Wonders of Wool 3 – featuring FeltByGina – never Felt so good….

Hand felted pink rose brooch by FeltbyGina

… alright, that was a bad pun. But I am excited, because this week I am plunging myself heart and soul into the excitement and soapy water of making felt!

I suppose I have to say something about ‘felting’ versus ‘fulling’ – some people will get very aerated about the precise difference between the two. I am happy to be sloppy about meanings: people often say they they’ve ‘felted their favourite jumper in the washing machine by accident’, when (some would say) they really mean they’ve fulled it. But their meaning is clear – they’ve shrunk it and slightly mishapen it. So if you feel the need to understand the difference, here is a good place to begin! And I reserve the right to use the two terms interchangeably at will 🙂

I have experimented extensively with the art of felting knitted wool*. First it was just a case of shrinking my husband’s favourite and expensive jumpers in the washing machine, then it became a way of creating a whole new fabric, stronger and denser. I knit a beret, for example (using slightly larger needles than I would if it wasn’t going to be shrunk in hot water), then abuse it for ten or twenty minutes in water as hot as my little hands can bear it, and soap. And voila – a lovely thick, draught-free hat, with the delicate patterning of the knit stitch. This fulled wool also makes a really good base for needle felting a decoration 🙂

My new hat
My own beret – made for me, by me, out of lovely Shetland wool

I have never, however, tried making felt out of unspun wool. It has always been a little bit of a mystery to me. I understand how felting works (locking together the little platelets on the surface of the hairs with heat and friction, like a pantene advert gone horribly wrong), but the actual mechanics of how people do it in their kitchens has remained hidden to me. And as time goes on I have gradually become more and more interested in this ancient and arcane (to me) art….

But now the scales have been removed from my eyes! Thanks to Gina of Felt by Gina, I now have all the knowledge I need to create wonderful and elaborate pieces of art, clothing, tents….

  (fulling for you pedants)*

So here is Gina’s tutorial on how to make a Ruffle Scarf:

                                                                                                                                          

Before I begin, a disclaimer.  I am about as far removed from an expert felter as it gets, so this is how I make my scarves… not necessarily the correct way that a hand felted ruffle scarf should be made but a way that works for me and looks very pretty.

Firstly, gather together your felting equipment, and your fibre.

Here is my very important towel, my bamboo mat, net curtain, mild washing up liquid, and extra water bottle. Put a small amount of liquid in the empty water bottle and then top it up with hot water from the tap.

Here is my fibre.  Today I’m working with black merino fibre and a multi-coloured merino/tencel mix.

I lay out my working space as follows:

Towel  (because I always use too much water and don’t plan to wash my floor as well.)

Bamboo mat  (in my case, a roller blind without the hardware)

Netting (net curtain cut to size)

Then I start laying out my fibre.  First the centre of the scarf.  

Notice that the fibre tufts run in the same direction, all the length of the mat and net, all face the same way and overlap slightly.

Repeat this for the whole of the length of the scarf.  Try to make your scarf longer than you anticipate your finished scarf being because felt shrinks as you make it.  How much it shrinks will depend very much on the type of fibre that you use (merino or bluefaced leicester is best for next to skin as it is soft) and also what colour it has been dyed.

This little picture is my black fibre all laid out.  It’s possible to make edges neater, although cutting the fibre isn’t recommended because wispy bits felt together better than blunt ones.  I go for a more organic look, though.  Don’t worry about where my fibre bumps over the blind – there won’t be a lump in the finished scarf.

Next to lay out the edge, which will hopefully finish with a ruffled effect once it has been felted. To achieve the ruffled look, you want the centre of your scarf to felt more quickly than the edges so that there is excess fibre at the edges to crinkle into the ruffled look.  This is why you lay out the centre in the direction that you will eventually roll the scarf – because the fibre shrinks fastest in the direction that it is rolled.  It is also true that when fibre is laid more densely it will shrink faster but if you lay a very dense scarf then it won’t drape and wrap appropriately.

Lay the edge fibre at right angles to your centre piece.

Because I like my ruffles to be thinner and have a more ‘cobweb felt’ effect, I lay fine wisps of fibre and build up the layers.

Move along the scarf, laying your fibre in the same way all along the edge.

I’ve decided on a two tone edge. But you could do it the same colour as your centre piece if you wanted to.

The edges are a bit tricker because you still want them to ruffle if possible.  I haven’t played with effects, so far,  regarding the way that the fibre faces, but I usually stick to laying it at an angle as I go around the corners and then lay more fibre at an angle to cover the middle gap where the fibres could run the same way as the centre piece.

Laying my fibre out for this scarf took about 40 – 60 minutes because pulling the fine wisps to build up the coloured edge can be quite time consuming.  But it is worth it.  Anyway, now it’s time to felt.  The fun part.

Take another piece of net, the same size as the piece that you scarf is laid out on and cover your fibres with it.  You might be happier asking another person to help you to do this because you want to avoid disturbing your fibres but you can do it very gently on your own if you are careful and don’t try to rush.

The next stage is to take your bottle of warm soapy water and, placing your hand on your fibre to hold it down, pour the water over your hand so that it trickles onto the fibre without displacing it.  You need to repeat this all over your scarf and then it should look like this.

