Wool is wool, right? Well, not exactly.
Believe it or not, there are approximately 1,000 distinct breeds of sheep worldwide, each with slightly different wool qualities. Some even have hair as opposed to wool.
Then, of course, there are the various stages of processing for each wool, wool blends, and don’t forget about the other popular fibers often used in felting, such as alpaca, cashmere, and mohair.
How can you know which to choose for your wet felting project?
What is the best wool for wet felting? Merino wool has a soft, very fine texture and a natural crimp that is ideal for wet felting. Merino is easy to find, easy to work with, and comes in an array of beautiful colors. Shetland, lambswool, Corriedale, Romney, and Leicester also wet felt well.
As you immerse yourself in the world of felting, you’ll develop your own wool preferences when it comes to wet felting.
In many ways, choosing wool for wet felting is easier than selecting needle felting wool.
When needle felting, you’re searching for wool that will enable you to produce fine details and will felt nicely.
When wet felting, you just need a wool that felts relatively easily and that you enjoy working with. Let’s get started.
Wools for Wet Felting
It would take a long, long time to test out all of the assorted wools available today.
Luckily, other crafters have already experimented with many of them and a few favorite wools have risen to the top of the list.
I’d encourage you to try out several different wools to learn firsthand which one is right for you and your felting projects.
Generally, you want to use a soft wool that has a lot of crimp (waviness and elasticity) to it.
This ensures that the scales on the individual fibers will open up nicely when exposed to the hot, soapy water and mesh well to form a dense felt.
Merino wool is a very soft, fine wool that is a favorite of wet felters.
Merino sheep originated in Spain, but today, most merino wool is sourced from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Merino wool has a natural crimp and a staple length of around 3 inches, but its softness is by far the most notable aspect.
Though merino wool can be a tad frustrating to needle felt due to the fly-away texture, it is perfect for any wet felting project or a project that combines the two techniques.
(You can learn more about combining wet and needle felting here.)
Merino wool is an especially good choice for felting handmade soaps.
Don’t miss out on my design ideas for felting soaps!
Shetland wool is naturally produced in various shades of white, brown, gray, and black and has more crimp than merino wool does.
The wool itself is quite soft; some would even describe it as silky.
Although it tends to be bulkier or thicker than other wools, with patient effort, you should have no problem getting it to wet felt nicely.
I’ve had great results using Shetland wool from Paradise Fibers.
Lambswool comes from the first shearing of a young sheep. It, like merino, is incredibly soft, fine, and light.
Lambswool can come from a variety of sheep breeds, and therefore, the amount of softness may vary somewhat.
The staple length is usually under 2 inches long, and because of the heavy scaling of the strands, lambswool will felt without too much effort.
If you’ve never worked with lambswool before, I’d recommend beginning with just a small pack of lambswool to see if you enjoy working with it.
It can be a little hard to find at craft stores, so if it becomes your favorite, you may want to consider purchasing it directly from a farm and learning to process it yourself.
Although Corriedale sheep have Merino sheep in their lineage, you’ll find that the wool is quite different, though equally nice to felt.
The wool is naturally even and dense with a staple length of between 3 and 6 inches.
Corriedale wool is not as fine as merino wool, but it does have a nice crimp that lends itself well to wet felting.
Desert Breeze Corriedale wool comes highly recommended for all kinds of wet felting projects.
Wool from Romney sheep has a medium luster, a staple length of 5 to 8 inches, and is coarser than other wools.
In spite of the larger diameter of the fiber (often greater than 30 microns), romney wool felts beautifully to form a dense strong felt, though the amount of flexibility is lower than that of other wools.
Blue Faced Leicester
Leicester is a longer, lustrous wool with a staple length between 3 and 6 inches.
Because the fibers are a bit smoother than other wools, blue faced Leicester can take longer to fully felt, but the soft texture is pleasant to work with and it yields smooth, solid felts.
When you begin your search for the perfect wool, you’ll likely come across some that are labeled as a wool blend.
For felting, steer clear of any blends that are not 100% wool.
However, blends that are 100% wool, like Maori wool by Desert Breeze, are perfectly fine for both wet and needle felting.
Other Natural Fibers for Wet Felting
You may not be aware that any mammal fiber can be used for felting.
I go into more detail in my article on felting with dog and cat hair, but for now, know that you are not limited solely to wool.
Need some suggestions? The following fibers all wet felt really nicely:
- Angora rabbit.
Even hair from small pets like guinea pigs and hamsters will felt eventually, as will human hair.
This is definitely an area with room for creativity. Think outside of the box and have some fun!
Recommended Wool for Beginners
When you’re just getting started on your felting journey, there are bound to be some mistakes and learning curves along the way, and that’s okay because it’s all a part of the learning process.
Experience is the best teacher, right?
It’s probably best to steer clear of the more expensive wools until you have gained some confidence and have a few projects under your belt.
I’d recommend starting with a pack of inexpensive standard wool roving in assorted colors.
This will allow you to get a feel for the techniques and experiment with designs without having to worry about wasting a high-quality wool should something go wrong.
Wool Stages of Processing
Freshly shorn, unprocessed wool straight off of the sheep is called fleece.
It typically has an odor (not pleasant), contains bits of debris, and is greasy. Fleece needs to be processed, a lengthy task, before using.
Locks or Cleaned Fleece
Locks is the term for wool that has been washed, cleaned of debris, and perhaps dyed but not carded or further processed.
Any curls in the wool remain and can be used for fun, creative decorations, like hair, in a felting project.
Batts or Sliver
Wool that has been washed, carded, and perhaps dyed is sold as batts or sliver.
Batts are like thick, fluffy sheets of crisscrossing fibers. Small bits can be easily pulled off, and the wool typically felts faster because the fibers are already somewhat jumbled.
Sliver is similar to batts in that the fibers do not all run in one direction, but sliver comes in one long, continuous rope instead of a sheet.
Note that many packages in big box stores labeled batting are not 100% wool.
Roving is wool that has been thoroughly cleaned, carded, and combed so that curls are removed and all the fibers flow in the same direction. Like sliver, roving comes in a long rope.
Roving is often easier to come across than batting or slivers and will indeed work for wet felting (it’s the most commonly used form), but you need to remember to lay out the roving in layers that run in opposing directions so that it will felt correctly.