“How do you felt?”.
It is almost a magical process. I am constantly amazed that it works! At its very basic, it is a 3 step process.
1. Preparing the Fiber
First you have to get some animal fiber. I use super soft alpaca and merino wool. I buy it usually as roving. Roving is when someone has cleaned the fiber and run it through a roller so the fibers get organized in a linear way. It is super easy to work with from this stage. But I also use raw fiber, where I get to do the cleaning and organizing. It adds to the work load but helps keep the fiber’s cost down.
Then I’ll dye the fibers. I use eco-friendly acid dyes. My acid is regular old vinegar so it’s non pollutant. I like to steam the fiber over a water bath for about an hour to really set the dyes. Then I rinse them well and let them dry.
At this point I may turn these colorful fibers into something called an ‘art batt’. This is when you combine fibers onto a specialized piece of equipment called a drum roller. You get to mix types, colors and add in fun little embellishments like sparkle fibers, or silk threads or cotton nubs. What you end up with is something gorgeous to behold! So wonderful to look at I am forced to call it “Unicorn Fiber”.
2. The felting process
Now it’s time to get started with laying out the fibers into the sort of finished piece you have in mind; a scarf, purse, vest – whatever! Once you’ve got it how you want it – you wet the whole thing down with soapy water and agitate the heck out of it in one way or another for a bit of time. I often use the roll it all up in bubble wrap method and hand roll it hundreds and hundreds of times. A friend of mine lets her dryer bounce it around – but that didn’t work too well for me when I tried it.
When you’re done agitating it – what’s happened is the fibers have become rather disorganized and have started grabbing onto each other. This is felting! Right here! It’s a very time honored method of creating man made material. One of the oldest actually.
3. Crafty Hand Work
This is another important part of the alchemy of felting! This is where creativity can really come to play. This is where I add decorations to my felted foundational pieces. If it’s a scarf I may add symbols, animals, flowers or hearts. If it’s a wall hanging I’m going to be creating a whole scene. I use specialized barbed needles and this part is referred to as needle felting. I’ll get more into that on a later post. Here’s a picture of a recent scarf that was needle felted.
Once you have your designs the way you like them – guess what! You get to wet it down again with more soapy water and get back to your agitation process. For me, hundreds more hand rolls. So felting is a bit of work – but like I said, there’s so much magic involved I find it quite addictive!
When you’re done – then you get to take it out and show the world. People are always amazed at the colors, the softness and the durability of felting. I know I am. I love it!