The Science of Stuffing: Part Deux

After much deliberation, I’m making the move from using polyester to wool stuffing.  This may not seem like a big deal, but which fibre you use can alter the look and feel of an item for years to come.  And when you get as anal as I do about getting the right feels in a piece, this needed further investigation.  I have stuffed otherwise identical bears with polyester and different types of wool stuffing, in order to fully analyse which works best for me.

Polyester

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I’ve used a few different polyester stuffings over the years, and the only difference I’ve found between them is that old pillows etc that are no longer being used for their original purpose have been disused because they just don’t have that bounce.  However much you boil wash, fluff, card, or use any other reviving method on them, they will
never be as good.  Go ahead and use them when you have them, but please don’t buy them unless that’s all you can afford.  A 200g bag of fresh, new stuffing can be bought for as little as a penny a gram (less if you shop around or buy in bulk), and will produce a much better item.  As well as the ‘lifelessness’ described above, old stuffing has  matted up once and will easily form back into the same shape again.  It almost seems to remember what shape it used to be in, and is determined to get back to it.
Pros of poly: Inexpensive, widely available, non-allergenic
Cons of poly: Feels plasticy, will clump over time, flammable
Personal issues: I wanted to move away from using polyester for specific and persistent reasons.  Firstly, I have allergy/intolerance to other synthetic fibres and was concerned that prolonged exposure was starting a problem with poly (which a dermatologist has confirmed).  Second, I got a nagging feeling that something which feels sort of ‘scaly’ would not give the most enjoyable ‘squish’ to a toy. Third, it felt increasingly ridiculous to stuff items made with natural yarns with synthetic filling.

And so I felt the need for wool.  I purchased a sample of ‘budget filling’ (short strands of wool and some synthetic yarns in various colours and thicknesses), scoured lambswool, carded lambswool, and wool balls from World of Wool; and a bag of wool saddle flocking (also from there), and ‘seconds’ left after carding (a yarn from north ronaldsay).  I was surprised how differently the treatment of what was essentially the same fibre effected it.

Budget Filling

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The great yarn escape

I’ve used short ends of yarn and clippings of (clean) hair many times, and was expecting the budget stuff to look and feel like those two smooshed together.  I was disappointed; comparing this filling to my yarn ends would be like comparing old and fresh poly, this being very much the old and bedraggled fibre.  I weighed each of my four fibre samples before use, and while they all weighed the same they all filled a little differently.  This filling gave the least ‘coverage’, the whole sample not filling the bottom of my bear no matter how I teased it out.  I couldn’t feel much synthetic content in the sample (between 10-20%), but it was enough to be unpleasant and may well have caused an allergic flare-up if there had been more.
Pros of Budget: Eco-friendly, cheap
Cons of Budget: Synthetic content, wool is a common allergy, fibre more likely to escape
Personal issues: Having a bad reaction to some synthetic fibres, I would be unhappy purchasing something with ambiguous content again.  It has some definite benefits for those with no such problem, however.  Being a ‘waste product’ (sorry if that conjures unfortunate images, but that’s the correct term), it is both cheap and eco-friendly because you’re using an item which would otherwise have been landfill.  It’s less expensive than basic polyester filling (based on both at 1kg quantity from the same website), and hasn’t used extra labour and power to produce.  The only real downside is that yarn stuffing (which this essentially is) is more likely to work its way through any chinks than a fluffy fibre will.  If your stuffing is prone to escaping, then use this on items large enough to line with fabric.

North Ronaldsay Seconds

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At 90p for 200g, and the p&p was also about £1 less than World of Wool.  I got this stuffing for personal use (the other is for making toys for charity on a far grander scale than my own consumption), and it was only a bit more expensive than if I were to purchase poly from the market.  This is my initial point of comparison, after all.  While poly comes in white and sometimes black if you’re lucky, this was varying shades of brown.  It is softer and firmer than the poly, and went further.  Because of how it filled the bear, which may purely have been due to shorter strands being more manageable, it made it more mouldable.  It was softer than the scoured lambswool, and easier to tease out from the slight clumps that it formed into.  This is also ecological due to being a ‘waste product’, and because it’s produced within a community in the Uk and from one of the rarer breeds
Pros: Soft, natural, Inexpensive, firm coverage, only need 2 pinches for a small toy, eco-friendly, short strands
Cons:  may cause allergies, slightly prone to clumping
Personal issues: Of the six types of wool stuffing and one synthetic, this is the one that I unequivocally love, and will continue to buy for personal use. 

Saddle Flocking

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I bought 1kg of this rather than a sample, as it was the least expensive I could get in that weight.  When I opened the bag, it smelled slightly lemony.  When I dipped a hand in, it felt like candyfloss.  At just £1.50 more than poly flocking per kg, this is relatively inexpensive.  The long fibres make it a little harder to control than the seconds, and I would suggest this when you want a soft fill.  This fibre is used in saddles due to its ‘wicking’ qualities, meaning that it’s less likely to hold onto the moisture should it get a bit wet
Pros: Relatively inexpensive, soft feel and coverage, smells gorgeous, breathable, soaks up oil and water
Cons: may cause allergies
Personal issues: I should really use the seconds for charity projects due to being less expensive, but I wanted to try the difference and easily determine between the two (since they were paid for from different sources).  I will probably buy more seconds for charity projects once the bag is used, time will tell.

Scoured Lambswool

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I’m listing these in order of expense, with this being more expensive than the softer flocking.  This wool has been commercially washed to remove the bits of straw and other stuff that the sheep picked up before sheering.  There’s something in the commercial scouring process that has been shown to cause some of the wool allergies, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is; I want to say hydrochloric acid, but please don’t quote me on that.  Anyway, this fibre has been cleaned but received no further processing.  It has more ‘coverage’ than the budget filling, as it filled the whole bear with a bit left over, but needed to be teased out to fluff even a little.  It was softer than the previous stuffings, but less so than what is to come.  If I were to use more of this, I would want to prepare it with a teazle brush before use.  Side note on teazle brushes- these are usually used to fluff up knitted items for a mohair effect, but an uncommon use is for gently carding wool (a less laborious process, and the brush is typically less expensive)
Pros: 100% clean, natural fibre, medium fill
Cons: More expensive than the flocking, and slightly less coverage
Personal issues: Unless you really want medium fill, I would buy the softer saddle flocking instead

Carded Lambswool

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Like the scoured, this is best for a medium fill.  It is a little less soft than the flocking, as well as being more expensive.  The coverage is better, however, filling one and a half bears. The length of the fibres and softness makes this the easiest to handle
Pros: Medium cover, easy to handle, goes further
Cons: Pricey

Wool Balls

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Recommended for toys, pillows, and cushions, this is the most expensive of the stuffings.  It naturally clumps together a little, and is not at all suitable for knitted or crocheted items.  I didn’t close this bear, as I will need to unstuff it
Pros: Firm, soft
Cons: expensive, hard to use

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