Are you ready to paint with wool but confused by all the fabulous wool types and choices to be made? Here is a helpful guide to get you off and started in no time.
Three key factors are:
1) Staple Length: the length of the fibers.
2) Micron Count: the thickness of the individual wool fibers. Wool with a lower micron count is finer (thinner), and wool with a higher micron count is coarser.
Felting with Short Fibers – Carded Wool Batts and More
It is helpful to know when to choose roving and when to select carded wool batt. In general, felting with short fiber batts is easier and it helps you to create a painterly look. Batts are composed of fibers are going in different directions and bits and pieces can be easily torn off, allowing for greater control. I especially recommend this for beginners. The staple length associated with roving can be anywhere from 4-7 inches. Depending upon what you are trying to accomplish, this length can be challenging.
Micron count refers to the thickness of the fiber. People will successfully use short fiber batts with a range of micron counts from 18 – 30. Fibers that are very fine (low micron count) felt easily into the surface and allow for a high level of detail. Some people like a higher micron count as needle mark are less likely to show.
My favorite wool batt for needle felting animals is extra fine (19 micron) merino as the fibers felt easily. The fine quality of the fibers allow for a nice level of detail, creating more realism. Merino batt is available in a great varied of colors. I will use a range of batts depending upon what I am making and the texture I desire.
Carded merino was particularly helpful when felting the eyes of this lion.
Bulky Carded Corriedale Roving
Unlike most roving, the staple length of this fiber is fairly short, making it similar to working with a batt. The fibers come in a lovey array of natural and dyed colors that are particularly suited to felting animals.
I used the above collection and merino batts to make this stag.
Luxury Fibers: Yak and Camel
Yak and camel can also be very helpful when painting with wool. They are both fine, have short staple lengths, and they come in a variety of natural colors that lend themselves to animals. They come in both roving form and as down. The down is rather like working with a batt as the fibers go in different direction. I used yak to paint this lion’s beard.
Felting with Roving
Roving can also be used. Roving refers to when the fiber is all combed straight. In the picture of the lion, I used Romney roving to paint the hair. Stretching out long bits of roving can be useful for hair, lines, grasses, etc. Feel free to experiment. You may wish to use Corriedale, Romney, Merino, or other fibers. You can also teach out lengths of fiber from your carded batt by gently pulling and twisting the fiber between two fingers.
I particularly enjoy using merino roving to paint skies and water. I lay out the wool and needle felt it in with a five-needle tool. While not required, I like to use my needle felting machine to push the wool back further. For example, in this painting of three bears, I used merino roving and mulberry silk to “paint” the ocean. I used my needle felting machine to push it further back in the background.
I used variegated merino roving and tussah silk to create the sky behind this elk.
Color is an obvious criterion. Certainly, you can mix color to a degree by blending fibers. But sometimes that perfect color you want may be in roving form rather than as a batt. Color is often more important to me than micron count. While not a perfect solution, you can tear up the longer pieces of roving into shorter bits in order to felt them into your painting.
The most important thing is to know the basic reasons why people choose some wools over others, but don’t feel locked in by these rules. Combining textures, colors, and fiber lengths often generates a very interesting painting.
In the wolf piece above, I used short fiber carded batts for the background (needled over yarns and locks) and the face. 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. The painting has more of a three dimensional quality than my work above.
A handy reference for wool types and their micron counts was made by Pat Sparks. You can see it here:
Have fun playing with all the wonderful fibers that are out there! Feel free to experiment so that you can come up with a look that is uniquely your own. Questions? Just ask! You can reach me through email, phone, Facebook, or by posting a question in response to this blog.