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The Joy of Wool Felting
Making felted wool
Felt is the oldest fabric known to man. For thousand of years, the nomadic tribes of Central Asia used wool felt for shelter and clothing until today.They lived in portable felt dwellings called Ger or yurt made from the fleece of sheep which is warm, dense, waterproof and windproof. Before Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, the Mongolians have very little woven fabric and depended on felt making to make horse saddles, blankets, hats, clothing and rugs. Most of the woven fabric were acquired from plundering and trading. Today the art of felting is enjoying a resurgence in arts and crafts and in the world of fashion.
What makes wool felt?
Let's get scientific.
Wool fibers have microscopic overlapping layers of scales with pointed jagged edges similar to a pine cone. The scales in wool also help each fiber grab onto each when spun and the trapped air in the small spaces keep the yarn warm. When subjected to heat, moisture, agitation and soapy water, the scales swell, open up and interlock, resulting in a shrunken, matted mass of felted wool. Unspun wool fibers or roving when overlapped into alternating layers and kneaded by hand with soapy water will felt. Knitted, crocheted or woven pieces are technically "fulled" in the washing machine but the end result will be felted wool.
- A brief history of felt making for traditional Mongolian yurts
A brief pictorial guide to the lost art of felt making for traditional Mongolian yurts.
- The Mongolian Yurt (Ger)
A House to Go The yurt (mongolian: Ger) is the traditional dwelling of the nomads in Mongolia, as well as in the neighbouring countries, over to as far as in Turkey .It is a tent-like structure made from a wooden frame and covered by wool felt.
- Mongolian conical tent - Ger
Nearly all herders live in white gers (felt-lined tents, yurt in Russian), a characteristic sight throughout Mongolia. Each family has their own ger. A ger is a herder's most important possession. When a couple gets married the family builds or buys
- Mongolian nomads, the nomadic life in Mongolia presented by e-Mongol through gers, yurts, horse ridi
e-Mongol presents you how live the Mongolian nomads. Discover Mogolian nomads, yurt, fishing, culture and art.
Many ways to create felted wool.
Wet or dry
There are two methods used in wet felting, the rolling and rubbing method, or the combination of the two. The rolling method is the most common and efficient method which still used by the Mongolian nomads today. An old piece of felt or sturdy mat is placed on the ground, sheared wool from sheep is piled on top, beaten and cut into smaller pieces with special sticks with cutters at the end. Hot water is sprinkled on the wool, then it is rolled up with the foundation mat with a wooden pole in the middle. The wooden pole will have ropes tied on each end and then pulled behind a horse across a field for many hours. The rolling motion creates the agitation and compression which will make the heated wool fibers lift up and grab onto each other to create felt.
The second wet felting method is the rubbing method. Wool roving is layered in alternating 90 degree directions and then a net placed on top of the pile. Hot soapy water is then squirted over the unwoven wool and rubbed with both hands or some abrasive material like a scrunched up shopping bag. The process is repeated until the fabric starts to shrink and hold together. The felted wool is flipped and the hot soapy water applied again over the netting. Then the felted wool is crumpled in your hands like what you would do to a piece of paper to cause more compression and agitation. A felted wool fabric have just been created.
There is another wet method called fulling, which is a process of producing felt fabric from animal fibers, such as wool, alpaca and the like, that has already been woven, knitted or crocheted. The purse, hat, slippers or what have you is thrown into a zippered bag and shocked with alternating cold and hot water in the washing machine. The zippered bag prevents felted wool lint which shed during the agitation to clog plumbing which can be very expensive to fix. Sometimes, baking soda or soap is added into the process to hasten the felting process. The end result is felted wool regardless of the technical name fulling. This was the process I used to create my purses and hats.
The third method is called dry felting or needle felting. This process is achieved by repeatedly poking dry wool roving or wool batt with a barbed felting needle. This will cause the wool scales to grab onto each other and create 3-dimentional dolls or push fibers onto another fabric to create a design.
