Felting Wool: Batts / Roving / Tops / Curls

Felting Wool: An introduction to Batts, Roving, Tops, Carded, Combed, Locks, Curls

Felting Wool has many names - here is a quick guide to what each means and their uses.  

Batts / Carded

The fleece is washed, teased out, and carded into batts (large thick sheets of wool). The short fibres go in different directions and the wool can be broken off in handfuls, thin sheets, or a long strip.

Great for 3d shaping, 2d (pictures / butterflies / flowers), a good all rounder! 

Can also be wet felted.


Core Wool

This tends to be a cheaper and not necessarily such nice looking wool which shapes quickly and easily, so that you can make the inside of the project from core wool, and then use your nice wools for the top coat.

Our Shetland: a light white which shapes quickly and easily and is nice enough to leave showing for a top coat.

Our Basic Core wool: A cheaper alternative, good for adding bulk.

Our Lanolin Rich Core Wool: A brilliant sticky wool, great for quckly making shapes, wrapping armature, and good for your hands!

Tops / Roving / Pencil Roving / Combed

The fleece is washed, carded, and then combed to align the fibres into the same direction (they look like combed hair) and remove shorter fibres. The wool looks like a long snake or rope and is broken off in lengths, which can then be split apart into thinner lengths. This is most commonly found as Merino wool which is a very straight, fine fibre, but could be any breed.


Merino Tops: Great for wet felting (with soap and water), surface colouring, our water soluble paper flowers (free flower tutorial here)

Ryeland / Texel Roving: We get this from our local farmer and is amazing for wrapping armatures (free tutorial here), we have found nothing better!!


Curls / Locks / Fleece

This may be washed or unwashed. Some breeds such as Cotswold, Teesdale, Blue Faced Leicester have beautiful big long lustrous curls or locks, while others have a more frizzy-looking fleece. A whole fleece refers to the entire fleece as shorn from the sheep and can weigh a few kilos.

Long curls / locks: great for fairy hair, unicorn manes, gnome / santa beards.

Curls add texture to a picture and make great clouds, waves, sheep etc.

Our Leicester Curls are tiny little curls and great for little sheep.

Raw / Unwashed This fleece is 'straight off the sheep' and will contain lanolin which feels 'greasy' and is great for your hands and may give the wool a darker yellow colour (lightens when washed). It may also contain slightly more vegetable matter than washed / carded / combed wool. The lanolin in the wool helps things to stick, so some spinners love it, it holds beautiful curls / locks well, and we have our Lanolin rich core wool which is gently washed to keep as much lanolin in as possible, meaning it sticks amazingly to itself and is great for quick shaping and wrapping armatures.
Other Fibres There are many other fibres used for needle felting, both synthetic and natural. Alpaca, llama, even dog hair can be felted but none have the 'velcro' properties of wool. Synthetic fibres tend to be very slippy. It helps to mix either of these with a bit of wool.

Our favourites include the sparkly synthetic Angelina Fibre, and the natural plant fibre Ramie.

We also use recycled sari silk mixed with wool to add richness and depth to the colour.

A Piece of Cake or Biscuit the Cat?

A Piece of Cake or Biscuit the Cat?

You would think that having co-authored a book on how to needle felt animals would give me the skill, confidence and speed to quickly turn out a pet portrait. No such luck!
I understand that people may be deceived in thinking making a pet portrait is a piece of cake especially when they have seen the 'true-to-life animals' that I have needle felted! In truth there is quite a skill to turn any Labrador into the loved pet Labrador so familiar to its adoring owners. And this is where the problem lies: the owner of such pets will know whether that needle felted mini version of their companion does indeed look and feel like the original. I get sweaty hands just thinking about the moment when first glances of expectation are cast onto the needle felted replicas of loved and adored pets!

And so I resisted these particular customers for a year to make a pet cat portrait until I could no longer find an excuse why I could not make them a cat like the one I made in our book Making Needle Felted Animals

The truth that I withheld from them is I struggle immensely when it comes to capturing the essence that makes a cat, dog, rabbit etc look exactly like the owner's pet. Biscuit, the cat was no different. And as some of you may know, cats are especially difficult to capture, in real life and as a needle felt scupture!


 It all seemed straight forward to start with. My customers even came to See me to point out the colour wool which I realise In retrospect was perhaps were the problem started as it rendered me less flexible to divert from that chosen colour. The said cat which had the charming name of Biscuit was a ginger tabby cat and I received by email about 8 different photos of Biscuit sitting up, lying down, looking into the camera, looking away, upside down... On each photo he looked a slightly different shade depending on where the photo was taken and the light that was around.


