An Introduction to Felt Making
What is felt?
Felt is produced through the application of water, soap, friction and sometimes heat to wool fibres. Repeating these actions results in the fibres contracting by the cuticles of the wool latching on to each other and entangling more as additional friction is applied resulting in a stable fabric.
You will need:
- Merino wool
- Silk fibres (optional)
- Soap flakes/Felting Solution (Mix 1 dessertspoon of soap flakes in a litre of warm water)
- Bubble wrap
- Rolling Pin
- Plastic bottle (milk bottle works fine) with holes punched in the top
Making A Piece of Flat Felt
The fibres will shrink approximately 1/3rd during the felting process so you need add 30% to 50% to the required final size
- Lay down your towel, cover with the bubble wrap, bubble side up. The bubble wrap should be approx 2” larger all round than the piece of felt you are making.
To start make the piece slightly smaller width wise than your rolling pin. If you want a larger piece then you can always use a broom handle though obviously this will be much more difficult to handle if you are a complete beginner so probably best to start with something small!
- Hold a length of merino in your left hand and gently pull out the fibres with the right (reverse if you are left handed.) If you pull too hard you will pull out too much fibre and end up with lumpy felt!!
- Lay a vertical row of fibres across the top edge of the bubble wrap
- Lay out a second row, overlapping the first by half. Continue down until you have covered the required area
- Now lay a horizontal layer over the top ensuring that you evenly cover the whole surface
We have used two colours to give a better idea of how to lay out your fibres. Obviously you can use just a single colour
- Add any surface decoration – silks, roving /knitting wool, synthetic fibres either randomly or in a pattern
Don’t forget that the fibres with shrink by 30%-50% so don’t place decoration too close together
- To make the felting solution dissolve 1 tablespoon of the soap flakes in a litre or warm water. Don’t have the solution too hot as this will start the felting process too quickly and you will lose control over the process
- Using your plastic bottle with the holes in the top, sprinkle with the felting solution ensuring the surface is evenly covered.
- Carefully cover the whole with a second piece of bubble wrap – bubble side down
- Using the rolling pin gently roll the solution into the fibres to distribute the felting solution evenly over the fibres and remove any air pockets.
- Carefully remove the top bubble wrap and check that all the fibres are wet. If not add more felting solution, replace the bubble wrap and repeat the above process.
- Firmly roll the bubble wrap and fibres round the rolling pin and secure at both ends with string or wrap in the towel
- Roll on a firm surface 100 times, distributing the weight evenly across the pin. (1 roll = backwards and forwards movement)
- Unroll and turn the bubble wrap package 90˚, re-roll and complete the process three more times i.e. you will have completed 360˚and rolled 400 times.
The fibres will shrink in the direction of rolling so it is important that you change the direction evenly.
If you find the piece is shrinking more one way than another then increase the rolling to compensate Of course you may wish a piece to shrink one side more than the other so concentrate on rolling on that side. You have the control over how much you want the fabric to reduce.
- By this stage the fibres should be firmly held together. You can now introduce more heat by either dunking the piece into a bowl of hot soapy water, agitating and then throwing the piece onto your table top, re-rolling 25 times each turn. Repeat this process until you are satisfied all the fibres are firmly held in place and the piece is the size you require or put the damp piece into a plastic bag and microwave for 30 seconds on high, remove from the bag, throw and complete the rolling process as above
- Unwrap and test the fibres to ensure they are felted. The fibres should not lift from the surface when pulled between the finger and thumb.
- Rinse in cold water to remove the soap. White vinegar can be added to the final rinse to neutralise the soap.
- Rub in a towel to remove excess water, pull into shape and leave to dry on a flat surface. Steam iron on the reverse side to bring out the lustre in any silk fibres
Working in the Round Seamless Clutch Bag
- Merino Wool and/or other wools
- Silk or Wool fibres for decoration
- Bubble Wrap
- Rolling Pin
- Water Spray
- Plastic for Template
Once you have learnt this technique you will also be able to use them to make other three-dimensional objects such as vessels and hats or slippers.
Templates need to be made from a material that the wool fibres will not stick to so plastic is a good fabric. It is helpful if this is thick enough to enable you to feel the edges when you are adding layers of fibres.
Shrinkage: The general rule is to add 40% to the finished size of the bag so firstly decide on the shape and size you want to make. Draw this on paper and then add on the 40% i.e. 20% round the edges.
Towel/bubble wrap/plastic template.
- Place your template on the bubble wrap and lay out a fringe of fibres all round – half the fibres on the template, half on the bubble wrap.
- Lay a vertical layer of fibres over the whole of the template making sure that you overlap the fibres trying to keep the layer as even as possible and the fibres all lying in the same direction.
- Add a second layer horizontally keeping the fibres inside the edge of the template.
- Sprinkle with soapy water – felting solution – and cover with a second layer of bubble wrap, bubble side down. Gently roll with the rolling pin to remove any air bubbles and evenly distribute the felting solution.
