Once upon a time in a far-away land* I didn’t give a stuff about Game of Thrones.
It’s ok, I’m going somewhere with this.
It wasn’t that I thought it was going to be bad – I had only heard good things about it and, knowing my way around the internet, I was already suitably forewarned that winter was coming. True, I was slightly intrigued as to why Sean Bean had the same hairstyle as me, and the unanimous verdict seemed to already be that this was the greatest programme EVAH, but – well, I wasn’t really that bothered. It looked a bit bland to me – I mean, I’m sure it was very good, but it was nothing new. Just another Sword and Sorcery epic, and let’s face it there are a billion of those.
I am a stupid, stupid woman. I was hooked before we’d even had the first sniff of a direwolf.
Forgive me the indulgence of this dreadfully strained analogy – I like to use Game of Thrones references wherever possible (Team Jorah!) and now I’m going to want to use English 56s whenever possible. In my mind English 56s is the Game of Thrones of the wool world – I didn’t think it was going to be so game-changingly amazing when I first came across it, I even thought it was a bit bland in comparison to some of the other wools I’ve tried, but within minutes I knew I was wrong, I was wrong, shout it from the rooftops! Call upon the High Sparrow, for I repent – English 56s is a glorious wool and I knew not what was before me! Let’s not make me do the walk of shame though, all right? Nobody wants to see that.
* Disclaimer – unless you live in Devon or Somerset, in which case I am probably quite nearby.
- Very fast to felt
- A blend of British fibres
- Extremely easy to use – an excellant fibre for beginners
- Felts small
- Very little shedding
- Soft, but end results are slightly coarse.
- Capable of handling all parts of a project with ease
- Not so suitable as a top colour or for use as hair, long animal fur
About the Wool
This is a first for me, as the English 56 is not actually from one breed of sheep – it is a blend of different English wools. Huh. Go figure. Sadly I don’t know what sheep are involved in its production.
Micron – 26.5 – 27.5
Purchased from Adelaide Walker – £1.92 per 100g + p&p
It is also available through World of Wool.
Available colours – Natural White, Camel
All images on this page show wool purchased from Adelaide Walker.
The wool has a surprisingly smooth and even feel – it’s quite soft and has a good spring to it. No real strong scent, and a gentle crinkle to the fibres – I know that it’s a blend but in all honesty you wouldn’t know to look at it that this wasn’t from one specific breed of sheep. The colour is the creamy-yellow side of natural white – you could use it for the whiteness of an animal but probably wouldn’t get away with making an uncovered snowman out of it.
There is the occasional bit of vegetable matter in the fibres but it’s minimal and very easy to get out. The fibres pull apart very easily and there are no thicker/ darker guard hairs to poke out at you. What is very distinctive is how these fibres feel – they feel very very dense, yet not heavy or overcrowded. It’s quite hard to explain, but it puts me in the mind of foam – soft and thick yet easy to handle and light. It confuses my brain, in all honesty, but I like it.
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 gauge triangle needle
Already I’m quite surprised by how fast this wool felts. There’s a satisfying but light crunch to the fibres as I work, and the ball itself doesn’t feel too heavy. This is easy work! By the 3-minute mark I find that the ball is already quite neat and round, and relatively firm.
3-5 Minutes Mark, Using a 36 gauge triangle Needle
I make a lot of progress in these two minutes. The ball is far more compact than I expected, and has shrunk down a little in size in comparison to the other wools I’ve tested – this is worth remembering. By the 5 minute mark it’s very firm and solid – there are some hole marks but these are minimal. It does have one largish bump that still needs work, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a go at it with a 38 gauge needle, but I can’t help but feel that I would be happy to stop here. Certainly this would be the point where I’d start thinking about felting in some eye holes.
5-10 Minutes Mark, using a 38 gauge triangle Needle
Ummm, ok – this is unprecedented but I actually finished the ball in 6 minutes (and even then I feel like I could have stopped at 5 minutes – I just had that main bump that you can see in the 5-minute picture to felt in). The final result it firm, smooth and with very few guard hairs.
Mother of Dragons, this wool is the business! I would consider this an absolute essential. It’s so intuitive, working with you rather than against you, that I feel one with the wool when I’m using it. Whilst the craftisan in me loves working with rare breeds or pure wools, the slow felter in me loves the fact that this wool is an absolute dream to handle. Quite simply, it felts incredibly fast, is very cheaply priced and finishes pretty smoothly – I’m knocking about two-thirds off my typical felting time and I’m not compromising on the quality of my end result. This wool responds far better to a 36 gauge needle, to the extent that I only use a 38 or higher right at the very end. Easy to felt pieces together and the end result is pretty bump-and-needle-hole-free.
There is the occasionaly bit of vegetable matter to pick out yet despite the blend of wools it is light and neat and no guard hairs straggle out of your end result. It is particularly well suited to small work and layering, and adding on smaller facial details like muzzles/ cheeks/ eye-ridges is easy, but it is equally as adept when it comes to working larger pieces. One thing to bear in mind – this wool shrinks down quite a lot when you felt it, so that you end up with a compact piece that is smaller than you might expect. It’s also worth noting that this wool does get compact very fast – whilst you won’t damage your needles on it you might want to make eye-socket placements, facial dips etc quite early on in the felting process, before it becomes too solid to manipulate so well. It is far easier to build up facial structure in this wool than it is to dig down.
Would You Create a Whole Model in this wool?
Well, yes and no. In terms of creating the whole core structure, from torso and head to something that is teeny tiny and fiddly, like a finger or a nose, then yes – this wool embraces the task, and I would be happy to use it for every part of the core modelling process. However, it doesn’t have the attractive finish that other core wools have, and the seams of pieces felted together are fairly obvious, so you would need to cover it over in a top layer.
Please note that different clips may produce wool that differs from the description given above. All wool reviews are based on the quality of the clip I am using at the time of review.
Some photographs have been edited to ensure images represent the wool as true-to-life as possible, as apparently the ability to take accurate pictures of wool is not one of my strengths!
2 thoughts on “English 56s”
Hi! I’ve used English 56’s and Jacob based on your reviews (thank you!), I much preferred the English 56’s. Are there benefits to using this type opposed to a carded batt type wool? I’m not sure if you’ve done a post that covers this question, if you have please could you point me in the right direction? Thank you! X
Hi Hankie, thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you’re getting along with the English 56s! Definitely a great fibre!
Now personally I prefer using normal wool tops over carded core batts – however, this is largely down to the fact this is what I learned with and core tops tend to be easier to get hold of (and with a wider variety) than carded cores. Is one better than the other? No, I don’t think so. They do work differently – carded wool tends to felt a lot smaller than tops, but is also a lot easier to control. So if you were working on a bigger piece you’re likely to find it takes a while to build it up, but when it comes to sculpting things like facial structure, cheeks etc carded does work well.