For centuries, Asiatic nomads have used wool to create yurt coverings for shelter, articles of clothing, saddles and other art objects as part of their lives. These have vibrant colors as compared to the one-tone felted wool made in Europe. This book walks you through the Middle Ages and the 20th century on the development of hand felting which is enlightening and educational.
Knitted sheep before felting - Getting ready to be "fulled"
This little sheep was knitted in garter stitch (knit every row, front and back) with the alternating rows of knit and purl stitches visible. Tell-tale knots and loose yarn are hidden. The sheep is now ready to be fulled.
Felted sheep - Usually shrinks one-third of its original size
The sheep is then subjected to hot/cold cycles and agitation in the washing machine to shrink it. This is called fulling which results in felted wool which is thick, dense, and strong. All the knitted stitches have disappeared and seemed to have given the sheep its fleece back. Once a woolen fabric is felted, it can no longer be unraveled. The process is irreversible and there is no going back. One saving grace of felting is that it is also very forgiving. Mistakes, like loose stitches or holes will vanish and become undetectable.
"The Felting Year" - 2006
What is the significance of this miniature felted wool purse ornament? It was that one year marked with a lot of knitting and felting frenzy after I discovered the art of shrinking knitted wool in the washing machine. Not only did I find myself picking up my knitting needles and crafting all kind of purses and bucket hats after a long day of hard work, but I found the whole process of "fulling" these knitted wool therapeutic and gratifying. Each of these floppy knitted hat or purse just seem to "auto-magically" transform into a beautiful felted masterpiece after being thrown into the washing machine.
Here is a gallery of purses and bucket hats I had made in 2006 to illustrate that a simple knitting pattern can create a different look.
Felted wool purses - My very favorite
This 100% wool purse was knitted and then fulled in the washing machine. It shrunk and lost one-third of its original size. The stitches have disappeared into a dense and thick felted material, yet is lightweight. The purse was stretched over two telephone books wrapped in a plastic bag to get its shape and air dried for two days. This was then embellished with felted leaves and flowers, tortoiseshell handles and a horn button with an I-cord button. The flowers were made from leftover wool yarn from other purse projects and given a life of their own with handbeading.
Stitches are no longer visible - Any mistakes have vanished
This is a closeup of how the transition of the green and pink colors just blended together after the purse was felted. The stitches are no longer discernible and any mistakes, like uneven stitches, have vanished. Felting is so forgiving.
Gallery of felted handbags I had madeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Knitting Instructions for wool/soy purse
4 balls Patons SWS 70% wool 30% soy yarn
1 ball solid color Paton 100% wool yarn for band at top of purse (optional)
Size 13 straight needle
Size 13 circular needle
Note that the SWS Patons only come in multi-colored yarn. So if you wish to
make a solid colored purse you will need to use Patons 100% wool,
knitted with two strands together.
CO(cast on 34 stitches using double yarn) size 13 needle
Knit 34 rows with straight needle, on the 33rd row, switch to
the size 13 circular needle
Use a crochet hook to pick up 17 stitches from the short side,
34 stitches from the long, and another 17 stitches on the short edge.
There should be 102 stitches total on the circular needle.
Knit in the round with 4 balls (soy yarn) and about 2 Â½ inches
of the solid wool yarn. Cast off when done.
What leftover felted wool can become - A hummingbird's nest to the rescue
This baby hummer abandoned its nest three times due to mite invasion. A swatch of felted wool meant to be a pocket for one my purses quickly came in handy for the rescue mission. The great thing about felted wool is that it can be cut with a pair of scissors and the edges will not fray. The nest was made in 10 minutes flat. I cut a strip of the felted fabric long enough to go around a small oval base. Then I handstitched the seams together with the same colored green yarn, flipped the nest over and voila! This nest was made for Sasi, one of the Allen's hummingbirds I wrote about in my other lens "A Home for Hummingbirds."
