wet felting is the traditional way of making felt, and wool fibers have been felted this way for thousands of years. no special equipment is required to make felt at home using the wet felting process, and even beginners can produce great looking results.
what is wet felting?
wet felting is the term used to describe the method of making felt by wetting and agitating wool fibers. most types of animal fibers will felt, although some fibers are easier than others. merino wool, for instance, felts easily and is often the preferred choice of felters. manmade and silky fibers will not felt although they can be added to wool, either combined with the wool fibers or applied to the surface as decoration. there are three elements required to make felt: water, agitation and heat. the felting process works best in a slightly alkaline liquid, and soap or detergent is all that is required to create this condition. the finished felt shrinks by over 50%.
how to wet felt at home
the process of making felt at home is very simple. unlike other crafts, felting is not a precise art…much of it is done by ‘feel’ rather than using a method that has a prescribed set of rules, and many felt makers adapt and develop their own techniques. if you’re a beginner, don’t worry about getting things wrong. the combination of wool fibers, heat, agitation and wetness is almost guaranteed to produce felt. a textured surface such as an old bamboo blind or bubble wrap is perfect for felt making. the textured surface helps to work the fibers into each other and speeds the felting process. tip: watch out for machine washable or pre-shrunk wool fibers…these will not shrink and therefore will not produce felt!
wool fibers (wool tops or roving are the best to work with)
an old bamboo blind or bubble wrap
piece of nylon fabric
soap or detergent
beginners may prefer to make a small piece of felt to start with. a piece about the size of an a3 piece of paper is easy to work with. while this is a simple process, it is a wet process. a kitchen is good place to make felt, as water is close at hand and the work surfaces are likely to be waterproof. work on an old towel to catch any water.
lay out layers of wool fibers onto a bamboo blind or a sheet of bubble wrap, with each layer being at right angles to the other. about 8 layers of fibers will give a good piece of felt. make sure that there are no gaps. this will look like a big fluffy mass, however the next stage will flatten it.
take the nylon fabric and lay it over the fibers. this helps to hold the fibers in place and because it is nylon, the wool won’t felt into it.
carefully pour hot water over the wool fibers, pressing them down to expel any pockets of air and make sure that they are completely soaked. remove the nylon fabric.
rub a little soap or detergent into the hands and pat this over the surface of the fibers. some felt makers add the soap or detergent to the hot water, however adding it by hand gives a greater degree of control.
place another sheet of bubble wrap over the fibers or fold the blind over to sandwich the fibers.
start rolling the felt, back and forth in one direction. after 20 or so rolls, open out the roll of fibers, turn them and repeat the process. the aim is to roll the fibers an equal number of times in each direction.
the fibers will start to matt together. after a few rolls, carefully pinch some fibers. when they no longer come away, but have matted together the felting process has started.
continue in this way until the felt reaches the required thickness. it can be hardened and shrunk further by putting the felt into the washing machine on a hot wash cycle with some old towels.
finish the felt by rinsing it well.
tips for beginners
here are a few tips to help beginners achieve great results:
1. beginners who want to learn more about felting may find it useful to make a few samples trying different effects. for instance make a sample of a very loose felt and compare this to a very compact felt.
2. measure the size of the layout of fibers before and after felting to get an appreciation of the volume of shrinkage.
3. try adding other materials to the felt, for instance pieces of yarn, silk fabric or cotton. this will give an interesting surface texture.