Core Wools

imageNot all wools are created equal.

Deciding to use core wool and then choosing which one works best for you can be something fraught with risk for needle felters.  With most wool supplies only easily available on-line, you miss out on the ability to get a feel for the fibres before purchasing them.  This is where Flippity Felts hopes to help – by reviewing some of the wools available so that you can get a better idea as to whether a particular wool will meet your needs.

Q – What is ‘core wool’?

Core wool is a catch-all term that usually means any cheaper, plainer wool that a felter uses as the sculpting base for their creations.  It is literally the wool you use at the core of your model.  It is usually wool, but not always – I’ve heard of people using polyester toy filling as a core. To each their own.

Core wool typically comes in tops, although it can be carded.  It is usually natural white (i.e. creamy white), but can also be found in grey, beige, brown or even black.

Please note that the following reviews are opinion-based centred on my own experiences and do not represent an official endorsement of a particular supplier or product.  Buyers buy at their own risk.  As clip quality may vary from seller to seller and season to season, all reviews given here are based entirely on the stock I was using at the time of review.

Core Wool Reviews:

  • Bluefaced Leicester review
  • Charollais review (coming soon!)
  • Cheviot review (coming soon!)
  • Corriedale review (coming soon!)
  • Devon Wensleydale review (coming soon!)
  • Dorset Horn review (coming soon!)
  • Eider review (coming soon!)
  • English 56s review
  • Exmoor Blueface review
  • Gotland review (coming soon!)
  • Herdwick review (coming soon!)
  • Icelandic review (coming soon!)
  • Jacob review
  • Kent Romney review (coming soon!)
  • Manx Loaghtan review
  • Masham review
  • New Zealand (tops) review (coming soon!)
  • Norwegian review
  • Perendale review (coming soon!)
  • Polwarth review (coming soon!)
  • Rambouillet review (coming soon!)
  • Shetland review (coming soon!)
  • Suffolk review (coming soon!)
  • Swaledale review
  • Teeswater review (coming soon!)
  • Texal review (coming soon!)
  • Welsh Mountain review (coming soon!)
  • Zwartbles review (coming soon!)

Q – Do I need to use a core wool?

No, you don’t.  Many people do, but it’s very much a question of finding a way of working that suits you the most. However, it is common for people to use some cheaper, sturdier material as a core, be it core wool or bundled balls of yarn, or even polystyrene balls, and using core wool is by far an away the most popular method.

Q – What are the benefits of using a core wool?

Core wool tends to be a lot cheaper than the dyed tops and carded wool you would use when putting the coloured layers on top of your model.  This can be very handy if you realise you’ve made a mistake and you need to redo a section, as it minimises wastage of pricier fibres.  Core wool is usually easier to shape than other wools, and most people like to build up the shape of the model in various degrees of detail before putting the final colours on.  For further examples of this see ‘Making Falkor‘, which shows some pictures of the creation of my felted Falkor the Luck Dragon as he progressed.
The other benefit of buying core wool is that you can have fun!  There are massive variations in fibres, which makes experimentation with different effects an enjoyable part of the process, and as a crafter artist craftisan I love both buying core wools from unusual or rare-breed sheep and sourcing wool from local suppliers or smallholdings, and I stick to British breeds wherever I can.

Q – Where can I buy core wool?

Core wool can be bought through many online felting suppliers – some will stock specific breeds whilst others will sell something simply known as ‘core wool’.  If you know the name of a particularly type of wool that you like you can Google to see who sells it – many people who have smallholdings will sell the wool of their sheep, and it’s worth noting that often core wool may not be labelled as such.  Typically you’re looking for something called ‘wool tops’ that is priced between £2 – £4 per 100g (or more if you are in the market for rare breeds or speciality fibres).
Joining a Needle Felting group online (there are several on Facebook) can also be helpful in deciding which breed to use – many felters are passionate about the wools that they use and will be able to recommend sellers and different varieties.
As mentioned above, sometimes websites stock something simply called ‘core wool’ – however, you tend not to know which breeds of sheep have been used in the making of this, and I’ve found such wools to be lumpy and hard to work with.

Q – Are all wool tops suitable for use as core wool?

Noooooooo!

Q – Can I use core wool tops for other purposes?

Absolutely!  Whilst many of the fibres listed here are used primarily as core wool they are still wool tops – many can be used as top colours or as long hair/ fur (especially those in natural greys or browns), or can be carded with other fibres to create texture or colour effects. I would only hesitate when it came to the rougher, hairier wools such as swaledale, which in my experience are too harsh for anything other than core shape creation.

Q – How do you test a core wool?

The Ball Test is my comparison test between the different core wools to help determine suitability for purpose (i.e. dry needle felting), versatility and speed.  I start off with approx. 10 inches of fibre and felt using a 36 gauge triangle needle for five minutes (recording my progress at both the 3 and 5 minute marks), then I spend another 5 minutes using a 38 gauge triangle, recording my results at the 10-minute mark.  If I feel that the ball is still unfinished at this point I continue until it is completed to my standards – a tight, firm, even ball that is relatively smooth and as lump-free as possible.

