I have a trained textile background but like most designer makers and crafters a lot of my skills are self taught. I studied embroidered textiles at art college and though we did a bit of wet felting it was not till many years later I investigated the art of felting, this time needle felting. I love to try lots of different crafts, some I have had fun with but are not for me others like needle felting I have loved and progressed in.
I always aim to buy materials from other small business whenever possible, not only do we need to support each other but we need to buy items that are ethically sourced. It is not often that you buy a piece of art that the artist has took materials from its rawest form through to the finished piece of art/product. After all we have beautiful materials easily available and little time to produce them ourselves. I have always bought my felting wool from the usual commercial sources and have been very happy with both the quality of the wool and the vibrant colours........but I wanted a challenge!
I recently bought some very beautiful fleece, Shetland Fawn Katmoget from Aberdeenshire. The wool is gorgeous in its natural form and is in shades cream through to chocolate brown. I used this fleece to make some very special hair slides which are currently for sale at Things British in St Pancras Station. I then decided to go one step further and buy a raw fleece!
So my raw fleece arrived, 500 grams from of Oxford rare breed pedigree sheep from Cornwall (a whole fleece weighs on average 1.25 -1.5 kg). I opened the package and of course it stunk! If you are not tolerant to a bit dirt and a bit of a farmyard sheep smell then this would not be a project for you! I have basically took my time on this in between various projects, but now have a pile of clean carded fleece to dye. This is how I got to the stage I am at now:
The first step is to remove as much vegetable matter from the fleece as possible, the photo below shows the fleece as it arrived. Luckily we have had a lot of sunny weather so I could work outside! I laid out an old shower curtain on the grass and laid out the fleece, I then picked out any large bits of matter (some would of already been removed at the farm) and as you can see it is pretty dirty. You quickly accept that you have to go through every stage before it has all gone.
I did a lot of research online about the whole process of cleaning the fleece. We are always told never to wash wool in hot water as it will shrink but this is exactly what you need to do! What you need to do to prevent the shrinkage is to keep the temperature consistent as moving it from hot to cold or vise versa will cause shrinkage. You could wash it in cold, but all advice pointed to the water being almost too hot to place your hands in. The other very important thing is to not agitate the wool during the cleaning process as this will cause it to felt and we do not want it to do that (not yet)! So what do we use to clean it? Well just plain and simple washing up liquid in generous quantities. I used a laundry bag, the sort you use to put socks and tights in. You could use your sink or bath if you preferred but I decided it would be more hygienic to do it all outside (saved a major clean up afterwards also) and I used two large storage boxes as my sinks, filling from the kettle and outdoor tap.
After filling the laundry bag with fleece I place it in the hot soapy water and left for around 15-20 minutes, not allowing the water to cool. The second container has just water in of the same temperature and this is used to rinse the fleece. I did this process three times, but it really depends on how dirty your fleece is. The change in the colour and the amount of dirt that comes out is pretty impressive, just look at the colour of the water in the above photo! Another reason for waiting for a fine day is that you want your fleece to dry, so a calm sunny day is perfect. I started to dry it on my folding table but then decided if I used a clothes dryer with a old towel hammock across it, it would dry quicker.
Once it was dry I needed to card it, which is brushing the wool to get all of the fibre to face in the same direction. Carders are not so easy to source and are a expensive investment, an alternative is to use pet grooming brushes. This stage is pretty time consuming but the results are pretty impressive. At this point in the process any remaining vegetable matter will be removed. I watched a few youtube videos but basically found my own technique in the end. Youtube has lots of videos for various stages in the process, which was very helpful.
So I plan to dye most of it, I wanted to use natural dyes but I may start by using some commercial dyes as the colours I require are hard to obtain naturally. At the dying stage a I may do a final wash. This wool is beautiful and soft and seeing the before and after is very satisfying. The photos below show my carders and some of the finished carded wool.
I will show you the results of dying the fleece and the finished felted products soon.
#wool #sheepfleece #felting
My name is Kirsty I am the Owner, Artist and Maker at Beadie Eyed Edie.