I love making felt in my spare time, so for all you craft lovers out there – here’s my method – it’s messy and fun!
You need to use an appropriate fibre for your project. Quite often friends will give you fleeces (which is great), but if you start with grease in the fleece, you will need to clean and comb / card it before you can use it. I tend to use carded fleece tops for ease and simplicity and love using merino wool. This is readily available from many outlets.
You will need:
Merino tops, bubble wrap, towel, soap or soap flakes (I use olive oil soap), netting (I use loose weave cotton) and bamboo mat (optional).
Lay out your bubble wrap and pull off tufts of wool fibres. The easiest way to pull off even tufts is to hold the length of wool fibres in one hand and grasp the ends of the wool between the fingertips and palm of the other hand. Gently pull the wool and a small tuft will come away.
Place the tufts horizontally, overlapping slightly. Build up a square in this way, keeping all the fibres running in the same direction. When you have reached the desired size it’s time to start the next layer. I should point out that your final piece will be smaller than your original area of fibres because of the shrinkage during the felting process. My advice for your first few attempts is to just have a go! You will become familiar with the process and shrinkage with practice.
Lay out the second layer in the same way, but at a 90 degree angle from the first layer.
Continue adding layers at opposing angles to the previous layer – I find 6 thin layers gives a good even felt. Check for any thin spots and fill them with more tufts of wool. Thin spots can result in holes in your final piece.
Add any other small contrasting bits of wool or yarn for embellishment. Experiment, it’s surprising what effects can be achieved.
Wetting the Fibres
Cover the wool with a piece of netting big enough so that it extends over the edges of the wool.
Dip your sponge in warm/hot soapy water (I usually wear rubber gloves). Place the wet sponge in the middle of the wool and press down. Continue wetting the wool, keeping the netting in place. The wool should be completely wet and soapy. The idea of using warm soapy water is to open the scales of the fibres. This will help the fibres to ‘knit’ together and form a strong fabric. The wool should now be lying flat. If there are bubbles in the wool, then it is not wet enough. However, be careful not to over wet the wool – there is a fine line between too wet and not wet enough.
With the netting still in place, gently begin to rub the wool all over in a circular motion. If there is too much pressure at this stage the fibres will attach themselves to the netting.
Carefully remove the netting away from the wool, keeping one hand next to the wool to hold it in place.
Fold over any loose edges of wool and press them into the primary square.
In the beginning of the felting stage, barely skim the fibres; gradually add pressure, massaging the wool in a circular motion. Once the side has been worked for a while, flip the felt over and continue working on the other side. When the water gets cold, squeeze out the excess water and re-wet the wool with hot water.
To determine when the wool has reached the soft felt stage, try pinching some of the fibres and pull up. The wool should come up in one solid mass. If it does not, then rub some more.
Once the felt has reached the soft felt stage it is time to move onto the next step.
Palming is a very important step in felt making, coming between the soft felt stage and the hard felt stage. Once the wool is holding together in a cohesive mass, hold the wool between the palms of your hands and rub back and forth. The palming action starts the fulling process and ensures the fibres tangle together tightly. You will feel the fabric become more ‘dense’.
Hard Felt of Fulling Stage
The fulling stage occurs when the felt becomes a solid piece of fabric. In order for the felt to shrink down, it must be agitated in some way. There are many methods for fulling but rubbing or rolling are the two most popular ways. To speed up the fulling process, it is a good idea to warm the felt before fulling, either by dipping the felt into hot water, or pouring hot water over it and working it through. Add more soap if necessary.
The rolling technique uses a bamboo mat to roll the felt until it has shrunk as much as possible. Place the bamboo mat in front of you with the reeds lying horizontally on top of a towel. The towel holds the mat in place. Place felt on top. Begin by rolling the mat back and forth. Open up the mat and turn the felt 90 degrees and roll again. Continue this process until the felt is fully fulled.
The rubbing technique uses a wash board or felting board to rub the felt across until it has shrunk as much as possible. Keep turning and rubbing. Rub both sides and at all angles to ensure a uniform size and shape.
Other fulling techniques that can be used are throwing, stomping or pounding. These methods are a fabulous way to work off tension! Any form of agitation will help to full the felt, though some methods are more appropriate depending on the project.
Your fabric should have a different feel from the early stages of felting. It should now feel strong and ‘solid’.
Finally roll the piece in a ball in your hand and throw it down onto the mat repeatedly, this shocks the fibres into shrinking more; a bit like making bread.
Rinse out the felt in warm water and until it is free from all traces of soap. It is important that all traces of soap are removed. Finish with a rinse of cold water. Blot out the excess water by rolling the felt inside a towel. Shape and flatten your piece. Keep flat and leave to dry.
I like to make my felt pieces into wall art, but it’s a strong and versatile fabric – you can cut it or sew it – just let your creativity take over.