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Making Felted Fabric and Felt Balls by Hand

Felted Merino Wool topsFelt can be built in many ways using wool fibres as the base. However it is important to make sure that you are using the correct quality of wool fibres. Too coarse a fibre slows felting as fibre below 56's Bradford count (learn more about wool fibres) will not felt easily. Lustrous, fine fibres felt quickly and reduce the time for working the design into shape. This felted bag, created by Linda Chapman, is made from Fine White Wool tops (60's, 12cm staple) and Dyed Merino Wool tops (Bradford count 64).

Heavily dyed wool fibres do not felt easily. Black can be a particular problem in feltmaking unless special dyes are used.

George Weil Merino WoolWith all these points in mind, a range of white and coloured Merino Wool tops are available for feltmakers and spinners. A count of around 64 provides a fibre which will felt readily. They can also be spun into yarn for garments which do not turn into felt at the first wash! The fine black wool has been specially and carefully dyed for Fibrecrafts to retain a good felting performance.

Felt is created by agitating fibres until they mat together to form a non-woven fabric. The fibres can be laid flat on a surface or molded around a former such as a hatshaper, cardboard or even a ball.

Woven Herdwick and Welsh Mountain tops, then FeltedThis piece of felt, made by Alison Bate, was created by first weaving Light and Dark Herdwick and Black Welsh Mountain tops and placing between two pieces of mesh netting to hold it in place before felting.

On a bad day use the felt making process to relieve the tensions, it usually makes a very good felt. Making the felt is simple, it requires only a little time and effort to achieve a pleasing result. Numerous techniques are used to create the felt fabric and generally the feltmaker will experiment to find the technique which most suits them.

Materials required for feltmaking:

  • Plastic sheet - to protect the work surface
  • Reed/Bamboo mat or bubble wrap - to roll the felt in and help the agitation process
  • Wooden dowel - to roll the felt & mat around
  • Hot soapy water - solution made with soap or washing up liquid
  • Wool tops - about 100gm will make quite a thick 30cm x 30cm square. It will be easier to decide how much fibre is needed for projects as you do more and more. The overall amount will be determined by the thickness of the felt and density to which it is felted. Trial, error and note taking are recommended.
  • Netting - to hold any patterns in shape during the initial agitation process.

The process of felting the wool fibres:

  1. Take a small handful of dyed wool tops, open the fibres out and place in a thin, even layer onto the reed/bamboo mat. This is called the 'roving'.
  2. Place another handful of fibres at 90° to the first layer. Add another 2 or 3 layers (at 90° to each other) until there are about 3 to 4 layers in total - depending on the thickness of felt required.
  3. Patterns can be set on to the fibre using other colours of wool tops, silk fibres, 'silk paper' shapes, or pre-felted shapes.
  4. Place the netting over the top of the fibres. Pour the hot soapy water into the centre of the fibres. Gently rub in a circular motion working out towards the edges of the fibres. The fibres settle down quickly and form a mat.
  5. Continue rubbing vigorously for about 5 minutes, lifting the net occasionally to check progress and that it is not sticking to the fibres, and add more hot soapy water as required.
  6. Remove any excess water with a towel/cloth and lift off the netting. Roll the felt and the reed/bamboo mat around the piece of dowel to make a 'package'.
  7. Roll the 'package' back and forth on the work surface - the felt will shrink (up to 50%) in the direction you are rolling. Unroll the mat and rotate the felt 90°. Roll up the 'package' again and continue rolling. Repeat the rotation and rolling process twice more so that the felt is an even thickness and has shrunk in both directions.
    Alternatively, use a felting board. As you rub the wool on the board the ribbed surface accelerates the felting process and the curved grooves allow the soapy water to drain away.
  8. The felt is ready once it has reached the required stiffness and shape.
  9. Remove the felt from the mat, rinse out the soap under cold running water and leave to dry.

To make a wall hanging or to add further elements such as silk fibres or cut-out shapes, the fibres should only be loosely felted to create a pre-felt and therefore a base for the inclusions. Black or undyed prefelt fabric can be bought ready made and used as a 'canvas' ready to be 'painted with wool fibre'.

Felt ballsMaking Felt Balls:

Did you know that felt balls can also be made in a washing machine?

  1. Take approximately 50gm of wool fibre. Tease the wool open and fluff it up to a consistent mix, and shape it into a ball, with the coloured wools making the surface pattern. Alternatively the surface pattern can be added later, as the balls begin to harden.
  2. Mix two teaspoons of washing-up liquid in a washing up bowl half full of hand hot water. Wet the outside of the ball with the soapy liquid. Shape the wool into a ball and pat, squeeze and roll it in the hands. Place further pieces of coloured wool on the surface of the ball to make the final pattern.
  3. Again wet the outside of the ball, and continue to pat and squeeze to keep the shape. Make sure the ball is thoroughly wetted and after ten to twenty minutes the felt ball is ready. Put the ball in a warm place to dry out

This caterpillar was made out of hand felted balls, why not try making your own?

Felted merino wool caterpillar

Nuño or Laminated Felt

Fine wool fibres such as Merino, combined with fine openly woven fabrics such as Gauze Chiffon, give the best effect. The fibres are bonded onto the fabric during the felting process. As they shrink, they adhere to the surface of the material which becomes distorted in the direction the fibres are laid, creating a ruched effect. Combining different fibres such as Tussah silk and threads with wool tops, and using other fabrics such as an open weave silk like Georgette or Chiffon, will produce a variety of effects in nuno felt making. Lay the fibres across the open weave fabric and felt using the method above.

Felting Materials

Needle Felted Wool

Felting needles can be used to shape wools (and other fibres such as silk) into objects. The felting needles have barbs running along their length. These hook the fibres back into themselves so that the fibres become knotted into the mass. The felting needles are very sharp and take a little practice. They are very useful for adding details to felted objects such as dolls. This charming needle felted teddy was made from silk fibres by Jane Rodgers.

Needle Felting

The felting needle can also be used to add embellishment to knitted and loosely woven fabric. Use the needle to hook fibres from a length of yarn or from a felted corsage into the fabric beneath so that it becomes attached.

If you are interested in trying this technique, please visit our felt making using felting needles page.

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