Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Wet Felt

It's remarkable that a little agitation, soapy water, and wool make the wonderful material called felt. Have you ever accidentally washed one of your wool sweaters? If you have, you probably noticed it was now too small for you but could possibly fit a child.
When washed in hot water, wool shrinks in size any where from 33 to 45 percent, depending on the type of wool. When laying out your wool, you must take wool shrinkage into consideration in order to end up with the felted size that you want. For example, Merino wool shrinks to nearly half its size, Here's an easy equation that factors a 33 percent shrinkage, and will help you approximate how big your wool piece will be once it's felted: multiply the number of inches of felted fabric you want by 1.5 For example, if you want 4 inches of felted fabric, multiply 4 x 1.5 (equaling 6). This means that you need 6 square Inches of wool to end up with roughly 4 square inches of felt. It's as easy as that.

Splitting Wool Rovia
I like to use combed Merino roving to make sheets of felt or felted coils because of its quick felting qualities and smooth surface appearance First you must split the roving up widthwise. To do that, place your hand 8 inches from the end of the roving, and pull a length of wool from the roll with the other hand. Then split that piece lengthwise into smaller, thinner pieces called slivers. The Priestess Collar Necklace requires splitting the roving widthwise many times For future reference, one-third width roving refers to Merino roving that has been split into thirds 

Making a Sheet of Felt
1 You need only small sheets of felt no bigger than 4 or 5 square inches in size (photo 1)

2 lay the next row on top, perpendicular to the first layer (photo 3). The third layer then must be laid out perpendicular to the second layer Take care when laying out the wool so that there are no holes. In other words, if you can see the work mat, you have a little more layering to do. The thickness of the felt depends on the number of layers of wool You'll develop your own style for working in this way; you may tear off thicker pieces or decide to tear off paper-thin pieces
. Three to four even layers of wool are a good thickness, except for
the Cubed Bracelet—that project requires that you make    
a very thick sheet of wool—more like six to eight layers thick. As you practice making felt, you'll learn what works for you, and how thick you want your felt. 

3 Note the size of your wool before you begin felting. Later, when you're checking to see if the piece is fully felted, the size will serve as an indicator (because remember, when fully felted, the piece should be roughly one-third or more smaller than when you started).

4 Drizzle some warm soapy water over the layers of wool and add a few drops of dish soap. If you're making felt by hand, make sure your hands are wet and soapy, and begin patting the wool's surface, pushing out bubbles and making sure the wool is totally saturated (photo 4). Lightly use the bottom side of your hands to make small circular motions, taking care not to disturb the layers. This step takes several minutes and patience. 
A layer of bubble wrap, bubble side down, is also good to use for rubbing.

5 Once the fibers feel like they are strong enough to safely move, turn the piece over and rotate it 90 degrees. You can add more  
 pressure as the piece shrinks and strengthens, but make sure it remains slippery and wet with warm water or else the wool may be more inclined to pill or make what I call ''fuzzies'' on the surface. Avoid felting the wool in standing water. 

6 At this point the fibers should be well intact if your piece is too soapy, rinse it in some warm water, add soap and continue felting. Now you can begin the fulling process, which is simply intense agitation. Fulling is what thickens the felt sheet. Begin by first rolling the piece up, and then roll it back and forth on the rubber work mat 
(photo 5). Dunk the piece in hot soapy water, and lay it back out on
the work mat. Now roll the piece in the opposite direction. Repeat this process for all four sides 

7 You'll know when a piece is fully felted by checking the size (it should be one-third or more smaller overall), and by checking to see if there are any loose layers in between. Do this by trying to pull the sides of the sheet apart (photo 6)—you shouldn't be able to. I look back on some of my earlier pieces and giggle a bit because some are not quite felted all the way. Oops! It happens to all of us After you've made a few sheets, you'll start to recognize the qualities of finished felt. Once you've confirmed that the piece is fully felted, rinse it in cool water and leave to dry. 

Note: When felting a thick sheet of felt versus a thin sheet, the process described above will take considerably longer.

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