Felting is an ancient craft which is very popular even today. It is the process of transforming wool into a dense cloth by bonding and shrinking the fibres together using heat, agitation and moisture. After the wet felting process is complete, the felted item is finished off by a process called fulling. When it is dry the felted fabric can be cut into any shape and will not fray.
Only certain types of fibre can be felted successfully such as sheep’s wool or alpaca fibre. The reason being is that these types of fibre are covered in tiny microscopic scales, similar to the scales found on a strand of human hair. Wetting and soaping the fleece causes the scales to open, whilst agitating them causes them to latch onto each other, When cooled and dried, the scales close and lock the fleece into the material called felt.
When felting the wool, fibres hook together and shrink. Warm water and soap accelerates this process. (Olive oil soap is best).
It is difficult to predict exactly how much the wool will shrink during the process – it can be anything up to 40%. The actual degree of shrinkage depends on the type of wool, the length of time it is felted and fulled and the density of the fibres when laid out.
Felt making is fun and easy to learn and offers countless creative possibilities from clothing and accessories to toys and unique home accessories.
The main principles of wet felting are – heat, moisture – pressure – agitation.
HOW TO WET FELT A FLAT PIECE
- Hot water in a squeezy bottle.
- Olive oil soap.
- Bamboo placemat or blind.
- Bubble wrap (small bubble) – slightly larger than the bamboo mat.
- Towels – to soak up moisture on the table – larger than your project
- Tulle netting – larger than the size of your project
- Pool noodle
- Stretchy ties
When calculating the size of your project add 30% to allow for shrinkage.
LAYING OUT THE PROJECT
Lay down a towel to soak up excess water and place your bamboo mat/blind on top. Put a piece of bubble wrap – bubble side up on the bamboo mat.
Begin by pulling off thin handfuls of wool 4 -6 inches in length and laying them out on top of the bamboo – with all the fibres running in the same direction – overlapping by about 1/2 inch. Try to make the layer as even as possible with no gaps.
The second layer of wool is always laid out in the crosswise direction – again overlapping by 1/2 inch.
The third layer – as the first and the fourth layer – as the second.
You can use whatever colours you like or mix them up if you prefer.
Remember – the layout – horizontally – vertically – horizontally – vertically
Once you have completed layering the base you can if you wish add a design elements on the top layer.
Carefully place the netting/tulle on top of your project – taking care not to disturb any of the design or structure.
FELTING THE PROJECT
Pour/spray small amounts of hot soapy water over the layers of wool. Begin at one corner and gently press the wool down with your hands so that the water soaks into all the layers of wool. Work your way all around the entire piece of felt.
Ensure all your wool is thoroughly wet because dry pockets inside the layer of wool will not felt. However do not use so much water that it begins to pool.
It is important to keep your water hot because this keeps the wool scales opened up – allowing it to felt more quickly.
Once wetted and gently handpressed and flattened – start rubbing for a few minutes using a gentle circular motion. – then gently lift the net in a peeling motion, releasing any trapped fibres with your fingers, Replace the net and rub again for a few more minutes. This begins the felting process.
Remove the bamboo mat from under the bubble wrap and place it on top of the project – leave the net in place on top of the patterned side of the wool.
Holding the bubble wrap and bamboo met – flip them over and remove the bubble wrap.
Roll up the wool and net in the bamboo mat.
Secure with stretchy ties and roll it back and forth for 2 – 3 minutes on a towel. Roll in long strokes so the whole bundle is evenly rolled.
Carefully unroll the bamboo mat – releasing any trapped fibres – turn the project 90 degrees clockwise – leaving the net in place to prevent any embellishments becoming entangled in the bamboo.
Roll again for a further 2 – 3 minutes.
Carefully unroll the bamboo mat – again releasing any trapped fibres – turn 90 degrees -clockwise.
Continue rolling and turning the project until the wool has been rolled from all four sides.
Turn the project over still keeping the net against the patterned side.
Continue rolling and turning on the second side of the project as before.
By this stage the project should be felting nicely and shrunk by about 30%
Remove the net and fold the project in 4.
Prepare two bowl – one with very cold water and one with very hot water. Place the folded project into the hot water.
Remove the project from the hot water after a few seconds and gently squeeze out the water. and quickly place it into the cold water. Allow it to stand for a few seconds – remove from the water and squeeze out surplus water. Repeat this alternating process 4 or 5 times.
Make sure all the soap is rinsed from the wool. You may need to change the water in the bowls during this process.
