Today I went on a half day course at the Turnpike Gallery to learn the basics of felting, or more specifically wet felting and it was fantastic! The process itself is very simple, but the end results are beautiful and even a very simple piece can be embellished or embroidered to make a work of art.
You start off with carded yarn (we used merino wool, which is lovely and soft thus making it easier for beginners to handle), this can be any colour but white is easiest to work with. Merino wool for felting can be bought from Wingham Wool Work, Texere Yarns and Fibrecrafts.
This is laid out on a piece of bubble wrap (bubbly side up), which in turn is on top of a bamboo mat (or roller blind…). Each tuft has its fibres running the same way and overlaps with its neighbour, then a second layer is put on top but with the fibres running at ninety degrees to the first layer.
This makes your blank canvas, onto which you build up your design using the most gorgeous coloured yarn, silk, fibres and other textiles. I love wool. I would have been happy to pay the course fee and spend the three hours rummaging through the boxes of yarns.
I didn’t though. Instead I made this. At this point, the piece is still fluffy and would blow away in a slight breeze. The solution? Just add water. The yarn is sprinkled with warm water and then rubbed gently with soap (this breaks the surface tension of the remaining natural oils of the yarn and means that the water can penetrate the fibres). When the fibres are soaked through, the hard work begins….
The next stage is to roll up the piece in the bamboo mat and then roll the mat back and forth fifty times. The felt is then unrolled and rotated ninety degrees, it’s then rolled up again, rolled fifty times, unrolled, rotated ninety degrees, rolled up, rolled fifty times, unrolled, rotated ninety degrees, rolled up, rolled fifty times….This is done four times, so we had a nice cup of tea and a malted milk in the middle of it.
During the turning and rolling, the bubble wrap helps to agitate the fibres, which creates the felt. Thusly.
The piece is then rinsed and dried. While everyone was rinsing, we were taught how to make felt balls that can be used as beads or embellishments (the plan for mine is that they’ll become fasteners on something knitted). There’s a guide to making these on the International Feltmakers Association website.
The important lesson that I’ve learned today is that some things might claim to be felt, but they’re not, they’re just matted wool.
And in a slightly odd coincidence, the course leader Lesley King had a stall on the Manchester Craft Markets at Christmas and I bought a wonderful scarf for my mum (who also did the workshop) from her.
Normal running service will be resumed tomorrow.