I have been asked many times over the years what my favorite wool is in regards to needle felting. I had mainly used Romney wool since that is the breed of sheep we own, so I didn’t feel like I really knew that answer. We have expanded our flock to Wensleydale and Blue Faced Leicester but I still didn’t feel like I had an honest answer to that question. I have decided to felt my way through the sheep breeds using wool from a particular breed to needle felt a sculpture of that breed of sheep. I hope to gain experience with different types of wool so that I can better answer your questions. On this adventure I am learning all about each breed and passing that on to you as well. There are a bunch of us felting through the sheep breeds in a group on Facebook. Join us as we share our thoughts on the fiber we are currently using and share pictures of our sheep projects. We have so much we can learn from each other.
First a vocabulary lesson. 🙂
- Piebald– having irregular patches of two colors, typically black and white
- Polycerate– is a term used to describe animals with more than two horns.
Jacobs are small, polycerate, piebald sheep. Ewes weigh 80–120 pounds, and rams 120–180 pounds. The sheep are mostly white with colored spots or patches. The picturesque horns on Jacobs is what attracts the most attention. They can have two, four or even six horns. The horns grow in a variety of directions making each Jacob sheep different and unique. Both males and females are horned, but the horns on the ewe are always shorter and more delicate than the rams’ horns.
Learning about Jacob sheep has been quite different from the previous three breeds that I have felted. They are not only unique in how they look but they are also different in that the Jacob sheep in North America have not undergone improved breeding and out crossing to satisfy the commercial marketplace. Jacobs are a British breed imported to the United States in the past several decades. The name Jacob comes from Old Testament history of the dealings between Jacob and his father-in-law Laban. Jacob’s striving to achieve spotted sheep and goats is thought to be the earliest record of selective breeding.
And now finally the most important part, the fleece. 🙂 The breed produces a medium fleece that is light and open, with a staple length of 3 to 7 inches. Typical fleeces will weigh only three or four pounds, and may vary quite a bit in coloring, crimp, and fineness. Jacobs have one of the widest ranges of acceptable fiber qualities of any kind of sheep. Unlike most other medium wool breeds, quality of the fleece has been a major selection factor in the recent history of the Jacob breed.
Jacob breeders take great delight in the personalities of their animals; some believe that the lack of breeding improvement is responsible for preserving a more goat-like curiosity and agility. They bear one or two lambs in the spring, and lambing is typically very easy. I found this interesting: Horn growth begins immediately and the ram lambs will be born with horn buds already poking through the wool.
Needle Felting with Jacob Wool
I was excited to try felting with Jacob wool and creating a unique sculpture. I had heard of others using Jacob wool for their felting projects, so I anticipated a pleasurable experience. I had purchased white, gray and black Jacob wool and began felting with the white. Right away I noticed it was course and the needle didn’t pull it in very well, I tried different sizes of needles and found size 36 worked the best. It was felting but taking longer than I was used to. Working the fine details on the face about drove me crazy. When it came time to add some black I found that it was finer than the white, but had course hairs throughout. Very course hairs, darker and completely unfeltable. It also had long white course hairs here and there in the black roving. Thankfully I only needed this color for the spots.
I ended up picking out all the course hairs before felting it. It felted to be quite solid in the end, but took considerably longer and I was physically tired from all the extra poking it required. I mentioned my frustration with felting this wool in our Feltalong group on Facebook and someone mentioned that their Jacob wool was felting ok, it was course, but she wasn’t frustrated. I know from experience, felting wool from my own sheep, that fleece can vary from animal to animal, so I took that into account. I did a little research and found that Jacobs have the widest range of wool qualities of any kind of sheep. I hope to try Jacob wool again in the future from a different source and find out if it felts differently. What I learned from this is, Jacob wool might be best purchased in person where you are able to feel the roving and check for feltablity.
I am going to give this Jacob wool a felting score of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. One being the best. Let me know if you have a great source for good quality Jacob wool, I would love to give it a second chance! I am spinning the remainder of my Jacob wool and enjoying that experience. 🙂
Thank you to Ruby Peak Farms for the beautiful pictures of their flock of Jacob Sheep!