CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Felting in the Round

The Art of felting has changed greatly since I first presented it to my Kindergarten class in the early 90’s.  Back then we used lots of hot water, lots of soap and lots of little feet stomping in dishpans.  We used whatever wool the neighbor down the road was giving away.  It was great  fun, and very messy, done only on the deck on a warm spring day.  Needless to say,  our creations were somewhat …   ummm….. childlike.

It would be 10 years before I tried felting again.

Over the years my felting became more refined as I learned about the different wools and what they could do.  Some wools felt better than others and some felt not at all!  I remember working with the Tuesday Night Spinners one weekend.  We were all making boots, and each had brought wool from our stashes.  Some wool felted right away and some boots took ALL of us taking turns to get one pair done.  Merino and Alpaca make a soft felt that can be worn next to the skin but are too soft for boots.  Romney felts well but is a little hairy, it makes a tough felt good for boots.  Churro is also a good felting wool.  The down breeds, Suffolk for example,  will make you crazy with their lack of felting ability.  It is always a good idea too do a sample if you do not know how your wool will felt.
As I have worked with felt over the past few years I have discovered that I don’t need to use as much water and it doesn’t need to be boiling hot. I also use much less soap .   Through trial and error I  have a much better understanding  about how to get the results I want.

Wool wrapped on templates ready for felting slippers

I have   made hats, slippers,  and done them  in the “round” .  This simply  means that I wrap the wool around a template.

Two years ago  I got the idea of making  an alpaca jacket for my daughter’s upcoming wedding. I made two “ practice” jackets out of wool  as a trial before I committed the beautiful white alpaca fleece to the felting table. To make her jacket, I traced around a jacket that fit her and then cut a template…. taping together the pieces to make it large enough.  I felted it just the same way that I would felt a smaller item.  It was quite a physical undertaking and all that rolling was a bit taxing.  When It was beginning to hold together I cut it open across the bottom,  pulled out the template and worked it some more.  When it was strong enough I cut it up the middle and fitted it on my daughter, taking tucks to make it fit and cutting the sleeves and jacket bottom to the length she wanted.

the Alpaca Wedding Jacket

the Alpaca Wedding Jacket

The jacket turned out just as I had pictured it and my daughter was a beautiful bride.

The Bride in her wedding jacket

I like to cut my templates from  silver car sunshades.  These  give the patterns a little bit of an edge and are easier to feel than plastic.  However, you could use just about anything for a template as long as you can fold it to remove it from your piece.

Supplies for making a simple bowl shape.
Plastic grocery bag
bowl of water
tulle netting
rolling pin or 2” pvc pipe
Dawn detergent
bar of olive oil soap
roving or carded wool
plastic table covering
4” circle of your template material.

To Begin:

Lay out your plastic, Fill a bowl of water and put 3 drops of Dawn into it.The Dawn breaks the surface tension of the water, it is not really the felting agent .

Lay the template on the table and begin to pull pieces of your roving from your hank. Cover the template with thin layers, extending the ends 1 to 1 1/2  inches beyond the edge of the template. You will need 3  or 4 layers of wool laid out on your template in alternating directions.

When this is done lay a piece of tulle on top. This is to hold the wool in place temporarily.

Now take the plastic bag, scrunch it up and dip it in the bowl of water. Wet the wool from the middle out, keeping the edges beyond the template dry .

Now lift the tulle and turn the template over. wet the template just a little and fold the extended edges over.

You will now repeat the layering process…… again leaving wool extended over the edge. It is important not to use too little or too much over the edge. Too little and the middle of the vessel may have holes in it and too much will make it too thick.

When the layering process is complete, I like to add a few wisps of color. When the design is to your liking cover with the tulle and repeat the process. wet from the center out, turn over and fold the edges over. You  will now have a completed  package and are ready to begin the felting process.

The wool should be wet but not dripping, if you see holes showing the silver template cover them with THIN wisps of wool.  Put the tulle over your project and rub it with the bar of olive oil soap a couple of times.

Begin by rolling the PVC pipe over your packet ….. turn it over, rolling each side several times. Put some muscle into it!  Soon it will begin to firm up. Once the fibers are sealed together you can  discard the tulle.

At this point you can, pick  up  the packet and begin to work it with your hands by rubbing and squeezing, adding a little rub of soap if necessary. the wool should be slightly slippery.

Once the packet  is fairly firm it is time to remove the template. Cut a small hole in the top and run your finger around the inside. You may need to felt it slightly before removing the template. Once it is strong enough you can fold  the template over  and remove it through the hole. Be careful not to make the hole too big at this point. It can be enlarged later. Squeeze the wool, throw it on the table, hard, several times. You might want to put it into a plastic bag for this process.  Add a little hot water at this point and squeeze some more. The bowl should now be well felted and it is time to give it shape. A taller vessel can be made by putting the PVC pipe into the opening and rolling back and forth, or put your fist into the bowl and stretch out the bottom . Cut or stretch the opening for a wider mouth.

When the bowl has a shape that is pleasing it is time to rinse it , roll it in a towel and then  reshape it and put it somewhere warm to dry.

I live on 6 acres outside the town of Sebastopol. I have 2 llamas, 3 alpacas and 2 sheep. One a bottle lamb the neighbor down the hill was giving away. Her wools felts not at all !

I was a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher for 20 years. Since my retirement 4 years ago I have had time to play around with the things that  I have not had time for ……. spinning on a drop spindle, working in my garden ….   and felting.

Click here to see the next article