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

Felting Worlds

It is rare and gratifying to try a whole new technique for the first time, and to have the projects produced actually be delightfully pleasing!  I have seen fabulous felting around me at guild shows and craft shows. There are books containing photos too beautiful to pass up.  But I had never tried making felt myself.  In the journeyman tradition of see one, do one, teach one, Edgar Furlong demonstrated felted bars of soap.  Lather up, kneed and swirl the fibers in all directions, rinse and let dry and shrink, and it is done.

It is our family holiday tradition is to throw a “wrapping party.”  We invite guests to bring their unwrapped presents for their family and friends.  We supply paper and ribbon, tape and scissors, and special embellishments. Every year we have a theme such as The Planets, Olympics , etc.   We  serve up a variety of wrapped foods (sushi, mango spring rolls) to match the theme. Distillate of grape is available.

One year, the theme was Earth.   It seemed like our planet  needed some positive press given climate change,  global warming, habitat infringement and population pressures   How do you translate that to a wrapped package décor?  Light, reproducible within our already looming deadline and in numbers enough to satisfy our increasingly expectant guests (not as in pregnant, but expecting artistic decorations to add each year).

I adapted the soap felting technique I had learned from Edgar to covering Styrofoam balls.  One finds the most amazing things in unanticipated places. The Ben Franklin craft store had, of all things, packages of roving in 5 colors.    Amounts were small but sufficient.  Since I had not previously felted or spun, roving was not part of my stash.

I just jumped in and tried it.  I took a short section of base colored roving, fanned it out, and surrounded the ball loosely.  I took a second section, pulled it loose and surrounded it again with fibers running perpendicular to the first.  I repeated that several times so that,  although fluffy and insubstantial feeling, the ball was 2-3 times the original size.  The base was ocean blue. I added brown and green continents and finally lightly surrounded everything with white roving.  They appeared  like clouds in a delicate netting of mist.

Many Earths and a Mars

Then, let the felting begin.  Have warm water running over your hands and lather up some dish soap till foamy.  Bring the covered ball into the stream and gently start wetting and soaping up the fibrous structure.  It reduces in size and starts feeling slippery with fibers engaging, like the hair on your head with a good shampooing.  When packed down and feeling secure, rinse off the soap and let dry, which takes days, by the way.  We poked holes in one end and hot glued on a wire ring.

Many earths were created;  then moons, Mars, Saturn with a pinched out ring, and all the other planets as well.  Folks wrapped presents with jet black paper, fabulous holographic ribbon, and finally various combinations of planets attached.  What was inside the package was immaterial; people liked the wrapping better in most cases.

More of our Solar System

Many crafts are taught in workshops and by demonstration.  This is so appropriate for felting, since it is the feel of the fibers that transforms wisps of fiber into sturdy fabric.  I am also impressed by the scale involved.  The balls started out very large and, by the time completed, had the thinnest of coverings, much thinner than the lining of a sturdy tennis ball.

Holiday package under the tree

Embellished Present

How many fleeces are needed to create a Mongolian ger, half inch thick, 6 feet tall and 60 feet around?  Hundreds, I imagine.  They used to create that felt by rolling it over a log and dragging the roll behind a horse.  Currently, on the Steppes,  a small off-road Toyota can be seen with the precious cargo rolling behind.

From tiny to huge, decorative to shelter, I now feel that felt is now part of my fiber repertoire.

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