I’ve been meaning to have a go at proper felt-making for a long time, and when I say a long time, I mean a long time, I estimate about 30 years in fact! I figured the time time was right, as I had plenty of wool fleece left over from making felt balls, so all that was required was time and opportunity – both somewhat thin on the ground these days. But I’ve been getting withdrawal symptoms from the sheer lack of creative activity lately, so I forced some time into the schedule (at the expense I’m afraid of getting the housework done – something had to give).
Working with felt has become very popular in recent years – the fact that it is easy to handle and doesn’t fray makes it an easy to use medium. The hand-made version is completely different to the commercial however, being thicker and with a much richer and more luxurious texture. It is so thick, warm and cosy, it just makes me want to make scarves and mittens and slippers from it, cuddly and colourful cushion covers, insulating tea cosies and coasters, or protective cases for phones and tablet computers. I love the process of felting, the almost magical way that a fabric is formed from the simplest of processes, and better still,very little equipment is required.
I don’t intend to give a full felt-making tutorial here, just a flavour of the process, since there are plenty of books and tutorials online – it is after all probably one of the oldest textile processes known to man.
To begin with I laid out rows of pre-prepared merino wool tops on bubble wrap (bubble-side up), teased out so there were no clumpy bits. Each row overlapping the edges of the previous row.
Next I added a second layer on top at right angles to the first. I did this in a contrasting colour so that the front and back of the felt would be different, but of course you don’t have to do this. After spraying lightly with a weak soap solution, I laid the final decorative or pattern element on top – (mine was nothing too ambitious, just random pieces of wool laid onto the surface). Another light spray, and the piece was ready for felting.
I laid a second piece of bubblewrap (bubble side down) over the top, and smoothed the bubblewrap sandwich with my hands and arms for 5 -10 minutes. The whole thing was then wrapped around a piece of wooden dowelling and secured at the ends with elastic bands or velcro tape, before rolling it back and forth about 50 times. The roll was then unwrapped and rolled the other way to ensure even felting, and the process repeated.
This rolling process is repeated again, this time rolling it for about 100 times each side. I found that sometimes I needed to do this twice for felting to be complete. You can tell when it’s ready because the texture will be firm with no loose pieces, and the whole thing will have shrunk in size by at least one third. This part of the felting process can be fairly hard work, since as time goes on you are supposed to apply more pressure, and hence friction to help the fibres to mesh together. Sorry, no photographs of this bit!
Once finished the piece is rinsed in clear water to remove any traces of soap, and allowed to dry. I then gave a steam iron to the finished piece.
So what to make with my beautiful pieces of hand-made felt? I’ll show you next time!