3D Feltmaking

by Angela Barrow

There's a long history of 3D feltmaking, from slippers, boots and hats to yurts or gers for housing, and that tradition is carried on with a wide variety of products produced by feltmakers across the world.

I make hats, slippers, handbags, jewellery and vessels all of which are 3D. Many feltmakers refer to vessels, which always makes boats spring to my mind, but does also mean a hollow or concave utensil, such as a cup, bowl, pitcher, or vase, used for holding liquids or other contents.

Creating a 3D vase or vessel from wool fibres is an interesting exercise as it usually begins as a 2D process. Wool fibres are laid around both sides of a piece of plastic or cardboard cut to size (known as a resist) until it is fully encased. The purpose of the resist is to prevent the layers of fibres from felting together. It's necessary to get your head around the idea that the finished item will not have a front and a back as such but may be viewed from any angle once turned into a 3D object. It's a process that gets easier with practice.

Once the wool is part felted it is cut open and the resist is removed. At this stage the feltmaker can start to see the 3D form and begin to mould it into its final shape. Some people like to freeform the shape whilst other use objects like bottles and vases around which to form it. Below are examples of vessels formed in both ways.

freeformed vase


formed around a vase

I particularly like to shape my felt around vases (picture 3) as it means I can either use the felt as a stand alone decorative item or I can leave the vase in it and use it for fresh flowers.

This same process, starting as 2D and then moving to 3D at the part felted stage, is also used for the production of hats, slippers and handbags. What I've described so far is a wet felting technique but 3D objects can also be made using a dry felting process called needlefelting.

Needlefelting uses a barbed needle to tangle the dry fibres together. As you push the needle in and out of the fibres they tangle and begin to form felt. The more you needlefelt, the more the fibres felt until they become very dense. Take a look around the internet and you will find many fairies, animals, dolls and sculptures formed in this way from wool fibres. The example below shows Neptune which is needlefelted using Cheviot wool.


The needles can be used singly or there are hand tools which allow up to 5 needles to be used at the same time. An embellisher foot on a sewing machine performs a similar function but is only suitable for 2D work.


Angela Barrow offers workshops on a wide variety of felting techniques, creating accessories, furnishings, and wall art.