A question I often get asked when creating my needle felted animals is ‘what type of wool did you use for your core wool?’ or ‘what wool is the dog’s long fur made of?’
When you first start needle felting the variety of fibres out there and knowing what to start with can seem really confusing and somewhat daunting. There are not only different animal fibres you can choose from (e.g. sheep, alpaca, baby llama, camel, even dog fur etc) but there are also vegan options such as viscose, acrylic, bamboo, hemp, soybean, nettle, pineapple or banana fibres.
When felting with sheep wool there are different breeds of sheep that produce different textures. Some are delicate and soft with straight fine fibres, some are more thick, fibrous and harsher to the touch. Some are easy and quick to use as a core wool and some are better to use as a top coat. You can get natural undyed wools which come in some lovely whites, creams, greys and browns depending on the breed or you can opt for wool that is dyed (or dye it yourself) and there are numerous amazing colours to choose from.
In this guide I mention some sheep breeds that I love but my main aim is to help you understand the different preparations of wool like knowing the difference between a batt and a top. It is so useful when learning to needle felt to know what these terms mean, to save time and money and to know practically how you might use each of the different wool types at the different stages of making your needle felted animal.
I give some suggestions from my own needle felting journey that will hopefully provide some insight into the types of wool available but I’d encourage you to test different fibres for yourself. It’s very much part of the fun when learning and no doubt you will find some amazing discoveries along the way.
I have also included links in this guide for where to source the different types of needle felting wool – please see my links disclaimer in the right side panel for more details. These are all from Heidifeathers shop on Amazon. They sell a wonderful range of wool and the biggest range of barbed needles in the UK. They have excellent customer reviews and postage is usually free. If you would like to just browse all their products rather than using the links below then here is the shop link.
Carded Wool – Batts and Slivers
What is carded wool/carding?
The process of carding wool can be achieved with a machine (usually a drum carder) or by hand using two handheld carders (some people use dog brushes). Traditionally the wool is first of all washed, removing most of its lanolin and then passed through differentially moving surfaces so that the fibres are further cleaned of vegetable matter and are rid of any tangles or clumps. The result is a continuous mesh of mixed up fibres. They come as carded batts or slivers.
What is the difference between a batt and a sliver?
Carded wool can be bought as a carded batt – which is simply a big thick sheet of mixed up wool fibres or it can be bought as a carded sliver which is the same as a batt but it comes as a very long strip.
Both are great for most needle felting projects as you can easily pull off small pieces or long sections and start making shapes. As the fibres are short and go in various directions rather than laying in the same way, this wool type is super quick to felt with.
Here is a carded wool batts bundle of 4 natural wool shades; white, grey, dark brown and mid brown.
What would I use carded wool for?
I find carded wool is great to use as a core wool for my medium to large needle felted animals. I like using natural undyed carded corriedale, Jacob, or mixed breed wool for this.
Here is the white Jacob wool batt which is great for the core shape of your animals. It also comes in other natural shades.
Core wool is often cheaper to buy (especially in bulk) saving the more luxurious softer wools such as merino wool for the coloured top coat. You don’t see the core wool which makes up the inside of your felted animal so it doesn’t matter if the finish looks good or if there’s a tiny bit of vegetable matter in the wool. The important thing is that you have made a good firm shape on which to attach your outer wool.
I prefer the carded batts of wool for sculpting the basic head and body shapes and for making flat features such as ears. See below for my hare.
For animals which have a wire armature I find it more practical to use the carded slivers for wrapping lengths of wool over the wire, then I use either batts or slivers to build up the shape and musculature.
Here is one of my favourites – the white corriedale wool sliver.
Batts and slivers come in a variety of colours and if you are making a small animal and not using the long fur technique you can skip the need for a core wool and just start sculpting your animal in the colour it is.
If you have started off with core wool, you can add the carded wool colours as a top coat. They are great for layering different shades of colour and blending them. You can also use the long fur technique with the coloured batts to replicate a wavy/rough coat appearance. Batts work well too if using a reverse needle to pull out fibres to achieve a fluffy coat / hairy look or for blending colours.
This ‘Creature Mix‘ has six wonderful animal shades of needle felting carded wool slivers.
What are tops/roving?
Tops and roving mean more or less the same thing when it comes to needle felting. After the wool has been washed and carded it can then be combed so that all the fibres end up going in one direction to form long lengths that can be wrapped up into a ball. They come in all sorts of sheep breeds and most often you’ll see them in merino wool in a vast array of colours to choose from.
What would I use tops/roving wool for?
As it stands this type of wool is not so easy to felt together as the carded wool due to the fibres all laying in the same direction, however it is brilliant for adding pieces of wool to your needle felted animal to resemble long fur. The merino wool tops in particular are fine, straight and soft and so I will mostly use them for straight fur. Your animals can look really realistic with a bit of patience and some beautiful merino wool tops.
