Monday, December 26, 2011

Tutorial: How to make a flat sheet of wool felt

I'm in the process of making a warm hat for my husband to use for SCA (historical recreation group) use. There is a style of hat that is popular here, especially on cold winter nights. I've heard it described variously as Viking, Mongolian, and Russian, and I'd guess that variations on it turned up in multiple cultures. It has 4 or 6 panels, which are sewn together and trimmed with fur. See here: for one reconstruction, here for another (minus the fur): , and here for some period artwork showing the hat in use: .

I made him one several years ago, from a sheet of hand felted wool, and he absolutely loved it. He wore it, and wore it...and one time when he was washing it, the hat shrunk. You should have seen him pout. So, I get the old one and I promised him a new one. The first step in the process was to make the sheet of wool felt.

Here's how I did it:

wool roving (not superwash)
hot water
dish soap
bubble wrap

I didn't measure how much wool I actually used, but I used up this pile plus a bit more.

I put down a layer of bubble wrap to work on. Then I started laying out the wool roving. I grabbed the end of the roving between the base of my palm and my fingers, and pulled out a tuft. I put the tufts down one next to another in a row across the bubble wrap. Then I did another row of tufts across, slightly overlapping the first row. I continued laying out my wool in an nice even layer this way, until I had a sheet that I thought was big enough.

I want to get four felt panels out of the final sheet of felt. The wool will shrink as I work it, so I needed to lay out a sheet of wool roving at least half again as big as I wanted the final size to be.

Once I had the size pretty much right, I put down a second layer of wool at right angles to the first one. Putting the fibers down crossways will help them tangle together in the felting process.

Then a third even layer of wool went down, at right angles to the previous layer.

I felt around to see if there were any spots that seemed kind of thin, and added a bit more wool there to make sure the felt wouldn't have any weak spots.

Then I put down wisps of other colors for a pattern layer. I know the wool will shift somewhat in the felting process, so I didn't try for anything too precise.

However, a layer of netting over my work at this point helps keep things pretty much in place, and keeps the wool from sticking to my hands in the next step.

Wool fibers have microscopic scales. When you add hot water, those scales open up. When you add a bit of soap and some agitation, the fibers slip around and the scales kind of velcro themselves together. The result is a transformation of a pile of fluff into a durable fabric. So, my next step was to heat some water, add a squirt or two of dish soap, and ladle the water gently over the sheet of wool roving.

I gently patted down on the netting, and worked the water around until all of the fibers were saturated. (At this point, I remembered to put towels down on the floor, because things were about to get messy.)

When everything was wet, I started gently rubbing my hands around in a circular motion. After a bit, this got the surface of the wool to start to hold together, locking the pattern mostly in place.

Then I started from one end and rolled up the whole bundle, bubble wrap, wool, netting and all. I rolled the whole thing back and forth about 50 times, working my hands back and forth along the bundle. Then I unrolled it, rolled it up from the other end, and did that again.

Then I unrolled the bundle and carefully flipped the proto-felt over. I smoothed out the wrinkles, then bundled it up again and repeated the rolling process.

After several times of doing that, the felt was starting to hold together nicely. Now the netting was no longer needed, and I set it aside.

I added some more hot water, and continued to alternate between rolling...

...and simply wadding up the felt and throwing it on the table.

Felt will shrink more in the direction that you work it. So when the corners of my sheet of felt started to bulge out with a mind of their own, I rubbed the felt diagonally into the corners to bring them back under control.

Eventually, I had my felt shrunk down and thickened into a sheet a little larger than I wanted the finished product to be.

I took it to the sink, and rinsed and kneaded it under cool running water. This got the soap out, and shrunk it down that last little bit.

Yup! Just right.

Here is the finished sheet of felt, hanging up over the patio railing to dry. Next up will be cutting my pattern pieces and assembling the hat. But if I were a little more careful to make the edges even, I could use this same technique to make a felt rug. Maybe I'll make one of those next!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Silk ties in action: Copper Canyon HS Acapella Singers

I'm working on a project right now...but I'll have to wait until after Christmas to show you all. In the meantime, here is a shot of the Copper Canyon H.S. Acapella Singers. They were caroling this evening, and did a wonderful job of it.

Why am I showing you this in my crafting blog? Because the three gentlemen up there in the back are sporting my hand painted silk ties. Aren't they dashing?

I told them that if they got to wear the ties, they had to model them for me. They all took their best GQ model poses...and then broke out laughing an instant after I snapped the shot. But I got them!

Oh...that tall one in the middle there? That would be my son. Yup. I'm an evil mother, torturing her teen by taking pictures of him all dressed up, and posting them on the internet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tutorial: How to make...nope, not saying until after Christmas because my family will read this...

Ok now, if you are a member of my family, and you live in Arizona, quit reading this. Really. You can come back and take a look after Christmas.

