Felt and Felting

by Gail Cowley

Felt making is a very ancient craft and dates back to the beginnings of civilisation. Wool fibres are felted using moisture, friction and heat causing the scaly fibres to shrink and interlock, producing felt, a natural, tactile, friendly fabric. Many people will have found felting by accident. If a wool sweater is washed too hot in a washing machine that agitates vigorously, it will shrink and felt.

grey felt

Fleece from different sheep breeds has characteristics that vary and affect the ability of the fibres to felt. Felting ability is dependent mainly upon the length, thickness and quality of each single fibre. The fleece is first "scoured" or washed. After drying the fleece is "carded", a process which teases out and separates the fibres forming a continuous soft untwisted rope that can be used for felt making. A further carding process removes the shorter fibres, the remaining long, parallel well separated fibres are known as "tops". Good quality tops felt most easily and are available ready dyed for felt making for those who don't wish to dye their own. Merino wool is the most popular for making felt.

pink felt

Hand felting is very versatile as a wide range of qualities, densities and finished can be obtained. The fibres are layered out in between 3 and 6 fine layers which are positioned at right angles to each other to enable the fibres to mesh more easily. Soap and warm water are then applied and the felt is agitated and rolled. The felt must be carefully turned, rolled and measured regularly. During this process it is easy to personalise your felt by pulling holes, folding or using a former for 3-D felting. Surface design may be added either at the felting stage or applied afterwards as appliqué or embroidery. This depends upon the desired effect or quality of the work that is sought.

pink felt

"Nuno" felt is produced by using a fine woven cloth to apply wool fibres upon. As the wool shrinks it takes the cloth with it, resulting in a crinkle effect. "Cobweb" felt is very thin and is made by pulling the fibres during the felting process so that holes or a web effect is formed. Many other techniques are used to produce a variety of weights, decorative finishes and uses. Application of heat, moisture and agitation are all that is needed and there are as many ways of making felt as there are felt makers - everyone has a different opinion about which way is "best"!

The School of Stitched Textiles runs Beginners Courses on Feltmaking which you can complete in the comfort of your own home.

Details on the Beginners/C&G courses from www.schoolofstitchedtextiles.com or by phoning +44(0)1257 463163.

Workshops and talks

Gail Cowley offers a range of day workshops and talks on different aspects of textiles and design throughout the UK and abroad.