Felt making process

I use merino wool mainly as it "felts" very quickly and finely. The fibres are built up in 3 opposing layers to enable the scales on the fibres to interlock and so create a strong fabric. Using pure soap flakes and warm water which is sprinkled on the fibres, the fibres are massaged through bubble wrap plastic to create friction. By rubbing and rolling the fibres with the soap and warm water, the fibres shrink into a fabric. Bamboo blinds are often used to increase the friction on the fibres.

1. Laying down wool fibres in
layers on bubble wrap
2. Sprinkling pure soap flakes onto the design 3. Adding water to the fibres
4. Placing a second layer of bubble
wrap and rubbing to distribute
water and soap throughout the fibres
5. Rolling in bamboo mat for added
friction to shrink wool
6. Finished felt piece

How to make felt

 

  • You will need two pieces of bubble wrap plastic the same size. Put one to the side and lay one piece with bubble-side upwards on a flat surface. Using merino wool or other fine wool tops, pull the end fibres out gently and lay them down on the plastic in a square with all the fibres in the same direction.
  • Leave a gap of approximately 2cm clear between the edge of the fibre square and the edge of the plastic. When you have created a fine but dense layer of fibres repeat the process but with the fibres laying in the opposite direction, making sure that you cannot see the previous layer through the second layer.
  • Repeat this process with the fibres running in the direction of the first layer.
  • Create a design on this fibre base using whatever colours you may like and maybe with the addition of other fibres such as wool yarn to add effect. Sprinkle a very small amount of pure soap flakes over the piece and then add a small amount of water.
  • Place the second piece of bubble wrap over the whole piece with the bubble-side downwards and with wet soapy hands rub over the plastic to disperse the water. If necessary, add some more water to ensure that the wool is "wetted" out but not too much so as to saturate the piece.
  • Carry on rubbing until the fibres are shrinking together. Then you can roll it in the bamboo matting which increases the shrinkage. 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.
  • Rinse out the piece and leave to dry.

 

 

History of felt making

Felt is the oldest textile known to man. It is made without sewing or weaving and is a non-constructed fabric. The stories go that a man was walking across a desert in the dim and distant past and as his footwear was rubbing he grabbed a handful of sheep wool or camel hair, depending on what livestock he had with him, to put into his sandals for adding comfort. The constant friction from walking and the moist and warm atmosphere in his shoe together with the sweat all went to turning the wool into a piece of felt.

Felt has been used for many cultural reasons throughout the centuries and is very prevalent in Central Asia where it is used for everything from carpets to hats. Making felt is a very ancient craft skill. Felt is produced in many places in the world for such diverse items as shoes, tents, carpet, fine clothing, art objects, hats and jewellery. It is such a versatile craft that it will lend itself to many different treatments and new uses for it are being discovered by a new generation of artists and craftsmen.

The felt I make uses Merino wool, which is one of the finest and "felts" very easily. I dye my own wool and silk, which I use to make what is called ‘Nuno felt’. This is wool felted through a fine open cloth, like silk or muslin, to create more of a ‘drape’ for wearables. I also make felt creatures using a technique I call felt sculpting.