Beginner Felt-Making Instructions

 

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Color Palette Take a look at the entire color palette of our 100% merino roving
Merino wool fiber Color Palette from Outback Fibers
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Do you want to know how to make felt?  Here are some tips for BEGINNING FELTERS:

Watch the video--Beginner's Feltmaking Instructions in Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

  • Equipment:
 
  • I like to use a matchstick bamboo blind to work on. You can get them at Home Depot or Pier One. Plastic bubble wrap or solar pool covering also provides the gentle agitation needed to full the felt, and is more portable than the blinds.
 
  • Electric kettles or crock-pots can provide continuous source of hot water. Heat seems to speed up the felting process.
 
  • Soap gel-- You can use Dawn dishwashing liquid, or you can grate up 1/4 of a bar of Ivory soap and pour a couple of quarts of boiling water over it. Stir to dissolve and leave overnight to cool. Stir to loosen the gel, then dispense it into old plastic ketchup squeeze bottles. This makes it easy to squirt all over your felt surface. If I'm doing a workshop with kids, I also leave some gel in a pail so they can dip their felt balls and their hands into the gel..... they get a kick out of the gooshey feeling !! To restore the PH. balance on a piece of finished felt (since the soap is alkaline), put a little vinegar in your final rinse water and let it soak a couple of minutes. You can then rinse again if it smells too vinegary for you. I don't worry about this step if students are just making felt balls or little pieces of flat felt, but for garment making or hats etc, I usually do it.
 
  • Potato masher can press water through and remove air bubbles if water is too hot for your hands.
 
  • Scrunched up grocery bags help hands glide smoothly over the felt during the initial stages. "Star-burst" Tupperware lids from pitchers can provide extra agitation when rubbing surface of felt. Felting tools can be made by routing grooves in small wooden blocks. Ensure wood is smoothed well to prevent snagging of fibers. 
 
  • Glass washboards can be used to "spot-shrink" stubborn areas or provide specific shrinkage in desired areas.
 
  • Steam iron can be used to stabilize layers of fiber and surface decoration before adding water and soap. This is especially helpful if you get fiber laid out but will not be able to proceed and need to put work aside until later. Iron can also be used to "block" finished felt items while they are wet to achieve desired shape. Vital for making hats and stretching out brims.
 
  • Felting needles can be used to attach surface designs and pre-felts. Also used to add fiber at later stages either for repair purpose or other. Can be used to repair thin spots in felt, and even holes caused by moths. Can be used to create 3-D sculptures in fiber. Other more complete info on felting needles available at other sites.
  • Fiber layout and felting:  Grasping the end portion of a piece of roving, with hands 6"-8" apart, gently pull off "tufts" of fiber and lay them down parallel to one another. Lay subsequent layers at 90-degree angle, making a criss-cross of layers until desired thickness is reached. If using wool batts, peel apart layers and criss-cross to desired thickness. Lay out fibers directly on the surface of the blind, or the smooth side of the bubble wrap, then cover the layers of fiber with a piece of nylon curtain netting fabric or window screen fabric. This keeps the fibers from shifting. Pour or squirt water and soap on the netting and it will penetrate into the wool without a problem. Press down the fiber and get all the air out as you gently rub circular motions with your hands. This is where the soap allows your hands to glide smoothly. Add soap as needed to provide lubrication. You can also use a scrunched up plastic grocery bag in your hand. Once fibers begin to migrate through the netting, carefully lift it up to make sure it doesn't felt to the wool itself. If the wool passes the "pinch test" --(pinch some fiber between your fingers -- if it lifts away from the rest of the fiber, it is not felted enough. It should cause the whole piece to begin to lift up.), then remove the netting and rub some more directly on the surface of the wool. Carefully turn the piece over and rub the other side. You may need to wet it down some more and add more soap for this. Once both sides pass the pinch test, the felt is ready for the second stage - the fulling or shrinking stage that tightens up the felt. This agitation stage, provided by rolling the felt back and forth in the blind or the bubble wrap, causes the individual fibers to draw closer together, removing more of the air-pockets and tightening the felt. This makes it stronger and firmer.
  • Tips: The blind can leave little imprints on your felt. A good steam iron will get most of that out, but if it is something you feel will show, then put a layer of netting between the blind and the fiber. This means putting netting on the blind before you start laying out, and keeping some netting between the fiber and the blind when you are fulling. As long as you pull the netting off each time you unroll the blind to change the direction of your felt (since it shrinks more in the direction in which you are rolling it), then you will keep the netting from adhering to the felt. Rotate and roll felt at least once in each direction. Then flip it over and repeat for the other side. The length of time spent rolling is directly proportional to the thickness of the piece of felt you are making. You just have to learn to judge for yourself when you are happy with the finished condition of the felt. For extra "hardening", you can take blind outside and lay it on the ground and "throw" the felt down on the blind. Dunk it in some hot water and literally throw the wad of felt down hard onto the blind. This "shocks" the fibers into tightening up a little more. Check every two or three throws, because this will shrink it up in quite a hurry. A dozen throws is usually plenty. For fine layout of fiber, split roving lengthwise first. Roving can also be "thinned out" by holding one end under the hand on a firm surface and gently drawing the other end away until the fibers begin to slide apart, but do not separate.
  • Go to Outback Fibers Instructions page for more. 

    Workshops

    Jill is available for teaching Outback Felting Workshops to a group or privately. Please call or email for more information.

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