Saturday, 12 March 2016

Buffalo Down!

My great grandmother used to knit over-sized socks and mittens, and then "felt" them down to size in the Icelandic way. My grandfather (her son) used to reminisce about how warm they were, and my mother remembers watching the process.

Family stories were all I knew about wet felting until last Saturday when I attended a presentation at our local museum on "Wet Felting With Buffalo Down".

Yes, North American buffalo have down! Who knew? 

Turns out that buffalo have five layers of hair, with the down being closest to the skin to provide warmth in winter. Down is shed in the spring, and can then be gathered from tree branches, fence posts, scratching posts - anything rubbed against by the animals, really. Collecting is the only way to successfully harvest buffalo down.

Yarns, roving, felts, artwork, and garments made from buffalo down.
The down is usually a medium brown - a colour now officially named "buffalo" in the fibre world - but the beasts also have darker brown, or even white, coats. Breeders work hard to keep their herds separated by colour to keep the lines pure. (They are known to jump the fence for  *ahem*  romantic purposes, so this can be a challenge!) You can see colour samples in the green baskets in the photo, above.

Fibres for touching!

Buffalo down can be carded into roving and then spun into yarn, or it can be left as roving (a long strand of loosely twisted and drawn fibres) and felted. In the photo above, a piece of brown roving is laying on top of the felt pieces. I think the white "ball" is also roving that has been gently crumpled.

Presenter Adele Boucher has been a trailblazer in the marketing of buffalo down as a useful fibre in modern society, and still continues to lobby for its use through her company, Buffalo Yarns (fibres and stories!).

Felted art by Adele.

Adele is very knowledgeable about other fibre types, as well. She explained that sheep and alpaca provide wool, buffalo provide down, qiviut comes from northern muskox, and even possums provide fur that is blended with merino wool to make yarn that is valued for its heat retentive properties. (Again. Who knew? I never would have thought "possum" when imagining yarn! A sample was passed around, and it was surprisingly soft.)

As part of the presentation, Rhonda Warren demonstrated wet felting with wool. We were each invited to felt some of her wool roving scraps into little hearts. We fluffed the scraps, put them into plastic baggies, added a bit of soapy water, and squished away! While we squished, Rhonda explained the theory behind the process, and showed us how to make felted fabric using bubble wrap and bamboo sushi rollers to work the fibres.

Felted art by Rhonda.
Meanwhile, my baggie leaked . . . but it didn't matter. Squishing the wool into shape was quite fun, and I managed a passable heart!

Fresh off the Frame

If I remember right, the maker of this quilt took part in a fabric exchange, and was then challenged to show off the florals she'd collected. Mission accomplished! This pretty quilt brightened my studio and made me smile. :-)

Pretty floral with Ebb and Flow panto

This fun Star Wars top was a dream to quilt. Look how straight the piecing is!

Star Wars with Modern Twist panto

Cute prints on the next quilt practically begged for a panto to match its mood!

Butterflies, flowers, ribbons - Spring Garland panto!

Hmm, this may be another quilt inspired by that floral fabric exchange? Another great way to show off large prints - very striking!

Striking floral with Bush Berries panto

I do love the look of blocks pieced into a backing!

Striking floral - back

I feel like I want NEED to show the Star Wars quilt one more time - yes, I must! This time a bit closer so you can enjoy the prints.

Linking up with:
Whoop Whoop Friday! @ Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Fabric Frenzy Friday @ Fort Worth Fabric Studio
Show Off Saturday @ Sew Can She

Try, Learn, & Grow!


  1. Buffalo (and possum!) down ~ who knew?! And how on earth did you come to even know about the presentation? I would say that we don't have such presentations around here, but perhaps we do, and I am just completely unaware of their existence....

    Lots of fun quilts off the frame! (I love that huge daisy in the second flower quilt. I wonder if it'd be overwhelming though in repeating fabric...)

  2. That's such an interesting topic - I'm so glad you shared with us. I had no idea about buffalo wool. Can you imagine searching around Yellowstone Park for dropped down?

    Your quilting projects are lovely!

  3. Wow - who would have ever suspected that Buffalo had down? And I was laughing at the very thought of trying to collect possum fur... I wonder if they play dead while you comb them? LOL
    Carol that class must have been so much fun.
    As always, you do such a great job quilting your customers quilts!

  4. Your quilting is so pretty. And the Star Wars quilt is pretty awesome.

  5. I would have LOVED to have been there to play with the buffalo down......fascinating. Thanks for sharing it. The quilts are fun and bright and just right for spring.

  6. Your wet felting day sounds great, really interesting, buffalo down I might have been up to imagining but possum - definitely who knew! I was slightly worried by 'my baggie leaked', but hoping that wasn't too personal a problem! And looks like you're busy, busy, busy with the quilting again.


Comments make my day! Thanks so much for taking time to leave me a message.