- Carefully lift the top layer of bubble wrap to ensure the felting solution is spread across the fibres. If some areas are still dry, add more felting solution and recover. Try to keep the fringe dry as it will make it easier to get a smooth edge to you bag.
- Carefully turn over the template and smooth the fringe over the edge. You might find it easier if you lightly wet the template to help keep the fibres in place.
- Lay another outer fringe and repeat the vertical and horizontal layers. Wet down, roll and turn over again.
- Repeat 2 – 7 again so that you end up with 4 layers on both sides - vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal
- Now is the time to add your decoration. Use other colours of merino, strands of wool or silk. This can just be on one side or both. The choice is yours!
- Sprinkle more felting solution, replace the bubble wrap and with wet hands rub over the surface to help secure your decorative fibres/li>
- With your fibres between the two layers of bubble wrap roll round your rolling pin and roll for 50 times.
- Unwrap and turn the bag 90o, cover and repeat. Gently turn the bag over and continue rolling, turning clockwise after another 50 rolls. Repeat once more - you will then have rolled the bag 200 times.
- The fibres will have started to shrink and you may be able to remove the template. You can do this if the fibres feel if they are holding together. If not, roll for another 5 times on each side.
Removing the template
- Starting from the middle carefully cut along the top of the bag until you can easily remove the template.
The bag is still quite fragile at this stage so you need to handle it carefully. With one hand inside add more soap over the whole surface and then gently rub with an open hand, paying particular attention to the seams.
Turn inside out and repeat the rubbing process.
- Turn back to the right side and lay back on the wrap and roll 50 times each side. You should now notice that the wool is getting much more stable and is beginning to felt.
- You can now begin to add some heat so place in a plastic bag and put in the microwave for 30 seconds. Throw onto the wrap for 25 times.
- Use a wooden rolling pin, or similar, and beat the bottom of the bag with the end of the pin. This will help form the base and ensure it keeps its shape
- Repeat steps 16 – 17 several more times, gradually increasing the heat until the bag is almost the size you want.
- You can now decide the size of the opening and whether or not you want to have a flap on your bag or not. Cut to the width of the opening required and then, if you want
a single flap, fold down one side and cut along the fold.
Soap the edge and rub with your fingers to make a smooth, firm edge.
- Repeat 16-17 again, this time ending with very hot/boiling water. The bag should now be final size but you can continue to heat and throw until you are happy with it.
You can tell when it is full felted when you are not able to pull any of the fibres out.
- Rinse very thoroughly, adding white vinegar to the final rinse to neutralise the soap. Either spin dry or wrap in a towel and stand on it to remove as much water as possible.
Tightly wrap a tea towel into a tube and push firmly into the base of the bag to make the shape you require. Using a steam iron press over the inside and outside of the bag and leave to dry.
To Make a Bag Handle:
- Decide on the length of your handle and add 20%. Because the fibres are all laid the same way I have found that the shrinkage is not a great. Try and keep the length as one piece so you end up with an even handle
- Twist the fibres three times to give you an idea of the final thickness of the handle and either add or take way the wool until you have the thickness required.
- Gently smooth the fibres down the length of the handle and then lay on the bubble wrap/bamboo blind, leaving approx 2” off the end.
- Sprinkle with a little of the soap/water solution, cover with the wrap and very gently roll a few times.
- Move the fibres along the wrap and repeat 4 until you get to the end of the handle, again leaving 2” free.
It is important that you keep the ends of the handle dry as you will be using these to integrate them into the bag or form when added to the bag.
- Open up the wrap and check along the length of the fibres and if there are areas that are still dry sprinkle on some extra soapy water.
- Repeat 4 again, gradually adding pressure until all the fibres are adhering together. You will need to do this several times making sure that you roll each section the same number of times so you get an even handle.
- Once the fibres are all firmly together you can now start applying heat. Either put in a plastic bag and place in a microwave for 30 seconds or put into warm water, increasing this to hot.
- Take hold of the dry ends and throw onto the table up to 20 times. This will shock the fibres and help ensure you have a firm handle. Place back on the wrap and re-roll
- You will probably need to repeat these processes at least four or five times until the handle feels very firm in the centre.
As a Separate Handle
Continue with 8 – 10 until the handle is very firm – try to keep the ends dry. You should be able to fold it in half and it remain upright! Rinse and remove the excess water.
Cut two small slits in each side of your bag about an 1” from the top and an 1” apart. Thread the end of your cord through these, from the outside-inside-outside.
You can now add extra fibres to make a rounded end to the cord. Rewet with a little felting solution and begin gently rubbing the fibres, gradually increasing the pressure until you have formed the end of your cord. Rinse and dry.
Integrating the Handle into the Bag
- When you have laid two layers of fibres on both sides of the template is the time to integrate this handle.
- Open out the dry fibres and evenly lay one end out in a fan shape around the side of your bag. Repeat on the other side./li>
- When laying out the fringe for you next layers carefully wrap them round the handle fibres and then continue as before.
- After removing the template add extra soap to this area and carefully rub round the handle base to ensure it is held in place.
- Follow instruction as above to complete felting the bag.