This merino tops ‘Toy box mix’ has 12 colours which are perfect for needle felted animals, including the pink for the inside of ears or for the nose or paw pads on some animals.
When you look at a real animal its coat is rarely all one colour but different tones of light and dark so by using a number of tones of wool you can get your animal fur to look as realistic as possible.
The following packs (each containing 6 colours) are ideal for when you need a variety of tones of the same/similar colours. I have given examples of animals you might use these packs for as inspiration, many of which I have made myself in the past.
For making a donkey, mouse, tawny owl, mole or hare.
For making a badger, koala, wolf, seal or grey squirrel.
For making a red fox, red squirrel, bumble bee, yellow chicks or an orangutan.
For making a lizard, turtle, snake, frog or parrot.
If you need an extra colour that isn’t included in the packs above you can choose single merino wool colours too here.
On some of my animals I add in tops of another sheep breed (such as corriedale/ Shetland) to the merino tops where I would like to have a more wiry/ textured looking coat for more realism. I find that the sections I add have a bit more thickness and robustness to them than just the soft merino.
If you would like to stock up on and try out some tops in a variety of sheep breeds then this ‘Animal Mix’ is a wonderful collection of soft natural mixed wool tops from 10 different breeds including blueface leicester, manx and merino.
For a very tiny animal such as a needle felted bee where I want to reverse felt the colours, I don’t use a core wool but make it from the merino tops I already have to hand rather than necessarily buying new wool but I will hand shred/blend the fibres first to make it easier to felt with. My bumble bee tutorial here shows you how to make a bee from merino wool over a pipe cleaner armature.
When you need specific individual colours and types of wool, Heidifeathers also sell a variety of single colour slivers, natural sheep or alpaca wool tops in a variety of animal colours and bright colours too. Take a look here.
This photo shows the rabbit coloured carded sliver. I love this one.
You can find lovely natural curly locks in the cleaned but uncarded wool of some breeds of sheep (such as Teesdale) or from the angora goat – mohair. These can be attached to your needle felted animal to resemble curly fur / wool / hair for example when making a mane or for curly haired dog breeds or making a sheep/goat.
Heidifeathers sell these really soft curly mohair locks in a variety of colours.
This photo shows the brown mix.
I have personally found that if I need to add curls all over my animal rather than just adding a small numbers of locks e.g. to a mane or tail, then it is far cheaper and fun (though time consuming) to curl some wool tops by hand either by winding the wool round knitting needles or plaiting it, then wetting with a little water before leaving to dry. This technique also ensures every part of the wool is fully curly as some of the locks you buy may not be a perfectly formed curl or there may be matted/frizzy parts.
My favourite sheep breeds
I have mentioned some sheep breeds above that I love so here I have included some more information about the breeds and their wool.
The corriedale sheep is a cross breed from New Zealand (merino crossed with Lincoln and Leicester) and now bred internationally.
It’s a very cute sheep to look at with its super thick wool more or less covering its entire body and over its head like a hoodie.
Corriedale wool is fairly soft to feel and great to felt with and I love its natural creamy white colour. This is the wool I started out using as a beginner and though I love the other breeds too this is one I often stock up on. I use carded and tops for my animals.
The merino is a worldwide bred sheep but originating from Spain, this is very popular across Australia and New Zealand.
Similar in looks to the corriedale sheep with its wool over its head but the wool is extremely soft and fine.
I always choose a non-mulesed merino wool as unfortunately the painful practice of mulesing still exists on some farms where some skin is also removed along with the merino wool in some places. Merino tops are brilliant for adding pieces to my animals to resemble long fur and merino batts are wonderful to reverse felt for a soft fluffy coat.
There are many sheep breeds in Norway but the one most often used for wool nowadays is a cross breed of the Cheviot and the Dala and Steigar.
These sheep look slightly more slender looking than the above breeds as their fleece is longer and not so springy.
The wool is really easy to felt, feels soft and comes in a lovely natural creamy white colour. I particularly love using carded Norwegian batts.
Jacob sheep are so interesting to look at. They have some great markings, usually spots or patches of black or dark brown against a white background. They are also polycerate which means that both the ewes and rams have 2, 4 or even 6 horns.
Jacob wool comes in brown, black and white, and is quite soft and silky to feel though still quite coarse. I like the carded batts in this wool.
This breed is the smallest of the British breeds and predominantly found on the Shetland Islands. It’s origin is not confirmed but is likely to have originated from Scandinavia.
Their wool comes in shades of white, brown grey and black making it really versatile in its natural form. It is fairly soft and fine with a more silky kind of feel than the corriedale. I love using Shetland tops as long fur for my animals.
Which sheep breeds and wool types do you love to use the most?