Gallery of felted hatsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Knitting instructions for bucket hats - Felt it later
Knitting instructions for flowers and leaves
Before felting in the washing machine, hide all knots, loose ends with a crochet hook through stitches, and clipping ends.These will disappear after felting and any flaws will not even be noticeable.
Place handbag and flowers/leaves/I-cord in a zippered pillowcase cover.
This is important because during the machine agitation, some wads of the wool will ball up and could plug up the plumbing, hence the pillowcase cover is a necessary precaution.
Add 1/2 cup of baking soda into the washing machine to hasten the felting process.
Use HOT/COLD cycle, let it agitate for 15 minutes, skip the spin cycle. Drain, repeat the HOT/COLD procedures 2 or 3 times more. You will know when to stop when the no more knitted stitches are visible and the purse is not longer stretchy.
If you are happy with what you see, let the machine finish through the spin cycle to rid of most of the water.
Shape your purse to make all sides even. If you want to make a boxy purse, place the purse over a box or phone book that has a plastic shopping bag over it. Air dry for 2 days.
Do not dry in the dryer as this will distort the purse.
After the purse is dry, assemble the flowers, leaves, handles. Enjoy.
Dry felting or needle felting
Fiber artists have found the use of single needles, or several together, to be an exciting new method of shaping and felting fibers into flat or three dimensional objects. This process is basically dry felting, but can be used with wet felting methods also. It is a magical and fun technique that can take you to new realms of fiber creativity.
Rainbow colors of roving for dry felting
How to needle felt wool roving.
Sculptural Needle Felting by Kay Petal
- Felt Alive's Guide to Needle Felting & Needle Felting Supplies
Learn about needle felting and selecting supplies for needle felting. Online resources for needle felters.
- Felt Alive Sculptural Needle Felting, Needle Felted Celebrity Dolls, Video Workshops, Needle Felting
Needle Felted Celebrity Caricature Dolls by Kay Petal. Now offering Needle Felting Video Workshops with Kit and Needle Felting Wool,Felting Needles and Supplies. Featuring Felt Alive Video Workshops on DVD and Online!
- Needle Felting Supplies | Needle Felting Kit | Needle Felting Wool | Needle Felting Instructions
LIVING FELT offers needle felting supplies and instructions with full color photos, needle felting wool, a fun needle felting kit assortment, needle felting supply, felting needles.
Kay Petal and her ever growing brood.
Pride and joy of Wasilla, Alaska
I discovered Kay Petal by accident when I was looking for felted doll pictures on Flickr. It was a very fascinating experience. I e-mailed Kay and got her permission to use her photos and feature her in this felting Squidoo lens.
All these celebrity felted dolls were created with a single barbed felting needle and wads of wool batt. Just like their human counterparts, these little celebrity dolls were subjected to lot of jabbing. Each sculpted doll bears an uncanny resemblance to its famous star.
Celebrities in sheep's clothing
Here are my own tongue-in-cheek "punny" comments about these amazing celebrity dolls.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles - Do you want to know a secret?
The Fab Four, better known as The Beatles with their signature mop hairdos come to life as needle felted dolls.
More celebrity caricatures by Kay Petal - Check out the photo gallery and my take on these celebrity dollsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Magical Kingdom of enchanting wee folks - Felted wool dolls come to life
How would one feel to step into the magical and fanciful world of needle-felted dolls? Each one beckons to be loved. Who else could possibly make wool come alive than the creator herself, Kay Petal.
Mini Me's by Kay Petal
Learn to make your own
Who would not want a doll which looks just like a miniature YOU made from wool and a felting needle? Only if it will not be used as a pincushion or as a voodoo doll. What a delightful present that would make for someone special.
Easy felting kits from eBay - Make your first felted critter
Materials and easy instructions make these kits worth purchasing.
Dry needle felting tutorial
Learn how to needle felt
Felt Alive Needle Felters Workshop online