OK, I’m confused. I was convinced that the Cheviot sheep was from the good ole US of A. I’m not alone here, am I? It just sounds so state-side. I mean ‘Chev-iot.’ Like Chevy. Guys? I mean, it’s so clearly an American word that I wouldn’t be surprised if it rocked up wearing a star-spangled bandana and shades and riding a Harley Davidson that morphed into a Bald Eagle at the first mention of Freedom.
But no, it’s not an American breed – ’tis in fact from the Scottish borders. I feel cheated somehow. I wanted my Harley-riding sheep!
Flippity Felts Category – Soft, Smooth and Reliable
- Responds best to a 38 gauge needle in the early stage (though using a 36 needle right at the very start, just to get things going, is still a good idea)
- A great all-rounder, ideal for those just starting out
- A fast-felting and straightforward fibre
- Felts small
- Doesn’t make the best long hair as it tends to clump together
- Readily available (at least in the UK) and is one of the more inexpensive tops
About the Wool
- Micron – 30 – 35
- Staple – 8cm – 12cm
- Handle – Soft
Available colours – natural white, grey
The Cheviot has been documented from at least the 1300s, mentioned as a small, hardy breed. Mainly used for meat production, the wool does not command the attention it once did, although it is still used in Tweed production and the carpet industry, with a small amount of use in the crafting world. I can’t help but think they’re referring to us there.
As the fibre make-up of English 56s seems to be as guarded a secret as the Colonel’s Secret Recipe I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but I strongly suspect that Cheviot is a key component of the blend (for the uninitiated, English 56s is made of an unknown combination of different fibres).
To learn more about the Cheviot sheep click here.
It has a slightly scruffy appearance, feels very crinkly and wirey and has a noticeable, nice sheepy smell. The colour is a pale yellowish cream. It has some vegetable matter (which is easy to remove) and a few guard hairs, but pulls apart very easily.
The Ball Test
The Ball Test is my comparison test between the different core wools to help determine suitability for purpose (i.e. dry needle felting), versatility and speed. I start off with approx. 10 inches of fibre and felt using a 36 gauge triangle needle for five minutes (recording my progress at both the 3 and 5 minute marks), then I spend another 5 minutes using a 38 gauge triangle, recording my results at the 10-minute mark. If I feel that the ball is still unfinished at this point I continue until it is completed to my standards – a tight, firm, even ball that is relatively smooth and as lump-free as possible.
0-3 minutes, using a 36 triangle needle
This is an extremely responsive fibre that is great to felt with. A tight inner core is built up very quickly (although the ball has to be worked carefully to avoid it becoming too flat – I failed in this task a little). There is very little fibre shed, but at this stage there are lots of folds and creases – you can see the ‘join’ marks from where the ball has been folded in places. So far it’s not doing too badly for needle marks.
3-5 minutes, using a 36 triangle needle
It’s starting to shape up nicely now, although it’s still a little flat. As the fibres start coming together I can see some hole marks and lumps. As a result it isn’t looking particularly neat at this stage – it’s fuzzy in places and there are still some fold marks. Also, the ball is also starting to felt smaller now.
5-10 minutes, using a 38 triangle needle (finished at 9 minutes)
It likes the 38 triangle! As soon as I switch to this needle it starts responding very quickly, firming up and losing its holes and creases. It finishes smoothly and it feels like I now have a great deal of control over it. There’s no recovering from the slight flatness from earlier now – it’s too firmly felted for that – but other than this I’m very happy with the end result. If I had to do this again I would switch to the 38 after the 3 minute mark to avoid over-felting it into a flatter sphere – and if I had done that I would have been able to finish this ball even faster.
Cheviot responds really well to a 38 triangle – it’s a good idea to use a 36 just to get the shape started, but I would advise switching to a 36 at the earliest opportunity. However, once you get to this point you’ll find yourself working very swiftly. It’s a very responsive fibre that’s easy to control, gives neat results, doesn’t shed and lends itself to fast felting. It felts small, but not as small as others, and makes an excellent fibre for both novices and experts.
If there is any criticism I can make about this fibre – and here I am really stretching – I would have to say that it’s so easy to use that it takes a little of the ‘wildness’ out of needle felting – that ragged wooliness that you get from working with more unusual fibres. But if that’s not what your art is about then this shouldn’t matter and is otherwise a must-have wool.
Similar fibres to Cheviot include English 56s, Charollais, New Zealand and Kent Romney.
Would You Create a whole model using this wool?
Yes, definitely – this wool can do anything. This is the little fibre that could. You want core shapes? Check. You want easy carving? Check. You want wire wrapping? Check. You want to make something small and fiddly? This is your guy. You want fibre to make hair ? Ah, pants. OK, it won’t do that so well. I mean it can, of course, but the way the fibres like to stick together results in clumping and weirdness. Best to be avoided for hair or long fur.