Here is a picture to fill the space, so you can click away to a different page. (The rest of you, just scroll down past my tree.)

Still here? Ok Eric, you need to pretend to be surprised on Sunday morning when you unwrap yours then!

Now then, I've been making Christmas ornaments to give to my family this year, and I thought I'd share what I did in case anyone else needs a last minute craft project.  These are wet-felted wool snowmen, with bead decorations.

You'll need:
white wool roving (not superwash)
dish soap
hot water
white cotton crochet thread
black sewing thread
big eye sewing needle
beading needle
an assortment of beads:
   3 black 'E' beads
   4 black seed beads
   2 small black bugle beads
   1 small orange/copper bugle bead
   2 long bugle beads
a scrap of ribbon, yarn, or finger loop braid

Ok, first thing we do is to make three little wet-felted wool balls, in various sizes. Grab some white wool roving. Don't get superwash wool, because that has been treated to prevent felting.

Pull off about 6 inches of roving (more or less, depending on how big you want your ball to be), strip it apart into three pieces, and feather it out a bit.

Roll  a piece of the roving up into a ball.

Wrap another of your pieces of roving around it, and then the third, building up the wool into a nice round ball.

It will look like this. Now, take your dish soap and the wool ball, and head to the sink.

Put a drop of dish soap on your hand, and rub it between your hands until your palms are lightly coated with soap. This will keep the wool from sticking to your skin in the next step.

Run the tap water until it is hot. Cup the ball of wool lightly between your hands, and run your hands under the water until the wool is soaked through.

Now you have a soggy lump of wool in your hands. Put another small drop of soap on your palms, and start to toss the wool back and forth between your cupped hands.

Wool fibers felt when you add water, heat, a bit of soap, and agitation. The microscopic scales on the wool fibers just kind of velcro themselves permanently together. So after you throw the ball back and forth for a bit, the surface starts to hold together.

Once the surface holds together, start to roll the wool ball around between your cupped hands, like you're trying to make a ball out of play-dough or clay. You'll probably need to rinse the ball and your hands briefly under the hot water again, to get rid of some of the soap suds and give your hands a bit of traction.

When you have the ball holding firmly together, rinse it, set it aside, and repeat the process. You're aiming at having three balls of slightly different sizes, to make up the snowman. I made enough balls for a half dozen ornaments.

It is very possible to keep rolling the balls around in your hands until the agitation turns them into nice firm felt. But I took a short cut, and tossed the wet wool balls into the dryer for half an hour or so.

When they came out, they had firmed up, and shrunk quite a bit. Now, my snowmen were ready to assemble and embellish.

Here are the rest of my materials. I have a rather extensive bead stash, so I just went rummaging around. But you can decorate the snowmen however you wish. They make a great blank canvas for your own creativity.

To assemble your snowmen, measure out a length of white cotton crochet thread that is about 4 times as long as your snowman will be.

Thread your big eyed sewing needle with the cotton crochet thread, and poke right through the smallest wool ball.

Thread the middle sized wool ball onto the thread, and then lastly the big ball. Now, turn your needle around and go back up through your snowman the way you came, so your needle ends up coming out of the small ball again.

Pull the balls tightly against each other, and tie a knot on the top of the snowman's head to hold everything together.

Tie another knot at the ends of your thread, to form the loop for hanging up your ornament. Trim off any excess thread. There! You have a wet felted snowman blank to decorate as you choose.

This is how I decorated mine. I strung the beading needle with the black sewing thread, and secured the thread at the bottom of the middle ball with a small knot.

Then I sewed on one of the black 'E' beads to be the first of the snowman's coal buttons. I went up through the felt to the middle of the ball, to get to the right place for the next bead.

After sewing on three beads for the buttons, I poked through to where the snowman's arm would be.

To make his arm, I strung a long bugle bead, and then a seed bead.

Then I skipped the sead bead, and went back through the bugle bead the way I came.

I snugged that tight, and stitched through the felt at the base of the arm to hold everything in place. Snugging things in tight makes the arm stand out from the body of the snowman.

I poked through the ball to the other side, and added the second arm the same way. Then I poked over to the center of the neck, up to the top ball, and over to where the eye would be. A small seed bead becomes the eye.

A very tiny copper bugle bead made a good nose, and then two small black bugle beads became the snowman's smile. When everything was stitched down, I took tiny stitches and knots at the bottom of the smile to secure the thread.

A bit of fingerloop braid knotted around the snowman's neck made a jaunty scarf. (I'm not going to include the directions for the braid here--this is already long enough. But I did a tutorial earlier, and you can find it at .) If you don't have a braid, a ribbon or bit of yarn would work.

Then I made more snowmen, so the first wouldn't be lonely. They do get kind of addictive to make!

I hope you have fun with these. Merry Christmas!