In order to felt wool three criteria need to be fulfilled: heat, water and movement. This is the reason you will find your favorite shirt come out of the washing machine in a size that would fit a nine-year-old, while it has become thick and hard. In this situation felting might not appear as something you would like to experience again, but don't let this put you off. This process can be used to create the most amazing things. In fact only your imagination limits you, since the thickness of the material can be varied infinitely and thus create an infinite number of beautiful items.
The actual felting process is simple - the problem is to make the wool felt in the shape you need! This requires some practice, but if you note down what happens to the wool during the felting process you will soon get a hang of it. However, I recommend attending a crash course, so as not to lose heart completely. Many aspects are difficult to explain and it is something one learns best by trial and error or watching someone else do it.
There are three different methods depending on what you want to achieve. You can felt a solid, hollow or flat piece, and the flat method is really just a simplification of the hollow felting method. As Easter is approaching, I plan to incorporate these three methods in an Easter hen and it's eggs. The solid method is used for the eggs and the hollow is used for the chicken. I recommend that you begin by making a flat piece of felt first to get a hang of it and then felt the solid eggs in the end, when you have mastered the other two methods. The hollow filter method is often used when making hats, shoes, mittens, etc.
During the the felting process your subject will shrink. Think about it when you prepare the dry wool, which therefore must be larger than the finished article. For shoes and similar items you need to make a felted sample to get the right size. I have written a bit more about this at the end of the tutorial.
- Wool (wool tops)
- Green or brown soap
- Warm water (not warmer than you can still keep your hands comfortably in it)
- Dishcloths and possibley a towel
- Felting needle (a special needle with barbs, are sold in hobby-shops and by most carded wool traders)
- A table top that can withstand water, with an edge or the second drain option
Solid felting / the eggs
Take a suitable piece of wool top, and tie a firm knot in the middle of it. Let the wool top run around the knot, while keeping the oval shape of the egg. Remember not to twist the wool, as it will just become harder to felt. When you get to the last little bit of wool, you can pull the fibers out and let them lie around the egg so that you do not see the transition and the wool then sticks to itself. Now you should have an oval shape which is relatively firm.
Now you make the soapy water. The warm water mixed with an appropriate amount of soap. The water must feel slightly greasy when you rub your hands in it. If you have overdosed, wool can take longer to felt. If you underdosed the wool will create a halo on the object you are felting. Experiment!
Put the egg into the water and take it in your hand, making small movements on the ball which gently affect the wool. Throughout the process the ball stays under water. After a time you will notice that the ball will have a firmer shape and the more firm the egg appears, the harder you can work on it. And finally: Voila! Your first felted egg is ready to be embroidered.
Flat felting / hollow felting / hen
Before you begin your hen project I recommend trying to make a flat piece of felt. This gives you a feeling of flat felted objects before you begin with the larger project. Put your wool into a relatively thick layer so you can not feel the table through the layer. It should be equally thick all over and needs no trimmed edges.
Make some more soapy water as above and this time pour the water over your layer of wool. Pour the water out over your hand and then onto the wool, thus avoiding making a hard beam of water making holes in your woolen layer. The wool must be drenched, push a little cautiously to make sure that there are no air bubbles in the wool. During the process you can reheat the water if it gets too cold.
Now put your hands onto the wool and start moving them gently in small circles until the wool begins to felt. When you feel that the surface begins to close together, you may be more rough and when it emerges as a sturdy piece of fabric you can throw the felt down onto the table to make the process to go faster. You should now have created a coherent piece of fabric, and when you have it is time to move on to the chicken.
Draw a bird on your plastic piece (bubble wrap is excellent), and cut it out.
Now make two identical layers of wool tops of a suitable thickness, make sure that the pieces are five to seven centimeters larger than your plastic hen shape. Put one in a dry place, the other on your felt table with the plastic hen shape on top.
Put your finger on the edge of the plastic and pour a bit of water over the plastic. This will run off the plastic and give you a silhouette of the drawn hen. Now take the plastic away and make the hen wet in the same way that you did with your flat felt piece above. The result should be a very wet hen with a dry aura.
Put the plastic hen back on top again and bend the dry wool aura in over the plastic.
Pick up the second dry wool layer and place it on top of the wet plastic hen. Bend the dry layers aura in under the wet hen and wrap it tightly but make sure to maintain the hen shape.
Time to felt! Make the whole hen wet with soapy water. Be careful in the beginning, but as before, the more firm the surface is, the harder you can work on it. Remember to get around the whole object, also at the edges.
Once the felt on one side is firm enough and you can lift your hen easily without wool slipping, you can turn it over and repeat the process on the opposite side of the hen.
Now cut open the hen. This is done simply by letting it lie on the table when you cut. The wool inside the hen has not felted yet, so be a little careful. Take the plastic hen out and let your hand slip into the cavity, while the hen stays flat on the table.
When the hen begins to feel firm and the surface is properly sealed, you can begin to throw it onto the table so that it felts faster. Remember however to smooth it out often and throw it at different angles, otherwise you lose your nice hen form. When you think it is felted through and through, lay it out flat and fill it out with wool to make it round and hen-shaped. Trim the bottom edge so that it is neat. You can either sew the bottom up or sew a small piece of fabric in as an inner pocket for the Easter eggs. Let it dry. Once this is done, it is time to finalize it, by making a comb, eyes, and a beak. This is best done with needle felting.
Help and additional tips:
- Wet felt can be stored for up to a week in the fridge if you are not ready to use it right away. Put it in a plastic bag with a knot in and the water which naturally comes with your project when it is lifted into the bag.
- Felt-test: if you need to do something which must have a specific size you are best off doing a filter sample first. Place a suitable layer of lets say 10 x 10 centimeters, which you then felt. When it is done and dry, you measure your end result size, which helps you to figure out how big your plastic template needs to be to get a specific finished size. Different wools have different shrinking percentages, therefore you should always make a new sample for each new type of wool you are using.
- Holes in the felt can be addressed by adding a thicker layer of wool top. If a hole occurs, stop the process, put dry wool on top of the hole and let the fibers spread over a larger area. You can try to use a felting needle to get the new wool to stick as it is difficult to felt wet and dry wool together.
- If your wool begins to wrinkle or small waves appear on your yet to be felted wool, you have probably been too hard or working too much in one direction. If this occurs, work along them and not across them, as this will just make the waves larger.
- It is never too late! Wool is a great medium and failed projects can always be used for something other than what was intended.
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