Tutorial: A Guide to Basic Wet Felt Making

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

19 thoughts on “Tutorial: A Guide to Basic Wet Felt Making

  1. Hi, could you tell me how much roving I need to make a scarf.

    I have read that the wool shrinks about 3 times its original size. There is no store in my area where I can by roving so I am looking online. It is often sold by the oz.

    1. Hi Laura.
      It depends entirely on your design, but could be as little as 100g/1.5oz. It is impossible to give a rough estimate, because it depends on layers, technique, design detail and finished cloth dimensions. So my best advice is to swatch.

      Aim for a small swatch around 20cm square. Take notes on amount of fibre on each layer, how many layers, how much wool in you surface detail, the dimensions of the finished cloth and if you like the finished cloth. When you get a swatch you like then you can estimate what you need for the exact scarf design you want.

      I hope this helps, Sara x

  2. Mariana – thank you for this straightforward and simple tutorial. Can you help? I’m about to make my first online purchase of merino wool for wet felting scarves. I could spend a fortune on the gorgeous products but need to be focused! I know it is a personal taste vis a vis colours but is there a colour that is more versatile as a base colour? Thanks.

    1. Hi Valerie,
      I’m Sara… owner of this blog. The most versatile colour is a natural ecru shade of Merino. I have lots of offerings on my website http://www.sarastexturecrafts.com You can overlay other colours as the very top layer of decoration, or the very bo0ttom layer… using the ecru will make things cheaper. I do offer discounts on bulk for the ecru and colours, so that should make things cheaper for you.

    1. Thank you. But that answer doesn’t help me for my initial purchase. I don’t I’ve never purchased wool before, so let me rephrase my question. Ball park, estimate, in your experience: Would 2 ounces be enough?

      1. It is impossible to be accurate when estimating for other people, especially not seeing your work (in this case your first attempts at wet felt). I have written a post in the past at how-much-wool-fibre-do-i-need-for-a-simple-wet-felted-bag/ The bag in question is estimated based on the specific technique given in the book… so if I were to say, not get the book and try to make something similar with a felt fabric that I liked it could be thicker, thinner, shrink more or less and I could use say 700g, or as little as 200g, instead of the 300-400g estimated (the fibre you choose also has an affect too).

        So my advice is to buy just 50g of wool (the fibre you want to use) in any basic colour and make a test square of say 10cm by 10cm. Once you have felted it you can see how it shrinks, how thick it is and get an idea of how much you used vs. how much you think you might need. Then I would over estimate this at the time of purchase.

        Remember felt is made up of several layers, you cannot create felt if you do not have the cross hatched layers… so one layer would be no where near enough to hold together even as a photography prop.

        I think my best and only advice here would be to have a go at felt making first and then you can come back to specific projects… once you have had a go you will understand why this is an impossible question to answer with any ball park accuracy, without understanding fibre choice, shrinkage, thickness of fabric, decoration and so on.

        Thank you,

  3. Thanks for your information. I have experimented a bit. I made several scarves.,, but I have as yet not figured out how much roving I need to complete a project. I want to start some larger pieces; and I like to have the supplies first. Right now I am just making six inch squares intending to sew and felt them together, but I would like to start a man’s poncho. Do you think five pounds of roving will be a good star or am i way over estimating? thanks for your help. I have used lamb’s wool, llama, blue leister, merino and angora. i am planning to use corriedale on the poncho.

    1. I can’t say I’ve ever made anything that big personally, so I recommend making a 10 inch swatch in the density you want (number of layers) and the fibre you want.

      1 – test how much it shrinks.
      2 – then you need to do the Math for the measurements of the poncho, how wide and deep etc.
      3 – how many of the squares (felted swatches) do you need to fit into that estimated poncho dimension?

      This is the only way to give you an accurate idea… otherwise if I said 5lbs would be enough, it could be way off what you actually need for your garment to the way you work and the fabric you want.

    1. Hi Kileigh,

      If you are wet felting you can make a purse without sewing anything… there are wet felting ‘seamless’ processes. These are called resist felting.

      However, if you did want to sew your felt afterwards, then it is also possible. You would need to make sure the felt is 100% dry and that you use a backing fabric, or facing. This is because the felt can get caught on the sewing bed feet on a traditional sewing machine. If you have a machine where you can lower and not use the sewing bed feet then (one that you might use for free-machine embroidery) then it would be fine without facing. The key is to make sure your felt is thick enough, but not too think to glide through the sewing machine.


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