That In itself provided the first problem. How ginger was biscuit? And did you know that ginger coloured sheep wool is almost impossible to find? Yes, there is alpaca and of course you dye your own with onion skins but I did not have the time nor access to the alpaca fleece.

There I was with my lying down cat covered in a neutral beige (karakul merino mix) ready to receive his ginger stripes. It was a friend who saved me (not for the first time!) She pointed out that the base colour I had chosen (well, that was chosen for me, somebody needs to be blamed!) was a cool colour and any ginger that I would add would have to be mixed with the base colour but it just did not look right mixing a cool colour with a warm colour. I found just what I needed (how lucky am I to co-own a needlefelting supplies shop). I covered Biscuit in a warm honey karakul and decided to use our fox rust brown dyed New Zealand merino the colour of a warm reddish brown to create the nuances of ginger by mixing my base colour into it. This I did by hand but I could have done it with small steel wired dog brushes too (link to tutorial how to mix wool).
As I had already made the head and eyes I thought I was nearly there! Wrong again! Once I realised that I found the right colour for the body I also realised that the reason why Biscuit still did not look like Biscuit the cat was because the head was wrong as well. It was too small, the ears positioned wrongly and were too thick, the eyes too superficial. It was a good learning curve for me though painful too because I had to work loads of the head again including removing eyes and ears. It showed me that the wrong colouring of the cat distorted my picture of him and at that point I could not see what was wrong with his head. I made his cheeks bigger by layering more wool over it and built up more layers at the back of the head too to increase the size. It was a real pain as I had already put hours into working his face and eyes. Ah, yes that reminds me, cat's eyes! Tricky if you decide to needle felt them. In Biscuit's case it was almost impossible to determine whether they were Yellow or green or something in between. I had to check with his owners which confirmed what I already guessed, they were a green yellow or a yellow green! And that is what I did. I mixed a pale green with a golden yellow and that seemed to do the trick. Also giving him proper round pupils rather than slits worked in his case (reference to book about making eyes). Adding the tiniest of a white fleck for the reflection brought the eyes alive..
Don't ever underestimate the time it takes to add patterns to any Animal you are making! It catches me out regularly and Biscuit the cat was no different. Whether it is stripes or spots or lines, it takes time. The reason for that is that they have to be integrated and with cats cannot be superficial. This meant that I had to mix different shades of ginger and copy as best as I could directly from the images that I had received. I took guidance by photos that were clearly taken in daylight and decided that Biscuit was a light Ginger cat. Funny that I kept thinking about real ginger biscuits and what colour they are. There must have been a reason why he was called Biscuit! And this leads me to the most Important and most challenging aspect of making an actual portrait: trying to capture the personality, temperament and essence of this particular much loved animal. No easy task and certainly no piece of cake! It took me hours to look beyond the photographic evidence and really see the cat's being. He looked like a gentle giant, confident and full of himself, loving and loved. At that point it probably would have been helpful to check back with the owners how they would describe him and if you are attempting a pet portrait for people you don't know definitely ask how they would describe the pet's personality! My only way of communicating with my customers was via email as they lived a long way away and I never even thought to talk to them On the phone.... My proudest moment arrived when I found a tiny blue bell (size) and a little tag that said 'handmade' to double up as the tag Biscuit wore. I also had a 3mm light blue velvet ribbon In the shop (told you I am lucky!) and I made an exact copy of the collar Biscuit wears!

[links to portrait needle filters! our book and website]


Making Large Needle Felt Animals: The Goose with wire armature

Making Large Needle Felt Animals: The Goose with wire armature

How Brian the Goose came to be!

Our Brian is a life size white goose who is a pet portrait of a real circus performing goose who belonged to a local circus called Gifford Circus. (well worth a visit!)

Said goose had sadly passed away and our needle felted goose is in memory of the real Brian the Goose.

Our Brian started out as a wire frame made from ordinary garden fence wire which I purchased at a DIY store. I shaped it so that the whole of the goose from head to toe was supported by the wire.


I started wrapping the wire at the head end with strips of polyester wadding. I chose to use wadding as it is really 'sticky' and so adheres to itself when wrapping it tightly around the wire but also it is relatively cheap in comparison to wool roving. The wadding I used was quite thick and resulted in a 'springy' layer that built up quickly. 

Alternatives: you can use wool roving from the outset. Our Dutch Texel Roving is a cheap alternative (and a little less lofty) or if you want to stay with British wool start with our Ryeland Roving which is that is perfect too.