Q – What is a ‘Flippity Felts Category’?

I like my fibre like I like my men – smooth, cheap and free from vegetable matter.  Failing that, rough and hairy.
Looking at things like ‘micron’ and ‘staple’ isn’t going to mean much to the average felter – therefore I’ve created my own felting categories based on nothing more scientific than practical experience.  I’ve found that most fibres fall into the following categories that share certain attributes – and some are better suited to core wool use than others.
Dense and Springy – The fibres have a real bounce to them and pull apart easily.  They tend to have a nice crinkle and are usually consistent i.e. few if any rough guard hairs, even colour distribution etc.  The fibres feel dense yet ‘airy’, and most (although not all) felt ‘large’ – that is, they don’t compress down so much when creating core shapes, leaving you with a larger size than you might get with another fibre.  It can sometimes be difficult to get a very firm shape with these fibres. Examples: Bluefaced Leicester, Zwartbles.
Soft, Smooth and Reliable – These fibres tend to be great all-rounders, capable of felting large or small pieces with ease.  They are typically soft, with shortish fibre length but a nice airy volume.  Some of these fibres might share attributes with fibres in other categories but are easier to use.  Examples: English 56s, Cheviot, Shetland, Jacob, New Zealand (tops).
Rough and Hairy – These fibres tend to be quite coarse, and frequently have very rough guard hairs that stick out and may need to be trimmed/  They can also be messy and prone to shedding – particularly those guard hairs!  However, these fibres usually felt very easily, although are better suited to larger pieces and may be more challenging when working on smaller, fiddlier bits.  Examples: Swaledale.
Thin and Straggly – Typically these fibres are very long, and the ‘ropes’ of fibre tops are notably thinner and with a more ‘straggly’ appearance than other fibres.  They may have a silky texture, feel very tough and have a human-hair or plant-like fibrous-feel.  They can be difficult to felt with, either due to their slippery sheen or because the fibre-length and texture makes small shapes hard to create.  Can create pretty effects though.  Examples: Norweigian.
Super Soft –  Airy, soft and fluffy fibres that usually felt very well and share similar properties to ‘Soft, Smooth and Reliable’, but have a notably more luxurious texture.  Examples: MashamManx Loaghtan.

Q – What core wools would you recommend for someone new to felting?

The following fibres are all excellent fibres to use if you’re just starting out (and are equally good if you’re a more experienced felter):
Cheviot
Kent Romney
Shetland

Q – What core wools do you like to use?

Take a look at my reviews and you’ll soon see that I like a lot of different cores. Having said that, space and money are both finite (unless you’re Batman, but I hear he’s given up felting lately), so I tend to primarily keep English 56s, Jacob, Kent Romney and Exmoor Blueface as my main core wools.  Having said that, there are other core wools I still like to have in stock, albeit in smaller quantities – it’s just nice sometimes to work with something different or in a different colour.  To that end, I also like to use Dorset Horn, Shetland, Masham and Manx Loaghtan.

Q – If you’ve found a core wool fibre that’s easy to work with, why would you bother looking at anything else?

Well obviously you don’t have to consider other fibres, but remember that there is far far more to art than necessity.  Yes, many felters do like to stick with one or two fibres once they’ve found some that they like, but there are many reasons to keep trying different fibres.
a) Back-up plan.  Yes, you might get your fibres from a particular source, but what happens if one day they stop stocking your favourite?  Or their current clip is so different from their previous that it no longer suits your needs?  That’s happened to me before – it’s always good to have a back-up fibre in reserve, because you’ll be surprised at how distraught you’ll be if that happens.  We’re funny creatures of habit, humans.
b) You never know when the next fibre will be a game-changer.  Seriously – you might be wedded to a particular fibre, but you just don’t know what amazing fibre you might be missing out on.
c) Different fibres create different effects/ have different colours.  You can, of course, use core wools for other purposes (such as a top colour, a texture enhancer or as fur/hair) and you can be very playful with different fibre effects.
d) It’s fun!  I love trying new fibres, I genuinely do.  Sometimes it’s just fun to try different things.

Q – Should I just stick with your recomendations?

Well, you could.  The whole purpose of my reviews was to give people extra insight into the workability of various fibres, especially if you’re just starting out.  I’ve thought a great deal about the type of information that might be helpful., and I’ve tried and tested A LOT of different fibes (all the fibres listed below have been used and tested, even if the reviews aren’t live yet).  However, felting is an art – it’s not prescriptive.  People have different styles and different preferences; they look for different things from their fibres.  I might think something isn’t so great whereas you might think it works perfectly for you.  So yes, feel free to be guided by my reviews but don’t consider them the definitive guide – they’re not.
If you would like my opinion on a particular fibre, or would like to see me review something specific, leave me a comment!

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