Do not wring water from the felt – roll it up and squeeze it gently. Add a dash of white vinegar to the final rinse – this will help to neutralise the slight alkalinity of the soap – which over time can be damaging to protein fibres.
Lay it flat to dry – press lightly with a hot iron to flatten project.
Nuno felting creates a beautifully textured fine lightweight drapable fabric. It is a technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fibre artist from Australia around 1992.
Nuno felting is the bonding of wool with a light weight natural fabric like silk chiffon.
It is very important to use lukewarm water in the beginning stages of your work. Hot water would cause the wool to felt too quickly and not allow enough time for it to incorporate the fabric. Only when the fibres have penetrated the warp and weft should you use hot water to speed up the felting process.
You will need: –
- Wool/alpaca roving
- Silk gauze.chiffon
- Silk sliver or rovings for decoration (optional)
- Matchstick blind
- Olive oil soap in a spray bottle
- Stretchy ties
- Length of net curtain to cover project
Cover your table with towels and lay down the blind – which needs to be larger than your fabric. Lay your silk chiffon or silk gauze on top.
When nuno felting take your time – spread out your wool fibres very finely and as uniformly as possible. If you put large clumps of fibre down then it is likely to felt to itself rather than felt through the silk. To obtain a homogenous, light and compact nuno felt, work with many thin layers – laid perpendicular to each other.
Once you have finished laying down your rovings you can if you wish add a design of swirls, lines ,zig-zags – whatever you like to create a pattern. You could also do the same with silk slivers if you wanted. The silk is optional but does give a lovely sheen and lustre to the finished nuno felted fabric. However, a pure silk sliver will not felt by itself so you must lay it on top of the wool.
When you are happy with your design, carefully place a length of net curtain on top and sprinkl/spray luke warm soapy water over the whole area.
How to wet your project – Use a cool soapy water mixture – about 1 tablespoon of olive oil soap to 2 cups of water. Gently place one hand on the project, and spray some of the soapy water mixture over the project – being careful not to disturb the design. Gently press the project with your hands to wet the dry fibres and press out any air bubbles. Continue until the whole nuno felting project is wet. It should be wetted through but not soggy. Do this until you feel that the wool has just started to bond with the net curtain – at this point very carefully remove the net curtain from the scarf as this is in the very early stages of felting it can easily spoil the whole thing if you are not careful.
Next roll the scarf/project up tightly in the blind and secure it with the stretchy ties and start rolling back and forth with with both your palms on the roll – for about 15 minutes! Check from time to time – the felting stage is done when you can see tiny hairs penetrating the fibre.
The next stage is called fulling – it is the stage for shrinkage and strengthening the nuno felt. Heat, moisture and agitation are the key factors in successful fulling.
There are many methods and combinations of methods to full a project. In general start fulling nuno felting projects gently and work up to a more robust fulling. The more vigorous the fulling – the more shrinkage.
During fulling – no matter what method you use – keep checking the project. Changes can occur rapidly. Open up the nuno felting project to check it. If it starts to felt to itself – gently prise apart. Stretch and reshape as necessary. Keep on eye on the edges.
With a towel blot out as much of the cold soapy water as you can – do not wring, squeeze or twist the project.
Gently pour over hot soapy water – if nuno felting projects get cold during the fulling stage remove the cold water and add more hot soapy water. Cold water will stop the fulling process. The hotter the water the faster the fulling will occur.
Take care with the edges – First full the edges. Rubbing parallel to the edge will help to create a strong stabilized edge. Remember to check the edges of nuno felting projects during fulling.
If pointed and squared off corners are desired -rub from the point diagonally into the nuno felting project to pull the corners in.
Fulling by rubbing – This is a good way to start fulling. With the nuno felting project lying flat on top of the rolling mat rub the entire surface with your hands.Repeat until the desired result is achieved – or combine with other fulling methods.
Nuno felting projects will shrink in the direction rubbed. If the direction of shrinkage is not a concern rub randomly – otherwise change direction as required.
Fulling by dropping/tossing – the idea is to take the project and drop or toss them on a surface – the sink or rolling mat. The controlled approach would be to fold the project up and then drop/toss it several times into the sink or onto the mat. You would need to unfold and refold in a different direction from time to time to avoid a crease occurring and to evenly distribute the shrinking fibres.
When you are happy with the final look of the project. Rinse well to remove all of the soap.
Finally – Soak the finished nuno felted project in an acid bath. Use about 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 4 cups of water and leave project to soak for 15 minutes and rinse again in clear water.
Block – Stretch and shape finished project and leave to dry. Or steam iron to help set and shape before it dries. Do not steam excessively though as too much water and heat at this stage is not good.