Swaledale

I think I’ve developed a bit of an infatuation with this wool.  It’s ok, it’s platonic – let’s not make this weird – but I think about it when we’re apart.  After a long day at work all I want to do is get home, tear it into pieces and stab it with needles…

Yeah, that just got weird.

The thing about this wool is that – well, when I use it I don’t feel like an amateur playing at a new hobby any more.  I feel like an artist.  I feel like I should be living in a cabin in the woods, collecting ivy and knitting lentils.  I should be prancing barefoot on the beach with long flowing hair and an enviable figure hidden by floaty peasant blouses and skirts (my fantasy, my rules), making driftwood vases and greeting the sunrise in the bending-dog-lotus-fire pose (I don’t do yoga – is that a thing?)

This wool is stunning.  I want to use this wool so much.  Just as George Costanza would drape himself in velvet I would drape myself in Swaledale if it was socially acceptable.  But I can’t, because of ‘society’.  Although I suppose I could if I spun it into yarn and knitted with it… I didn’t really think this through.

Quick Points

Flippity Felts Category – Rough and Hairy
  • Attractive, natural colour with good colour variation
  • Coarse texture with very coarse guard hairs
  • Very easy to felt with
  • Capable of creating nice marble effect
  • Sheds a lot and can be messy whilst work is in progress
  • Forms a good, solid shape

About the Wool

The Swaledale breed of sheep is a breed native to Yorkshire, northern England.  A hardy sheep with a thick coarse coat suited to mountainous/ exposed terrains and a harsh climate, the breed is known for its distinctive curly horns (on both rams and ewes) and black and white faces.  Click here to read more about the breed.

Micron – 35+

Staple Length – 10-20cm

Handle – Medium/Harsh

Purchased from Adelaide Walker – £2.00 per 100g + p&p

Available colours – Light grey

All images on this page show wool purchased from Adelaide Walker

First Impressions

Look at it!!!  It’s so pretty!!!

Swaledale light grey

Swaledale light grey

There’s a faint, pleasant sheepy smell to this wool, which is a very soft grey (slightly darker than illustrated in these images), with several different shades of grey running evenly down the length of the wool to create a natural humbug look.  This stripe effect is stunning to look at and I feel that it would make an excellent natural-grey fur for an animal such as a badger or a raccoon, requiring no additional blending.  The wool itself feels hair-like, loosely packed and durable.  There is no vegetable matter, but numerous thick short white guard hairs run throughout the top.

Swaledale light grey sample

Swaledale light grey sample

A close-up of the fibres shows the colour variation in a little more detail.  There is also a nice crinkle to the individual fibres.

Swaledale light grey fibres

Swaledale light grey fibres

The fibres need to be pulled apart gently – pulling with too much force will result in surprising resistence.

The Ball Test

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.

Swaledale light grey

Swaledale – making a ball

0-3 Minutes, Using A 36 Triangle Needle

This wool felts very quickly, and even by the 3-minute mark the ball feels firm and compact.  Although the ball is far from complete at this stage it feels secure and solid.  There’s a nice crunch and it responds very well to the 36 gauge needle.  It feels like I’m making fast progress.

Swaledale light grey ball after 3 minutes

Swaledale ball – 3 minutes

3-5 Minutes Mark, Using a 36 triangle needle

The ball still isn’t quite round at this point – the end isn’t felted in – but it keeps its shape well and is smooth and compact (although hairy).

Swaledale light grey ball after 5 minutes

Swaledale ball – 5 minutes

5-10 Minutes Mark, Using a 38 Triangle Needle

I found progress was slightly slower on switching to the 38 gauge and I wanted to use the 36 for a little longer!  By the 10 minute mark I considered it finished – it was solid, sturdy, had a good shape, few needle marks or lumps and was very nice looking, although it did need a trim.

Swaledale light grey ball after 10 minutes

Swaledale ball – 10 minutes

In Summary

This is an amazing wool and leaves me wanting more.  It’s intuitive, almost working along with you as you shape your model, and felts very quickly with a satisfying crunch.  It responds better to a 36 gauge needle than a 38 or 40, and faster progress was made using this needle.  One very nice surprise was seeing how well it handles making smaller pieces – it’s incredibly simple to ‘work small’ and build up layer by layer – despite the staple length of this fibre it is very easy to work with.

The presence of thick white guard hairs does mean you will be frequently pulling them out, and I found these hairs shed onto my mat while I was working – a lint roller will sort that out.  However, the final model does not shed at all and you are left with a relatively neat surface that requires a little trimming.

Would you create a whole model in this wool?

Yes – the benefit of working with such a nicely coloured, intuitive fibre is that it’s very easy to end up with a marble effect.  After finishing the ball test I found I just wanted to keep going with it, and ended up felting a version of the neolithic statuette ‘The Willendorf Venus’, below.  The mottling of the colours as you work means that it is very easy to hide any joins and separately-worked sections, creating a seamless effect overall.

Willendorf Venus

Willendorf Venus, a study in Swaledale

 Please note that different clips may produce wool that differs from the description given above.  All wool reviews are based on the quality of the clip I am using at the time of review.

Some photographs have been edited to ensure images represent the wool as true-to-life as possible, as apparently the ability to take accurate pictures of wool is not one of my strengths!

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2 thoughts on “Swaledale

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