The good folks at the Original Ann Arbor Art Fair asked the artists participating in the show if we’d care to demonstrate our art during the show. I love sharing the magic of felting with people because I remember how it felt the furst time experienced this art form for myself!
Because of the nature of fiber from creatures it has a propensity to ‘stick’ together when agitated. What happens is because each individual hair in a gob of sheep or alpaca or rabbit or any other fiber you can think of has scales that form its exoskeleton these can sort of interlock when you rub them together. Do it with enough individual strands in a semi disorganized fashion and viola! You’re got a fur ball, a knot in your own hair – or a lovely piece of felt!
Welcome to Felting!
There are 2 main types of felting:
- Needle Felting
- Wet Felting
Needle felting is the art of felting where you use specialized barbed needles to help coax the fibers you’ve chosen into their felted masses.
Needle felting is a popular fibre arts craft conducted without the use of water. Special barbed felting needles that are used in industrial felting machines are used by the artist as a sculpting tool. Using a single needle or a small group of needles (2-5) in a hand-held tool, these needles are used to sculpt the wool fibre. The barbs catch the scales on the fibre and push them through the layers of wool, tangling them and binding them together, much like the wet felting process. Fine details can be achieved using this technique, and it is popular for 2D and 3D felted work.
Basic Supply List:
- Felting Foam Mat
- Felting Needle(s)
- Fiber – washed and carded – optional dyed
- wire for armature if desired
Felt is made by a process called wet felting where the natural wool fibres, stimulated by friction and lubricated by moisture (usually soapy water), move at a 90 degree angle towards the friction source and then away again, in effect making little “tacking” stitches. While at any given moment only 5% of the fibres are active, the process is continual, so different ‘sets’ of fibres become activated and then deactivated, thereby building up the cloth.
This “wet” process takes advantage of the inherent nature of wool and other animal hairs. The hairs are made up of unidirectional scales, and they are also naturally kinked. It is this combination which reacts to the friction of the felting process, forcing the scales on the hairs to lock together and thus causing the phenomenon of felting. It tends to work well with wool fibres because their scales, when aggravated, readily bond together.
Basic Supplies List:
- Bubble Wrap or bamboo window shade
- Soapy water in a spray bottle
- Optional: Felter’s ‘Stone’
Nuno felting is a fabric felting technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fiber artist from New South Wales, Australia, around 1992. The name is derived from the Japanese word “nuno” meaning cloth. The technique bonds loose fibre, usually wool, into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze, creating a lightweight felt. The fibres can completely cover the background fabric, or they may be used as a decorative design that allows the backing fabric to show. Nuno felting often incorporates several layers of loose fibres combined to build up colour, texture, and/or design elements in the finished fabric.
The nuno felting process is particularly suitable for creating lightweight fabrics used to make clothing. The use of silk or other stable fabric in the felt creates fabric that will not stretch out of shape. Fabrics such as nylon, muslin, or other open weaves can be used as the felting background, resulting in a wide range of textural effects and colours.
My Fave: Combo Felting
This is where I may start out with a base of nuno or regular wet felted fibers and then embellish with needle felting – then if it’s a wearable I’ll finish the whole thing up with more wet felting to really marry the fibers together well. If for the wall I may skip this final series of steps in order to preserve some of the detail I’ve obtained layering up different colors and fibers.
There are some absolutely amazing folks who have made felting videos and posted these on YouTube. Here’s a nice one on how to needle felt a little owl:
Wet and Nuno Felting
You just can’t go wrong watching and learning with this artist “Sockmonkeyhead”. I’m guessing if she had realized just how popular her how-to vids were going to get she may have chosen a different user name, lol. But she’ll bring you up to speed on the basics. Check it out:
Search on Etsy:
- felting stone
- art batt
Silk and Dyes:
Needle Felting Tutorials: https://www.facebook.com/NeedleFeltingTutorials