September 6, 2010 by Mariana
My main craft these days is wet felting. I say “main” because I also draw,
paint, weave, do ceramics and whatever else crosses my path :)
Felting is a millinery art, it is the oldest form of fabric making known to man. Remains of objects have been found in the permafrost in Siberia from 600AC. The problem with finding felt remains is that wool disintegrates with time. It is estimated that it was used waaaay before that (Turkey, 6500BC).
The art made with felt is typical of many nomad tribes from Central Asia: rugs, tents, clothing, household items. Kyrgystan exports the “felted” art.
In the last years it has resurged among artisans. Wool, it’s main ingredient, is very versatile, soft and durable. And eco-friendly! There are many varieties of wool and the hair of camelides (camels, llama, guanaco, etc) can also be used for felting… any hair can be felted! I met a lady once who kept the hair falling from her dog and later on she made herself a hat with it! :) Tastes….
Anyway, there is a lot of info on handmade felt on the net if you really want to hear about it’s history. I don’t want to make this post tooooo long.
“How do I do my craft”? Well, for wet felting* you need wool roving (washed and combed wool but not yet spun into yarn), soap and warm water. A surface with some kind of texture like a bamboo mat or a bubble wrap or the lid of a plastic box… anything with a surface which can take water! The process of felting itself happens when wool gets wet, it’s microscopical scales open and by rubbing it with a bit of pressure, these fibers get interlocked. The soap acts as a lubricant so the rubbing and interlocking is easier. You know how you are not supposed to put a wool jumper/sweater/pullover in the washing machine? or else you end up with something half its original size? Well, that’s because the wool has felted with the warm water, the soap and the movement and rubbing against other clothes inside the machine! By rule, when you felt something, you always have to take in account around 30% or shrinkage…
Anyway, I have made a small little piece of flat felt just to give you a better idea. I’ve tried to take some pictures to illustrate. Hope they explain this a bit better.
First you lay your textured surface, in my case bubble wrap. Get yourself some hot water. I turn the kettle off just before boiling. I like it really hot. The hotter the easier it felts, because the scales open up faster.
Proof of the hot water is in my now roughed hands. Hot water and soap are not very good -daily and for a prolonged time- to your skin. However, each felter decides how warm the water should be. Whatever your hands can take would be the rule.
So, by holding the roving with one hand, pull very gently some small, thin puffs of wool with your other hand and place it on the bubblewrap:
You lay a couple of layers (one in vertical direction, the next in horizontal direction…and so on). How many layers and other details depend on what you will be making. But this is a rough idea.
Once you have done this, you will sprinkle well the wool with hot soapy water.( Don’t pour water on it because the fibers will move all over the place and you will end up with a wooly mess! ) I then fold the bubblewrap over onto the wet wool and gently press down. Wool doesn’t get wet very easily so one has to…insist! Another good thing about wool then, it’s water proof! (to a certain extent obviously…).
Now you start rubbing without too much pressure. I first do it with the bubblewrap on top of the wool and a few minutes later open up that bubblewrap-wool-bubblewrap sandwich and with wet soapy hands start working the surface. Again, you don’t need strength, just patience! It takes a bit of time to do it and work it evenly.
There is a test (I forgot to take a pic, sorry!), call the “pinch-test” which tells you when the wool is felted (first stage) and you need to start fulling. The “pinch test” you do by grabbing the wool between your index and thumb, if it stays in place and doesn’t come off, then it has passed the test and you can move on to the next stage.
Otherwise, keep rubbing!
Stage 2: Fulling: fold the bubble wrap over and make that sandwich again. Then roll it up! And applying even pressure on the whole “package” you end up with, start rolling back and forth!
How many times you do it, depends on how big your piece is. 50rolls? open, check that everything is ok, roll back again and keep on going. There is a whole thing about trusting your touch more than your eyes with felting. You can tell better with your hands that something is well felted, than with your eyes…and also a bit of experience helps as well!
Some people also use a bamboo mat for rolling the piece and rubbing. It is quite effective but I find too that it can damage a bit the surface. Sometimes, I roll it in the bubblewrap and then the bamboo mat on top.
The more you roll and felt, the more it shrinks. And the more than happens the harder the fabric becomes. When you are done (this is more of a feel again, experience), you unroll and rinse with cold water.
Now, the following step is optional. Some people do the “vinegar bath”. Chemistry here: wool likes a more acid environment and soap is a base (alkaline). So, by letting the felted item bath in a bowl with water and vinegar what you do is balancing the PH of the wool back to a middle – more neutral environment. This helps too to take the rests of soap out and hence getting brighter colors. Restoring the more balanced PH of the wool also ensures longer durability (soap eats up fiber slowly).
And now you let dry flat somewhere undisturbed.
There is of course the risk of water all over the place and making a mess in your house. Many people work on the kitchen counter. I have massive wood all over my house… so I have no scape than just be very careful and try not to spill too much water. Our oak dinning table has taken a beating with all the felting I’ve done on it….. sorry……
So, that’s it. This was a very basic step by step just to give people a slight idea. It’s not meant to be a super precise tutorial of anything like that. Experimenting is always how one learns, and later yarn, silks, bamboo, tencel different fibers …so much can be added, even fabrics for nuno-felt. But that is another post! :)
Written by Mariana of Florcita, who can be found at http://www.Florcita.eu
Supplies by http://www.SarasTextureCrafts.com