My husband said the forbidden word to me this morning: Christmas. We were in our local store when he commented that it wouldn’t be long before the Christmas decorations would be out. I’m so sorry – I tried to stop him, I truly did – but it was too late. Before I even had time to draw breath, elves abseiled down the walls, spruce trees sprouted from the ground and from every corner of the shop we could hear a certain song that I will not name, lest it’s very utterance bring forth a thousand little girls with white-blonde wigs and ice-blue dresses.
The horror. The horror.
Still though, Christmas is a-coming and felters throughout the land are turning their thoughts to decorations. Winter has so far been a recurring event, so it can be a bit of a challenge coming up with new ideas each year. That’s why I got so excited when I first saw these gorgeous merino/Zwartbles blends from John Arbon Textiles. The colours! I haven’t used the word ‘lush’ since 1992 (I don’t watch Gavin and Stacey) but I’ll used it here – the colours are incredibly lush (although I’d like to make it clear that I use the word purely to mean ‘rich’. I’m not a savage.)
If you’re looking for a beautiful variated fibre with the softness of merino but the strength and ease of use that comes from pretty much any other fibre, this blend is most definitely for you. There’s really very little else to say other than: on with the review!
You can see a tutorial I made using these fibres for some festive felts here.
About the Wool
I’m not going to go into great length about the individual properties of merino or zwartbles, as these are both well known fibres noted for their exemplary properties (merino being well known for its extreme softness, zwartbles for its springiness and full body). This fibre is a blend of both of these wools and, as a result, it retains the softness of merino whilst being given the easier-to-work-with properties on zwartbles. If you like the feel of merino but struggle to make it work then this might just be the blend for you.
This particular blend is from one of my all-time favourite fibre suppliers, John Arbon Textiles. It forms part of their Harvest Hues range, which contains some of the most stunning colours ever committed to wool. I used three of their colours – Sycamore, Bracken and Pomegranate, but there are several more.
These blends are gorgeous, and feel very soft and tidy to the touch, although the addition of the zwartbles gives an element of toughness without compromising on the texture. It has a yarn-like feel, and the fibres are light and airy, parting easily when only light pulling is applied.
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
Considering the high quantity of merino in this blend it’s surprisingly easy to work with. There is some shedding of fibre at the start, and the richness of colour means you may want to consider using an old felting mat when working with it; however, because the staple is long and fine it’s easy to pull off the mat.
To begin with the fibres keep their clear stripes very well – as the ball progresses the colours do start to blend in with each other, creating a pretty marbly effect. By the 3 minute point we have a ball that is still lumpy and incomplete, and not a very firm ball, but the fibres respond well to a 36 triangle needle and there are no needle holes.
3-5 Minutes, using a 36 gauge triangle needle
The ball starts to neaten and tighten quite well by this stage, and the fibres have stopped shedding altogether. The colours are blending very nicely, and the ball overall as a spongey feeling to the surface, but a solid core deep in its centre. The shap is forming very well and the lumps are starting to even out.
5-10 Minutes, using a 38 gauge triangle needle
The ball at ten minutes has become extremely neat. The effect of the colours is stunning, with a nice pattern and very few fold/ crease marks. Likewise the surface is smooth and soft, and there are very few lumps and no needle marks. The ball is still slightly on the squashy side, so would need further work if you wanted it firmer. Also, the wool itself felts ‘large’ – ie it doesn’t produce a very small ball in comparison to other fibres I’ve tested.
The coverage test (takes 8 minutes)
For this test I follow the ball’s lead, using a 36 triangle for 7 minutes and a 38 triangle for an additional minute,
The fibre is very easy to apply to the ball and holds it place well against the coarser fibres of the core ball. Even when using the 36 needle it leaves almost no needle marks; nor does this heavy-duty needle create lumps (although working with the needle angled against the ball helps with this)
The end effect is, again, rich and attractive, and a little of this fibre goes a long way, providing excellent coverage with no patchiness. The covered surface has a springy feel and is very soft and smooth, with no fluffiness. The ball also proves to be very resilient over time, and hasn’t become scruffy.
The ‘Hair’ Test
I used a 36 triangle to secure the wool along the spine, the switched to a 38 triangle to secure the wool either side.
The obvious benefit to this wool is, of course, the fact that the colour is already mixed very handy, as it saves you having to mix different tops if this is the effect you’re after.
This fibre is fluffy when used as hair or long fur, so there is a little volume. It also has a tendency to stay together in sections, so needs to be gently smoothed down to keep it straight (although if you’re using this to make a Waldorf-inspired fairy or angel, the can create the exact tapered look that is popular with this style)
The fibres felt on quickly and easily, again with good solid coverage. There is good natural volume when using this wool, and this can be exaggerated by felting the rows of hair at closer increments, or by clipping the hair short and fluffing it up.
As with most fibres used for hair application there are loose fibres that don’t felt in (as the merino is very fine this will be more than if you’re using a coarser wool). However, they are easy to removed by gently ‘wiping’ down the fibre with your palm, pulling very lightly to dislodge any stray bits of wool
The Fibre in Summary
This fibre has a lot of strong selling points – it is soft and feels amazing yet the addition of the zwartbles genuinely makes it easier to work with. The colours are like nothing I’ve seen before, and the fibre as a whole is very versitile. It’s very very easy to achieve neat results – needle whole marks simply weren’t an issue when using this wool, and my final project felt very soft.
Would you create a whole model using this wool?
Yes, I would – as there are different colour options it would be easy to make some excellent models with this wool. It is harder than some fibres when it comes to making a very solid base – that’s the merino for you – but we’re only talking solid bases here. If you don’t mind an end result that has a small bit of squish to it