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Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to prepare wool for felting.

I usually buy merino already washed and dyed to make my felt pictures but occasionally want to add texture with different fibres. I was able to source a Wensleydale fleece directly from the farmer and decided to dye some of it to use. Wensleydale sheep have naturally curly fleece which can be great for hedges and foliage in a landscape.
It is quite time consuming and it occurred to me that some felt makers may not know how to do it so I am giving the instructions here.
All sheep have a grease called lanolin on their fleece. It is often used as an ingredient in moisturisers and shampoos. Lanolin protects the sheep from wet weather as water will run of off a greasy fleece and not be absorbed in to the fibres. This is great for the sheep but not for us felters! The Lanolin must be removed before dying as it stops the dye from being absorbed. This is how the raw fleece looks.
The lanolin causes the yellow discolouration that you can see and a distinct sheepy smell. Some fleeces will also contain bits of straw and other debris. They will all be dirty as the sheep has been wearing them for a year!
Your first job is to pick out any straw, grass, brambles and any other obvious 'bits'. Next you will need to remove the lanolin. You will need a saucepan or metal bucket that will not be used in food preparation. Put enough cold water in it to cover the fleece and add a cleaning agent. Washing up liquid will do at a pinch.
Put the fleece in the pan and begin to heat on a low setting. If it is heated too quickly it may begin to felt. The water will quickly turn a disgusting dirty yellow colour.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for a few minutes. Then drain away the dirty water and repeat. You will probably have to repeat 3 or 4 times before the water runs clear.
When all of the grease is removed the fleece should smell a lot better and feel and look white and shiny. Now you can dye it. Use an acid dye and follow the manufactures instructions as different brands use slightly different methods.
Here is mine hanging out to dry.
And here is the completed felt.
The hedge next to the cottage is made from Wensleydale as are some of the flowers in the foreground. Here is a close up view.
Happy felting!


  1. Sue, that wool adds so much to your felt. This is a great post about washing/cleaning the raw wool. The dyeing is amazing. You did a great job on adding color.

    1. Thank you Shirley. The texture does add another dimension to all sorts of work. It's good for spinning too.

  2. Hi Sue! Your work and the colors you choose are absolutely stunning!! After looking at your artwork, it makes me want to BE there, right in the middle of it all! I'm curious to know if you wet felt the base (background) of your artwork first, and then needle felt on top of it. And I've never hear of at that point (once the scene is all complete), to then add water to it!! It's the reversal of wet felting!! How can I learn more of THAT……the "painting" of needle felted wool?? Oh….and also….how do you prepare your art for hanging? (oh I think you had a link to watch on how that was done. I think. If so, I'll just watch that, but any further explanation that you feel like giving would be awesome. And lastly….how long have you been doing this? Just curious! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your artwork!!

    1. Hi Barb, what lovely things to say. Thank you very much. I needle felt the whole of the picture and then wet felt it. If it were just needle felted it would not be as strong and if I were to only wet felt I would not be able to keep the detailed pieces in position when rubbing. The two together work for me. I've been felting for 13 or 14 years. I started with hats and bags etc then discovered I liked decorating them more than making them so decided to concentrate on pictures.
      To display them I stretch them on to an artists canvas. That way they are tidy but you can still appreciate the textures. If you look in my shop here you can see more photographs of finished pieces. There are 5 photos for each piece taken from different angles.