Monday, April 9, 2012

Wet Felting Tutorial

Wet felting is a method used to make a dense fabric (felt) from animal hair.  Some animal hair - or fleece - works better than others.  Fleece from Merino and Corriedale sheep felts very well, as does alpaca fleece.  Plant fibers don't felt and neither does any animal fleece that has been made be be "superwash."  Trust me on that last one!  I accidentally grabbed my bag of superwash Merino and was not happy to see the piece I worked so hard on all fluffed out and unfelted when it dried.  Human hair makes an interesting felt, too.  Animal hair has scales that open up when you get them wet and soapy.  Agitating makes them grab onto each other causing all the strands to stick permanently together.  Depending on what fleece you use, what colors you add, and any type of post-felting impressions you make you can get very a interesting, one of a kind fabric!

*animal fleece - also called "roving."  This can be bought at weaving stores, many yarn stores, Dharma, some craft stores, and from many different on-line sources.
*plastic shelf liner
*athletic shirt fabric - the kind from man-made fiber that is mesh-like
*small piece of thin PVC pipe or some other small diameter cylinder
*diluted dishwashing soap - it's nice to have this in a squeeze bottle.  I dilute mine about 1 part soap to 3 parts water
*a plastic store bag

1.  On a waterproof or plastic covered surface, lay a towel and put a piece of shelf liner (about 2 feet) on top.

2.  Roving usually comes in long, thick strands.  Take one end, put your right hand down firmly on it and pull with your left hand until a piece (usually about 6 inches or so depending on the fleece type) comes off.

3.  Continue until you have about 4 pieces.  Make another row to the left, overlapping the ends of the fleece slightly.  This will make a rough square shape where all the fleece lays horizontally across the shelf liner.

4.  Add a second layer by starting at the top of the square and pulling the fibers down so that this layer is perpendicular to the first layer.

5.  Your square now looks something like this.  Notice that the fibers lay vertically down the shelf liner.

6.  You can make felt with two layers, however I think it's easier to learn the process with thicker felt.  Add a third layer - this time you back to the direction you laid the first layer down in.  Start at the right side and pull across.  These fibers will be perpendicular to the fibers in the second lay and will lay horizontally across the shelf liner.

7.  Layer the athletic shirt fabric on top of your square of roving.  I like to cut my fabric in two pieces and overlap it slightly in the middle of the roving.  This will make it easier to take the fabric off after your first round of agitation.

8.  Pour hot water in the center of your roving and add a good sized squirt of watered down dish soap.

9.  Scrunch up the plastic store bag and begin pressing down in the middle of your square while rubbing the bag in a circle.  Gradually increase the pressure until you are rubbing quite hard - still in a circle.  Expand the circle out a bit.

10.  Your roving will now look something like this - fluffy with a flat dent in the middle.

11.  Add more water and soap to another section of your square and work it like you did above.  Keep doing this until all of your square is flat and compacted.  If you find you're rubbing and rubbing on one area, but it's not compressing down you probably need to add more water and a little more soap.  When everything's flat, spend about a minute of hard circular rubbing.

12.  Gently peel off the athletic shirt fabric - this is where it's easier to start peeling from the center than it is from an edge and why I cut my fabric in half.  If you notice you have a lot (not a few) of wispy pieces of roving still loose, use the scrunched up plastic bag and rub it around in a circle until the loose pieces are down firmly.

13.  Your piece should look something like this ...

14.  Gently lift your piece from the shelf liner and turn it over.

15.  Put the athletic shirt fabric back on, add a bit more hot water and a bit more soap and vigorously rub (in a circular motion) this side of your fabric for a couple of minutes.

16.  Place your piece of PVC pipe at the top of the shelf liner and roll everything (not the towel, though!) up snuggly.

17.  Press down on the pipe as hard as you can and roll everything back and forth quickly.  Count to 100.  Did I mention that this is a good upper body workout?!

18.  Unroll, carefully pick up your piece, and ...

... rotate the piece 1/4 turn to the right (90 degrees).

Roll everything back up and repeat the rolling and counting to 100 process.  Unroll, turn your fabric 1/4 turn to the right again.  Roll back up and repeat the rolling.  Unroll, turn your fabric 1/4 turn to the right again.  Roll up and repeat the rolling one more time.

19.  Take your felt over to the sink and run it under hot water.  You can add a small squirt of dish soap if you don't have many bubbles.

20.  Scrunch the felt up and squeeze and rub it for about 30 seconds.  Start gently and get more vigorous.

21.  Open up your felt and flatten it in the bottom of the sink.  Repeat this process about 5 or 6 times until your felt feels firm and thickened and it has shrunk quite a bit - dip it under the hot water each time, but you shouldn't need any more soap.

22.  Rinse all the soap out, flatten (see how much smaller it is!), and set aside to dry.

You can use your felt as is or if you want a really tight, thicker piece you can put it through the washing machine with a pair of light colored jeans.  I did that to the felt on the left.

There's a lot of experimenting you can do with wet felting - you can add colored roving or bits of yarn to the top of your very first fluffy square before you put on the athletic shirt fabric ...

you can make impressions in your felt when it is wet ...

I layered this felt between two pieces of bubble wrap and used a rolling pin to press in the bubble shapes.

Experiment with different numbers of roving layers, layering dark and white fleece, .... the possibilities are endless!  I'll keep you updated on what I do with my pieces.

Happy Creating!  Deborah

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