It is important to me that the wool is healthy feeling – meaning as eco friendly and people friendly as possible – that the sheep the wool comes from is either from Canada or from a country of origin I can feel good about, and the little amounts that I do purchase are supporting an ethical industry.
I have been very strict on the materials being used in making the gnomes and all other felted items, making it easy to answer the question: Where does your wool come from? Important to me is the source, knowing that the wool is healthy and clean and when treated to know it has the least impact on the environment as possible and essentially safe for children of all ages to play with. Remember this is soft sculpture, decorative toys that are gentle and made of wool fibers. If played with it is important to remember that the wool fibers will unravel and the item will change shape if made wet, or rubbed against other fibers.
Caring for the Gnomes and other felted items: These items are not intended to be a chew toys for people or pets. Introducing gentle play practices will elongate the life of your gnome and woodland felted creatures. (I have seen the results after a child has rubbed one of my amazing gnomes on a carpet and well…afterwards it was not as cute or as lovely as I had designed it to be.) I guess that is my way of saying, its yours after you receive it – so its up to you how it looks in ten years. My style of needle felting is very compact and solid – intending the item to hold shape for as long as possible. If the wool fibers do start to unravel a bit and stick out like a bad hair cut- carefully take your small sewing or craft scissors and give it a delicate trim and all those loose fibers will fall away.
When the wool gets dirty: work gentle between two fingers and the dirt should just pop out – wool does not like dirt and will clean itself with a little gentle nudging. If something has spilled on it (say like chocolate milk) gently dab with a towel or cloth, gently so the liquid does not get pushed further into the fibers, then let stand in the sun to dry – try then gently work the item between your fingers to help pop out the dried debris. Using something with a sharp point to help pop out flakes of dried milk or food helps. Do not wash -do not get wet if possible – the wool will change dramatically.
Sources for local wool are thankfully becoming more available all the time. Gratitude to the emergence of the annual Kootenay Fibre Arts Festival for bringing wool sources, artisans, and lovers of wool fibre from start to finish – together. It is important to me to support local first, however some of the wool I use for felting (natural & “colors”) comes from Victoria BC & Southern Alberta Canada, the other two out of area places would be Iceland, and New Zealand.
As with all things wool – every source has a different feeling while felting. It is good to explore as much a possible, to experience all the subtle differences.
Overall (a softer wool) like the Corriedale Sheep wool is my favorite for building fibre sculpture, and for dressing and creating that soft finish. Not to say I have not collected a variety of different wool and have found artistic gratification in using and having at hand a selection to choose from.
A bit about the Corriedale: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corriedale
“Corriedale sheep are a dual purpose breed, meaning they are used both in the production of wool and meat. The Corriedale is the oldest of all the crossbred breeds, a Merino–Lincoln cross developed almost simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand and first brought to the United States in 1914.”