I quickly realised that simply wrapping the wire frame with wadding would not be enough as the large body needed bulk quickly. I overcame that problem by making a large 'parcel' of wadding to fit inside the wire 'belly' 

Alternative: use any wool scraps, polyester pillow filling, an old jumper or similar to create a large ball. You can tie it together with wool yarn or wrap it with wadding strips or wool roving to keep in a tight shape. You can also use stuffing wool or core wool such as our Shetland wool batts.

Now I was able to continue wrapping the whole of the frame including the belly with wadding. I was quite surprised and excited how instantly I could see the 'goose' shape emerging. 


At this point I found that the legs were pointing the wrong way and I had to turn the neck round. Simple!

Once I built the base layer with wadding I changed to wool. I used our locally sourced Ryeland Roving which is a lovely lofty soft and bouncy stranded wool that is perfect for wrapping around large as well as small armatures. We have also used this on our dormouse!

Alternative: a cheaper option would be our Dutch Texel

Inside the body I put a leaflet of the Circus programme where Brian the Goose last attended, just for sentimental reasons..... Oh look a goose is born!!



And on I go with wrapping the roving around the frame and starting to stab the needle into it as I go. I have to be careful where the wire is just under the surface of the wool and this is the beginning of breaking many needles.

Next were the legs: I found that the bright orange merino roving that I chose for this was too slippery to just simply wrap around the garden wire. I used pipe cleaners to wrap around the legs and feet so that I had something for the wool to grip onto. I could have also used masking tape or florist tape.

Alternative: Our Fox Orange Variegated wool batts

is great for the legs and feet as it already slightly 'dirty' looking with the darker fibres running through it. Although it is a batt it is just as easy to wrap around the wire and a lot less slippery!


True to a goose's leg's anatomy I separated the garden wire into the fibula and tibia and wrapped those initially individually.

Then on to the foot. Phew, to be honest I started to realise that the legs were going to be the most challenging part of the goose and needed lots of time and attention to detail. Something I lack on both counts!

I used the wire frame to accentuate the toes and built up wool between the toes for the webbed feet. By the time I was adding white claws I had also wrapped the tibia and fibia together with orange wool roving but still so that I was able to distinguish between the two bones. I also added wisps of brown to take away from the very bright clean orange as probably no goose would have squeaky clean legs and feet and certainly the real Brian did not! You don't have to do that if you are using our Fox Orange Variegated wool

I can definitely confirm that the legs took a lot of patience, needle felting and attention to detail but it was well worth it. Once both legs and feet were finished I proceeded to add PVA glue. Adding glue means that the fluffy appearance will disappear and the finish will look a lot more realistic. It is also an extremely messy affair and uses a lot of glue on large animals like this. The aim is to add so much glue that it saturates the wool but is not dripping wet. 

On Brian it took a good 24 hours before the legs were dry and I had to find a good place for him to stay in a stable position (excuse the upside down goose!)


I changed over to Shetland wool to continue building layers onto Brian. The Shetland is a lovely white wool and one of the whitest I know. This worked really well for a goose colour.

Then I started work at the opposite end now only using the Shetland wool.  It took little extra work to finish the shape of the head but before I started working on the beak I researched close up photos of geese beaks and was surprised to find that they are not only orange but also bright and light pink. Quite a contrast in colours! I felted a separate beak and needle felted it on once it was the right size, shape and colour. It took little work to blend the beak into the head and here you can see that I already put the eyes into the goose as well. I used blue glue-in glass eyes and if you look carefully you can see that the black of the iris is oblong. One of the real Brian's trademarks. I achieved this by using a black permanent marker drawing on the flat side of the eye. Before putting them into place I added a little blue wool which made the glass eyes more vibrant. You could use our medium blue wool batts. After glueing the eyes in I needle felted an orange ring around the eyes.



I continued to 'fatten' Brian up including giving him a proper tail and undercarriage. I also covered the beak with glue exactly as I did with the feet.

Brian turned out to be a handsome chap and you can see that he was definitely a hand or even an armful of stately poultry...

In the summer 2016 Brian spent some time at Gifford Circus (for old times' sake) and he earned himself a rosette which he shows off proudly when he goes on the many travels with The Makerss. He has also found a friend in our lifesize chicken Ginga Ninga and Reece the Fleece, our lifesize Lamb.

Brian with his mate Ginga Ninga. The two of them share a love and hate relationship as Ginga Ninga is quite bossy :)