.
Wool Roving vs Wool Batts/Slivers
Wool is available in two primary styles:
Roving/Tops, and Batts/Slivers.
Batts are wool that has been washed and put through a drum roller. During this process the fibres remain short and mixed which gives a dense, rougher finish. The wool comes off the drum roller in large sheets called Batts.
Carded Slivers are wool that has been fully carded, as with the batts, but instead of being left in sheets it is in very long strips which are usually about 5-5cm in width
Roving/Tops is wool that has been washed and carded but in this process the carding involves combing the fibres so they all run in the same direction. The result will be wool that is smoother in consistency.
You may see reference to wool tops and they are the same as roving. Most commonly this will be Merino wool but could also be any breed of sheep.
There are some that say that only carded batts and slivers work for needle felting but this isn’t the case.
Core Wool is wool that has been washed but not carded. It is much courser in texture and is a really good wool for the base of your products.
As you look to purchase your wool you will come across a lot of merino roving and this is perfectly good for needle felting. As long as you mix up the fibres before you start felting you will not encounter issues.
In order to do this you pull the wool apart and place the small lengths on top of one another with the fibres running in different directions. You have, in effect, carded your roving.
Both wool roving and batts are acceptable for needle felting. You will be using the needle to manipulate the fibres, however, batts may be easier to use since the fibres are already running wild in different directions. The downside to batts is that you wont get such a smooth finish as you might with roving.
My advice is to try the Batts/Slivers and also the Merino Tops. Experiment and see what finishes you can get and as your confidence grows you will experiment further and know what to wools you want to use and when.
Best Wool for Needle Felting
Not all wool will work well for needle felting. Some are great for wet felting (like super fine Merino wool, Alpaca and Camel) but may not the best for the purposes of this craft.
Fine wool will result in a softer, silkier texture but the fibres in these wools are short and this makes it difficult for the barbs to catch onto the fibres no matter how much you card the wool.
So, coarser wool is actually better for needle felting as the notches on the needle will grab on to the scales on the fibre easier. This will allow you to manipulate the wool much more efficiently.
So for needle felting you want wool that is easy for the needle to hold onto but still has a smooth finish.
If you are anything like me, however, you may want to try lots of different wool types and have lots of colours. One colour and one ball of wool is a little bit boring…yes?
So what to choose as getting a whole spectrum of colours will be expensive and possibly a waste?
This is where the wool starter sets that you see on Amazon and also on many of the on-line stores specialising in needle felting come into their own.
Most of these kits will consist of Merino Tops; they are ok as long as you know how to work the wool! The other thing to be mindful of is that some of these kits have a very tiny amount of each wool: 3g isn’t a lot and wont’ last long.
We have wool starter sets that have either Merino Tops or Carded Corriedale Slivers in them.
This is our Merino Wool starter set which was created in answer to the many comments and reviews seen on other kits. Our wool balls are 10g and we add in 50g of core wool
This is our Carded Corriedale Slivers wool set which has 20 x 10g balls of coloured wool plus 20g of core wool.
The wools listed below are ones that you may see being advertised and the comments below may help in deciding which wool to choose.
Merino wool (fine-medium) – Can be used for both wet felting and needle felting
New Zealand wool (medium-coarse) – Great for needle felting, less smooth finish vs Merino
Icelandic wool (coarse, hairy) – The undercoat felts better than the top
Shetland wool (medium-coarse) – May include coarse hairs that are resistant to felting
Corriedale wool (medium-coarse) – Great for both wet felting and needle felting
Blue Faced Leicester wool (fine-medium) – Better for wet felting
Norwegian wool (medium-coarse) – Great for needle felting, more coarse than Merino and Corriedale
So, the answer to the question raised by a lot of people new to needle felting is that you can use carded wool and roving/tops as long as you know how to prepare and use the wool.
If you find that you have some spare bit of wool experiment and see if they felt; there are no hard and fast rules and sometimes it is the experimenting and trying new things that is the fun part.
I hope this helps; enjoy your needle felting.