If you're interesting in wet felt-making, make sure you read these ten felty facts before you get started:
- Felt – The Oldest Man-Made Textile
Felt pre-dates knitting, spinning and weaving. Wall paintings found in Turkey dating from 6500 to 3000 B.C. show a motif of felt appliqué. It's origins are uncertain, although legends suggest nomads packed their clogs with pieces of wool fibre to keep warm, which compacted with friction during wear to create felt.
- Not Just Sheep...Other Animals Too!
Sheep are the main source of animal fibre used in felt-making, although alpaca, camel, goat and rabbit are suitable, too. There are more than 200 breeds of sheep worldwide. Some breeds have fibres that are coarse and hairy such as Herdwick, whereas Merino produce soft, fine fibres that felt easily.
- It's All In The Fulling
Wool fibres are covered with overlapping scales. When heat, water and friction are applied the scales 'open up' and act as hooks that tangle together. Soap is massaged into the fibres to allow the scales to slide more readily over one another. As the wool cools and dries, the scales close up again; locking the fibres together to form a dense mesh known as felt. During this process known as fulling, wool fibres can shrink 25-30% from the original.
- Don't Go All The Way...Just Pre-felt It
In pre-felt the fibres are matted so that the piece just begins to hold together, yet the scales are still loose enough to felt onto a base layer of wool fibres. Pre-felt can be cut into squares, circles, strips etc. and felted into a background of unfelted fibre to create designs known as inlaid work.
- 5. So Easy...No Ravel Or Fray
Felt is a non-woven textile that does not ravel or fray; so you can felt a fringe, cut buttonholes or slits and use the natural edge as a hem.
- 6. Go Colour Crazy...Or Not
Undyed fibres are either a natural off-white or black, the colour of the original fleece. Commercially dyed fibres range from brights through to soft pastels and neutrals. Fibres can also be dyed with natural dyestuffs including onion skins, woad, elderberries and cochineal. To blend fibres of different colours, use wooden carders to give a subtle mix of shades and tones.
- Jazz It Up...With Yarns And Fibres
Woollen yarns placed on a fibre base create interesting designs when felted in. Try splitting the yarns into individual plies to produce a crimped effect or experiment with using slub yarns. Silk fibres, metallic fibres such as Angelina® and synthetic yarns are also used to decorate felt, although it is a good idea to sprinkle fine wisps of wool fibre over the different elements to 'trap' them to the background fibre before felting.
- Felt in 3-D
Wool can be modelled in three-dimensions without the need for seams. This means you can make different forms including pods, vessels, cones, bags, purses, hats, berets, mittens, slippers and smart-phone covers. To create a hollow form, a plastic resist or template is used to prevent the two sides of wool felting together.
- Nuno...A Perfect Fusion Of Fibre And Fabric
Amazing textured effects result when fibre and lightweight fabric are felted together and the wool shrinks to ruche up the cloth. This technique was first practised in the early 1990s by an Australian fibre artist, Polly Stirling and her Japanese assistant. The name is derived from the Japanese word nuno, meaning cloth.
- 10. You Don't Need To Felt Alone...Join Other Makers
The International Feltmakers' Association, is a not for profit organisation established to promote felt. The association welcomes everyone with an interest in felt-making from the beginner to the professional; and members receive a quarterly journal, a forum to network with other members and exhibition opportunities .