Last night was my first felt-making class. We were instructed to bring along an eclectic group of objects ranging from large sheets of bubble wrap, a rolling pin and a bar of soap (preferably olive oil) to a plastic milk bottle with two lids! This last one intrigued me no end and I couldn’t wait to find out the purpose of the second lid!
Looking at the pieces of roving that I had dyed:
I realised that the dyeing process had started to felt the fibres; not seriously as they could still be pulled apart, but it was noticeable. This happens very easily, however careful one is with minimum handling and manipulation of the fibres. I decided the only answer was to card them, which I then proceeded to do, and this separated the fibres again, but turned the rovings (with the fibres running parallel to the length of the roving) into rolags (short lengths with the fibres running around at right angles to the length) – these latter are what are produced from the carding process, and are used by spinners. It completely dealt with the felting problem and the wool ended up incredibly soft and aerated.
Here is my box, all packed up and ready to go for the class.
You can see the bubble wrap on the left, then my apron, some dyed wool, a piece of foam (for needle felting, which we didn’t do tonight), a glimpse of the rolling pin, and finally the famous milk bottle! Everything else is underneath.
My hubby drove me over, and it was really quite near where we live – a beautiful modern school with lots of fantastic facilities. Our class was held in a room fitted out as a woodworking workshop with lots of benches with vices on them, but there were also lots of tables and chairs, and a sink for water, so it was ideal, as we each had a table to work at.
There were nine of us in the class – a very nice number – enough to make a good class but not so many that you didn’t get individual attention.
Our teacher is a very nice lady who told us that she also teaches mosaics, candle making and soap making, and was very delighted that she had been asked to teach the felt-making class because she loves it so much.
Tonight’s assignment, as stated in the instruction sheet for the course, was to make a scarf in autumn colours, but as it turned out, we were allowed to be a lot more flexible than this. We had been told to bring along some Merino rovings in various colours, but the teacher set up a large sale table and there was plenty of wool to buy if anyone had not managed to get any.
I decided early on that I didn’t really want to make a scarf, mainly because it is quite a long piece of felt and I wasn’t sure how well my arms would hold out, and also I’m not really a scarf person, unless it’s very cold weather! Also, I realised pretty soon on that I didn’t have enough of any one colour to give cohesion to the design, so I opted for a smaller, rectangular piece which could end up as a small hanging, or be used for other purposes. Anyway, tonight’s class was an introductory session just to give us a feel for the medium, and to experience the technique of wet felt making for ourselves. As for the autumn colours, only a few people followed this guideline and there was plenty of variety besides!
The first 40 minutes of the class was taken up with the teacher showing us the various pieces of felt that she’d made, ranging from scarves to 3-D flowers, and little pictures to bags. She then explained the basic principles of felt making, and what makes wool felt, and then she did a demonstration so that we would know what to do.
It immediately became clear what the second milk bottle lid was for! We had to mix up some flakes of the olive oil soap in water as hot as we could bear it, in the milk bottle. One lid was left intact, so that one could shake up the contents, or take it home without spilling it, and the second had holes pierced in it. The bottle was then used to sprinkle the hot soapy water all over the felt.
I took my camera, but until the end, forgot all about using it, as we were so engrossed, and so busy for the entire time!
The first stage was to lay out one piece of bubble wrap (bubble side up) and then to arrange overlapping pieces of wool pulled off the roving, so that all the fibres ran parallel, in the same direction. For the second layer, the fibres were laid at right angles, and then a final layer was laid down, the fibres being as in the first layer. This would give strength to the felt. We were told not to do more than three layers of fairly thinly spread wool fibres, because if it was too thick, it wouldn’t be very pleasant to wear as a scarf.
The final layer was where we could introduce some pattern, with different colours being laid down, and we were told that you could add different fibres for texture at this stage, but anything non-wool (and non-felting) would have to be trapped under a thin layer of wool to anchor it in place.
Once all the fibres were laid down, the whole thing was wetted with the hot soapy water from the milk bottle. The second layer of bubble wrap was then laid on top, bubble side down, and then the surface was wetted with more soap solution from the milk bottle, and with the bar of soap being rubbed over the surface – this made a nice slippery surface, to make the next stage easier.
Now was where the hard work began. At first, the rubbing had to be gentle, so that the pieces of fibre underneath wouldn’t shift. This is not an exact science, of course, and there is always some movement, but that’s the joy of any hand-made project! As the felting process started to take hold (after about 5 mins) one could get more vigorous, and eventually quite aggressive, until about ten minutes had elapsed.
We were then told to peel back the bubble wrap and examine the work. The “pinch test,” whereby you pinch a little from the surface of the work and see how well stuck down it is – if it lifts too much, then more rubbing is required, but if you couldn’t pull it out very far and were able to lift the piece with it, it was felting well. We were told to expect shrinkage of about a third.
The bubble wrap sandwich with the felt in between, was then transferred onto a towel, and this was rolled up with the felt in the middle like a Swiss roll. We then had to do what the teacher called “rock and roll” – rolling the Swiss roll back and forth a hundred times, then unrolling it and turning it round, and repeating the process. Depending on the result after the second time of rolling, one either advanced to the next stage or did some more rocking and rolling. When this process was complete, the Swiss roll could be unrolled and the felt taken out.
If insufficient felting and shrinking had taken place by this stage, we were told to bunch up the piece and throw it as violently as possible onto the table top to increase more shrinking. Once we were satisfied with the result, the felt had to be rinsed to get the soap out, and then we all laid out our work on the table for teacher/group critique.
Here are some photos of the work. Bear in mind that this is still wet, and the samples don’t look as good as they will when fully dry.
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of variety! The teacher said that considering that this was our first attempt, we had done very well.
I realised after I took these pictures that I didn’t include my own piece! Here it is, after it had dried.
I began it by laying down the first layer of avocado-dyed wool. The second layer was a mostly undyed wool – you can see a bit of this at the bottom where I didn’t cover it up adequately. The third layer was mostly greens and browns, and I tried to pull them out into thin strands, overlapping them and keeping them at different lengths. Finally, I laid down circles of orange and added small rolled-up pieces of brown and orange. Things do move around a bit once you start the felting process, but that’s part of the attraction of the whole thing – you never know quite what you are going to end up with!
I am surprised just how quickly the felting process takes place, and how fast one can make a small project. I had thought it would take a lot longer and a lot more effort to get the fibres to felt together but it is fast enough to be alarming if one isn’t careful – the teacher warned us to keep all supplies of dry wool well out of the way once we started, because if it accidentally got wet, especially with hot water, and was then agitated and moved, felting would take place immediately.
This was so much fun to do. I love how the fibres blend together and form quite a firm, soft fabric – there’s so much potential in this! I am looking forward to being able to make three-dimensional pieces, and adding texture to the surface, incorporating different fibres, adding embellishments (made from felt or other materials), hand and machine embroidery, and using resist to prevent two surfaces from felting together… the possibilities are endless! You can make virtually anything out of felt and I have found thousands of pictures online (Pinterest is a great source) – people even make delightful little cat beds out of it!
This morning I was very tired indeed when I woke up, probably as a result of all the physical work I did last night! I had a lie-in and rested this morning. Felting is probably not an activity I will be able to do every day but I have proved myself well able to do it, so I am feeling very encouraged. It’s another string to my bow!