Prepared Wool Fibres
Wool fibres that have been washed and carded into a roving are commonly known as Wool Tops. The fibres are prepared so that the wool tops are consistent in their staple length and count. The Bradford count of fibre fineness is sometimes used in the UK to define a wool top: the higher the count, the finer the top. The staple length should be consistent and defines the ease with which it can be hand spun and the style of yarn which can most easily be made.
Selecting Wool Fibres for Feltmaking and Spinning
Felt can be built in a number of ways and wet felting requires wool fibre. However it is important to make sure that you are using the correct quality of fibres. Too coarse a fibre prevents felting; fibre below 56's Bradford count will not felt easily. Lustrous, fine fibres felt quickly and reduce the time for working the design into shape. Making felt fabric is fun and relatively simple. You need a good wool fibre, hot water, soap and plenty of elbow grease. You can learn more about felt making from this blog post.
Heavily dyed fibres do not felt easily either and black can be a particular problem unless specialist dyes are used.
Wool Tops from George Weil
With these points in mind, a range of undyed and coloured wool fibres are available from George Weil for feltmakers and spinners. The Merino Wool Tops offer a Bradford Count of 60 providing a fibre which will felt readily. These Merino fibres can also be spun into yarn for garments which do not turn into felt at the first wash. The fine black wool has been specially and carefully dyed for George Weil to retain a good felting performance and is excellent for fine woollen spinning. The fibre is batch dyed from white stock and not blended. The colours are consistent and repeatable.
Where wool tops are a blend of natural coloured fibre there is always a range of colours within the mix, commercially known as 'jitteriness'. You are therefore advised to buy all the fibres for one project at the same time so that is comes from the same blend.
Theses images show a natural coloured Bluefaced Leicester top and a skein spun from the fibre.
All fibres, and particularly wool, absorb and lose moisture. As a result, all weights of fibres supplied can vary by up to 10% from the nominal.
Our wool tops can become compacted by the time they reach you. There is a quick way to open them up which will make drafting much easier. This applies to all processed fibres. Grasp the sliver at one end, with your hands about 8 inches apart, further for the long staple breeds such as Teeswater. Gently draw the sliver four or five times until the fibres start to 'give' and slip past each other. Do not pull so much that the sliver thins or draws apart. Move your hands along by two inches and repeat the procedure.
A Closer Look
This is what a Merino wool fibre looks like under a microscope. The 'scales' which run the length of the fibre are the key to what makes the wool turn into felt. While the sheep is still wearing the wool, the fibres grow in the same direction so they do not become tangled together. In feltmaking, the fibres are positioned in shallow layers, perpendicular to each other. Rubbing these alone will begin the felting process, adding hot water and soap (and the elbow grease!) will speed things up and within a short time you are awarded with a warm, dense fabric.
What is Mulesing?
The following information was gathered from the web site for the Department for Environment and Heritage in Australia:
"Mulesing is named after an Australian stockman, Mr J H Mules, who invented and helped develop the procedure during the 1930s. Mulesing is the practice of cutting away folds of skin from below the sheep's tail to prevent what is called fly strike. Flystrike is where blowflies lay their eggs in moist wool and flesh eating maggots create wounds, causing the sheep considerable pain, stress and suffering and, in many cases, death. The practice of Mulesing is to be phased out by 2010.
To achieve this an alternative method must be found. Considerable research effort is being made to identify the best way to prevent fly strike without mulesing. Possibilities include chemical methods and breeding."
All the Fibrecrafts Merino wool fibres sold by George Weil are sourced from non-mulesed stock.
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