Wet felting is the traditional way of making felt. Woollen fibres have been felted this way for thousands of years. No special equipment is required to make felt at home using the wet felting process and even complete beginners can produce great looking results.
What is Wet Felting?
Wet felting is the term used to describe the method of making felt by wetting and agitating wool fibres. Most types of animal fibres will felt, although some fibres are easier than others. Merino wool, for instance, felts easily and is often the preferred choice of felters. Manmade and silky fibres will not felt although they can be added to wool, either combined with the wool fibres or applied to the surface as decoration. There are three elements required to make felt, these are water, agitation and heat. The felting process works best in a slightly alkaline liquid and soap or detergent is all that is required to create this condition. The finished felt will have shrunk by over 50%.
How to Wet Felt at Home
The process of making felt at home is very simple. Unlike other crafts, felting is not a precise art. Much of it is done by ‘feel’ rather than using a method that has a prescribed set of rules. Many felt makers adapt and develop their own techniques. Beginners shouldn’t worry about getting things wrong. The combination of wool fibres, heat, agitation and wetness is almost guaranteed to produce felt. A textured surface such as bubble wrap or an old bamboo blind is perfect for felt making. The textured surface helps to work the fibres into each other and speeds the felting process. Tip: Watch out for machine washable or pre-shrunk wool fibres. These will not shrink and therefore will not produce felt.
- Wool fibres (wool tops or roving are the best to work with)
- Bubble wrap or an old bamboo blind
- Piece of nylon fabric
- Old towel
- Hot water
- Soap or detergent
Beginners may prefer to make a small piece of felt to start with. A piece about the size of an A3 piece of paper is easy to work with. While this is a simple process, it is a wet process. A kitchen is good place to make felt as water is to hand and the work surfaces are likely to be waterproof. Work on an old towel to catch any water.
- Lay out layers of wool fibres onto a sheet of bubble wrap or bamboo blind, with each layer being at right angles to the other. About 8 layers of fibres will give a good piece of felt. Make sure that there are no gaps. This will look like a big fluffy mass, however the next stage will flatten it.
- Take the nylon fabric and lay it over the fibres. This helps to hold the fibres in place and because it is nylon, the wool won’t felt into it.
- Carefully pour hot water over the wool fibres, pressing them down to expel any pockets of air and make sure that they are completely soaked. Remove the nylon fabric.
- Rub a little soap or detergent into the hands and pat this over the surface of the fibres. Some felt makers add the soap or detergent to the hot water, however adding it by hand gives a greater degree of control.
- Place another sheet of bubble wrap over the fibres or fold the blind over to sandwich the fibres.
- Start rolling the felt, back and forth in one direction. After 20 or so rolls, open out the roll of fibres, turn them and repeat the process. The aim is to roll the fibres an equal number of times in each direction.
- The fibres will start to matt together. After a few rolls, carefully pinch some fibres. When they no longer come away, but have matted together the felting process has started.
- Continue in this way until the felt reaches the required thickness. It can be hardened and shrunk further by putting the felt into the washing machine on a hot wash cycle with some old towels.
- Finish the felt by rinsing it well.
Tips for Beginners
Here are a few tips to help beginners achieve great results:
1. Beginners who want to learn more about felting may find it useful to make a few samples trying different effects. For instance make a sample of a very loose felt and compare this to a very compact felt.
2. Measure the size of the layout of fibres before and after felting to get an appreciation of the volume of shrinkage.
3. Try adding other materials to the felt, for instance pieces of yarn, silk fabric or cotton. This will give an interesting surface texture.
Making felt at home using the wet felting method is great fun and can soon become an engaging hobby.