Clodagh McDonagh writes the blog about our February Sunday session. Thank you Clodagh!

There was a great turnout on the first Sunday Session of 2023 , on 12th February, for a very busy `hands on` double session with Annika Berglund, and South African sheep and Alpaca breeder, Grant Bartholomew.

Many of you will have heard about FI’s project exploring the  possibilities of sheep`s  wool available to us here in Ireland. Annika is to be really commended for the hard slog that she and her wool project team has put in over the last two years studying ,learning and trialling many of the various indigenous and local sheep fleeces available here, with their particular properties, and possibilities. A book is in the works, full of useful information and practical tips, based on the wool group’s research, which will be released very shortly.

Annika had done lots of preparation for the session, she began by showing everyone some samples, pointing out the varieties of colours, tones, and textures of the different wools. All of the wool had been carefully washed, combed (carded) and weighed, and tied into 10gm bundles, with identifying labels.

Personally, I offered early on to help produce a few samples, however, easier said than done! The method of laying out the different breeds is completely different to using the very tame and biddable imported Merino wool `tops`which leaves it`s native Australia to be processed in China or Germany, Italy or UK.

Annika had many tips for handling the fibre, including laying it down very finely on bubblewrap using a 20cm x 20cm paper template to help guide the process. Other tips included, using a wooden dowel as a roller, using minimal water and even using liquid soap (or melted olive oil `bar`soap) on it`s own, to help tame the rough fibres. To help speed up the process there was a microwave on hand  to heat the wool to encourage felting and even a sander too.

Annika encouraged everyone to have a go and we were allowed to take the finished square home, or alternatively to cut them up and swop part of it with another participant. There was lots of comparing of notes between participants on their varying experiences, with plenty of ideas for future sessions.

Grant began the second part of the session by setting up his fleece sorting table, a metal framed table with an open metal gridwork top, and placed the raw sheep fleece on it to start the process of judging it to find the best parts before it was to be washed and processed.

Grant gave us a basic lesson in how to sort out the bad from the good, which bits to avoid, and even which fleeces to discard entirely if they had been badly shorn, (double cut) holding a staple length to show us ,  stretching it to see whether it would break, which would form lumps in the fibre if left in during the process. Some of the fleece might be discarded  simply if it was too dirty, or if it retained the colour of the farmers identifying marks, purple for example, by using iodine liquid to stain the fleece. At times up to 20% might be lost on removing vegetation from the fleece, and washing can remove approximately 40% of the weight. It takes Grant approximately 20 minutes to sort each fleece, we were amazed at his speed and many of us were shocked to see him discarding at least 30 or 40% of the whole amount.

According to Grant, the business of processing sheep and alpaca fleeces for a living can be very trying as there is a huge amount of legislation surrounding the industry, and  to obtain a licence for washing fleeces commercially is practically impossible at the moment.   

We will do further sessions using Irish wool when the book is published, so if you missed this session there will be more chances to get hands on using Irish wool.

Again, Thank you Clodagh for this write-up!


Irish Wool is the theme for our next Sunday session February 12th at the CIE Sports and social club at Inchicore at 10.30 – 12.30.

As many of you know, we have been working on a project around using wool from local sheep. We are nearly finished and are currently putting the finishing touches on the book where we will share all our results as well as information about how to source, wash and dye your own wool. As part of this theme, our upcoming Sunday session will let you have a look at raw fleece and how to skirt and pick it to prepare for washing.

We will also be exploring different Irish fleeces that Annika and her Wool Project team have been trialling. We will work on a 2D or 3D sample using a range of breeds and discuss and swap our results. It should be a hugely informative session especially for those ( like me) who tend to stick to what we know!

We would need to bring our usual felt making equipment, soap, sprayer, roller, bubble wrap, plastic bag and perhaps 2 towels, big and small (some fleeces can require a lot of water)
We will have some extras in case there are any beginners or you forget something. So don’t worry.

Hope some of you can make it.

March 5th is the date for our Basic and Beyond workshop at the same venue. It is a full day. This is just an initial heads up with basic information to whet your appetite. More details will follow soon.

Annika will be the leader for this course but there will also be plenty of assistants on hand.
We will be making a double walled vessel with lace effect and Tencel fibre decoration. It is suitable for beginners and improvers. The skills are…. Basic wet felting…. Felting around a resist….. Shading using black and white layers…. Lace technique…. Double walled vessel with decoration on inside…. and shaping while wet.
There will be lots of help so feeling a little intimated shouldn’t stop you from having a go if you are a beginner.
Materials will be provided.

That’s it for now. Hope to see some of you soon. I will have membership forms on the 12th for those who’d like to sign up.

All the best,
Fiona and the committee.

Feltmakers Ireland Wool research project

As you know, Feltmakers Ireland started a wool research project in Spring last year, with funding from the Crafts Council. It was meant to wrapped up by now with a launch and the publication of a book.

The project got delayed by the loss of our studio and various lockdowns last year, but we see this as an opportunity to widen the scope of the project. We only got started looking for wool mid to end of the summer last year, and although we were very successful in sourcing many breeds, some farmers told us we should be asking around shearing time.

For these reasons we have rolled over the project, and are actively looking for more wool breeds to test.

We are also in the position to accept new testers to the project. If you want to participate you will need to be able to devote a couple of hours a week for about a month, maybe two to do flat wet felting, 3D wet felting and/or needle felting. This is a great opportunity to familiarise yourself with different wool types from sheep bred in Ireland. We will supply wool and a test sheet to be filled out. Enquiries to be sent to hello@feltmakersireland.com.

These are the breeds we have been testing so far:

BFL ram X Scott Mt ewes
Bleu du Maine
Clun Forest
Hampshire Downes
Kerry Hill
Scotch Blackface
Valais Blacknose

And new breeds coming soon (we hope):

Roscommon Lamb, Soay, Portland, Vendeen, badgerfaced texel, Ile de France

Dutch Spotted Lamb
Castlemilk Moorit (only 2 flocks in Ireland)
Charolais Ram X Llyn ewe = lambswool shorn early

If you know of any source for wool from other breeds reared in ireland, please get in touch.

Happy felting,