Felt is a non-woven textile that is made by shrinking or matting fibres together to make an impenetrable fabric, that can be cut without fraying or degrading the edges.Felt can be made from all wool fibres and other animal fibres such as alpaca, cashmere, angora and even buffalo. The basic treatment is either by wet-felting the fibres using a felting solution or dry-felting using felting needles or an embellisher. The two methods make a very different fabric and you have to decide what the final outcome is to be to decide which method to use.
For example: I use dry-felting for making three dimensional objects that need a firm structure or embellishing onto a felt textile. I use wet-felting for creating soft fabrics such as nuno and cobweb felts, jewellery, hats, slippers, bags and felt mural and pictures. Sometimes I combine the two methods using dry-felted sheets in to create pictures or decorations on loose fibres and then wet-felt the complete piece
Laying down three layers of fibre makes a nice handled felt. Decoration can be added to the top layer in many different ways. If using a roving to create a design make sure that this is not twisted or too thick as this will resist felting into the surface.
Fibres can be cut up to create a spotty effect and other fibres or yarns can be added such as silk to add to the design but a fine layer of wool fibres have to cover this to ensure that the design embeds into the felt.
Using bubblewrap to work the fibres on gives you a cheap, clean and warm environment for fulling the fibres. The felt can be rolled up on the bubblewrap to increase the shrinkage.
Sheep’s wool makes lovely felt but there are many breeds of sheep and the felting qualities vary enormously. There are many websites that will give you advice on the type of wool which felts best for your needs and the best will be happy to discuss with you either by email or by a telephone call. Just because a wool fibre spins beautifully it doesn’t mean that it will felt, or at least felt easily.
The following sites are the ones I recommend for advice and shopping:-
Wool is bought either in tops or in batts, both will work the same way.
In the USA tops are called rovings while in the UK rovings are a much finer extrusion.
Most feltmakers use bubblewrap plastic to make felt on, some use sheeting or reed mats but whatever you use the method is the same.
Bamboo mats help to shrink the felt when the fibres have reached the felting stage. These can be bought in charity shops or DIY stores as bamboo blinds. For making small pieces such as sample felt or jewellery you can use a bamboo sushi mat. These are available in most major supermarkets or in the specialist Asian food suppliers.
Towels can be used for the same purpose.
A felting solution is necessary for the opening up of the scales on the fibres. The manipulation of the fibres causes the scales to lock together to make the dense felted fabric. This solution is made up of soap dissolved in warm water. The best soap to use is un-perfumed olive oil soap or another low lather natural soap making sure that the soap you use has not moisturizing properties in it.. Some feltmakers use a washing-up liquid but I feel this makes too much foam and is too harsh for the fibres. You will also need a felting solution dispenser, either a spray bottle or a empty plastic milk bottle with holes punched in the lid.
There are many available products advertised to help with the felting process but it is a personal choice to use them as the basic items I have mentioned here do the job very well and are very inexpensive to buy.
Things you'll need
Needle felting or dry felting as it’s also called uses special needles with barbs on to knit the fibre together to make a solid piece of felt or structure.
The needles can be bought through many websites such as the ones already mentioned, Ebay and also at the various craft fairs around the country. They come in various sizes and also as wooden or metal handles with three or more needles in.
Needle felting can be done with a whole myriad of different fibres. The wool that you should use should be a shorter staple or lock length and have more crimp than a wool such as merino which is a fine and smooth fibre.
The felting needles have to be used with a foam block. This needs to be of a firm construction and upholstery foam is ideal and can be bought cheaply as off-cuts from many small upholstery companies.