There is quite a lot of discussion in felting circles about not getting the fibre too wet – you want it to have some friction and latch together (think tangled, knotty hair after you’ve washed it – it’s the same process) but not enough water that the fibres float straight past each other.  This is why I lay a towel down first – excess water is soaked up and leaves me one less thing to worry about getting right.  Too much soap is also not great so that’s why you only need a dash, maybe 2 or 3ml in the bottom.  Imagine that you are washing up, not that you are filling the bottle.  Smooth out any wrinkles that have developed as best as you can, but go gently.  The fibre is harder to disturb now that it is wet, but the felting process hasn’t yet started so they aren’t stuck together.

If this were to be a flat felted piece, I would rub the felt to start the felted and get the fibres to mesh, but when I am making a scarf I go straight to the more gentle rolling. Because I have a piece of my scarf stuck out over the edge of my mat, I have to fold it in so that it is included in each roll.

This shows it folded in and the whole piece was wetted down first  to allow me to lift it and fold without the fibre moving around too much.

Now to gently roll the fibre sandwich up in the mat.  Think overgrown swiss roll.

Okay.  The rolling is one of the more controversial aspects of felt making, if such an inclusive and enabling world could ever be controversial.  Many people say that at this stage, you should tie your roll in a bundle and ensure that it undergoes a complete revolution so that each area of the felt is rolled on evenly.  There are also discussions on the best method to roll – wrapped in bubble wrap?  Round a pool noodle?  I just use what I have to hand, and the blind and net are it.  I also have limited space where I felt as it is my kitchen work surface so I probably on do partial revolutions – I roll backwards and forwards, allowing the roll to open at the end slightly each time – so, as I pull the roll backwards towards myself, I leave the first layer of mat open on the surface, and rolling away from myself closes it back up.

There is no magic amount of rolls.  Probably for a beginner, or if you don’t know how fast your fibre wil felt, do a maximum of 100 rolls in the first stretch.  Then unroll your mat, unfold your net is you’ve had to fold it up like I did, and check your fibre.  It might have started to stick to your net a little, especially if you’ve used quite an open weave, but gently peel off your net and separate the fibre as you go.  It should all felt in fine.

 Once you’ve checked it all, cover it back up and get to work rolling again.  You might want to do batches of 100 rolls and checks in between up to about 500 or 600 rolls.  Yes, this is a work out for your upper arms.  Bingo wings be gone. :o)  For your own comfort, try to roll with your palms flat on the mat and don’t make the motion with your fingers, wrists or elbows – try to do it from your shoulders.  Also, stand as comfortably as you can.

After 500 or 600 rolls, try the pinch test.  This is where you pinch the fibres and lift them slightly.  If the whole piece lifts, then you’re nearly there, but if little fibres lift on their own, then you aren’t.

Here you can just about see that individual fibres lifted.  Pat them back down and cover back over with your net.

You need to flip your scarf so that both sides get rolled.  If you haven’t got help for this, then pull one else to the other and concertina fold it until you can reach the underneath end – I take the right side of my net covered scarf to fold over the left and then pull the left side to the right to do my flipping.  If this is done fairly gently, it won’t shift.

Roll some more – aim for an even number of rolls each side, checking frequently in between, still. 

Another pinch test will be called for.


You can just about see here that one pinch is now able to lift the entire piece.  This is just what you want to happen.  It means that your loose wool fibres have become an enmeshed piece of felt.  If you have concerns that your scarf isn’t holding together as you would like, cover it back up, make sure it is still quite damp and either continue rolling it or soap up your hands and give it a good rub all over for 10 minutes or so.

Once you are happy, gather your scarf together.  It is time to shock the fibres so that they do their final tightening.

Your piece should gather this easily.

Shocking can be done several ways.  Throwing the piece will shock it and induce the final shrinkage, or a rinse in hot water, followed by cold water will do the same.  Many people don’t throw their scarves because they like them to remain delicate.  I like to do a few gentle throws, though.  If you are experimenting with a piece of flat felt, try throwing it quite hard to full it – the amount of shrinkage that this can cause can be amazing.

I follow up with a hot rinse, cold rinse, sometimes a second hot rinse and finally a luke warm rinse.  Then I part fill a bowl with tepid water, add a glug of lemon juice and leave my piece to have a 20 minute soak or so.  The acid in the lemon juice just counteracts any soap left the fibre that could contribute to any damage to the fibre in the coming years.  Some people use white vinegar, but lemon juice is a much less smelly option.  Some felt makers also leave out this step.  If you choose to do a lemon juice or vinegar soak, rinse your piece out for a final time and lay it out to look at your ruffles.

I lay mine out a clean towel.  You can also play with the appearance of the felt at this stage while it is still damp – so you could gently tease your ruffles apart if any have stuck a little bit together during the final stages.  Now find somewhere for it to dry.

Once dry, it should look something like this.

And, at the end of everything, I just want to reassure you that mistakes in felt aren’t mistakes.  They are either experience, or design features.  If your scarf hasn’t turned out the way you thought, or expected, or wanted, that’s okay.  There’s more fibre in the world, make another one – it should be easier now you’ve had a play.  And the scarf that you thought went wrong… what’s wrong with it?  Too thick?  Well… you were always making a table runner, right? Too holey?  Look up ‘cobweb felt’, you’ll be surprised in the massive variations in style.  If it’s beyond repair, cut it up and use it for something else.  Or send it to me.  I can’t bear to see good felt go to waste!

                                                                                                                                                  

And if you like the finished article, here it is in Gina’s Etsy shop. Her blog is worth a visit too – she’s got a nice turn of phrase 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Wonders of Wool 3 – featuring FeltByGina – never Felt so good….

  1. I have faith because I haven't tried it…. but once I've tried I might be all disillusioned, then I'd be an a-Gina (instead of atheist.. no??) But for now I'm a believer 🙂

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