Cool Karakul

Shave ’em to Save ’em just kicked off, and I’ve started my first project!

Last April, I got to go to the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. It was fun to explore another faire, and see what their fiber artists were doing. One was a felter, and she had a “cruelty-free wool pelt,” which was a wrap made of a felt base with wool locks needle-felted on top in such a way that it looked like a sheep pelt. Needless to say, I loved it, and wanted to make my own.

Now with Shave ’em to Save ’em, I have the perfect opportunity. I was looking at the conservation list, trying to find a breed that would fit the bill. I found a few, and decided to go with Karakul.

Karakul sheep
from the Livestock Conservancy

Karakul is a breed that originally came from Asia. These sheep were raised for wool, but also meat and pelts, so what a great choice for a needle-felted substitute. Their American decedents are now mostly wool producers, with 6″-12″ locks that range between 25 and 36 microns. So it’s perfect for outerwear.

Karakul top

I purchased top for the base. In my research, I decided that nuno felting would be my best option.

To nuno felt, you need:

  • Wool
  • Bubble wrap
  • A sharpie
  • Towels
  • A pool noodle
  • Watering can
  • Hot water
  • Dish soap
  • An old pair of nylons
  • a plywood board (optional)
  • White vinegar

First things first, lay down a towel and bubble wrap (bubbles side up) that’s a little larger than the piece you want to felt. Use the sharpie to trace or draw whatever shape you like. I went with a rectangle.

Laying out the tufts of wool

Pull tufts of your top, and lay them together facing the same direction. Fill your shape up in rows just the same.

Adding the second letter

Now on top of those, lay tufts going the opposite direction to crosshatch the wool. Fill this layer too.

Crosshatched wool

Ideally, you’d repeat these steps, but admittedly I only did the two layers. I do have thin spots, but I’m planning on fixing that when I needle-felt the locks on top.

pouring hot water on the wool

Once your wool is all laid out, fill the watering can with hot water and just a dab of dish soap. Pour that over your shape, until everything is good and saturated.

Rolling the wool

Place another layer of bubble wrap and another towel on top. Then take a pool noodle and roll all of the layers around it.

Tied roll with nylons

Use a pair of old nylons, wrap them around the ends and tie them to secure the roll.

Rolling with a plywood board

Now’s the fun part, roll it around for a good ten minutes, it’ll go better if the surface you roll it on has a texture. Dad also had this ingenious idea to use a board to add more “oomph” to the rolling.

Finished base

With that hot water, a little bit of soap, and agitation, the fibers will all felt together!

Washing the base in a vinegar bath

Be sure to rinse your piece in warm water with a little white vinegar. That will rinse out the soap so it doesn’t ruin the wool. Squeeze, don’t ring out, the excess water. Leave the piece to dry, heat and moving air will help. Then you have you base for your “pelt!”

This story has a sad ending, though. After I washed my locks, it became clear that I didn’t have enough. When I went to buy some more, the seller was out! So I’m going to have to do a little problem solving to complete this project. Stay tuned!

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