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: http://pushingfurniture.blogspot.com/2011/07/off-my-game-and-onto-another-one.html for one reconstruction, here for another (minus the fur): http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/manshat.html , and here for some period artwork showing the hat in use: http://www.strangelove.net/~kieser/Russia/PeriodImages/SemyaYaroslava2.jpg .

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:

Materials:
wool roving (not superwash)
hot water
dish soap
bubble wrap
netting
towels

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!

8 comments:

  1. That's great, thank you for sharing this! A lot of time and work sure goes into it.

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  2. How cool is this!! This tutorial is great! I'm a knitter and no stranger to felting but I've never don it this way (I don't every play with roving wool) just felt my finished stuff on occasion. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I'd love to see the finished hat!

    Stopping by from Blogging Buddies

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    http://christiecottage.blogspot.com/2011/12/two-for-tuesday-featuring-2-great-shops.html

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  4. WOW - that is amazing! Great tutorial.

    Brandi - Keeping It Indie
    via Blogging Buddies

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  5. What kind of netting would you recommend using?

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  6. Huh. I'm not sure what kind this was. I bought it at my local JoAnnes fabric store. I think it is tulle or mosquito netting. Just something kind of flexible, with a mesh large enough to let water through but fine enough to keep fibers away from sticking to your hands.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Well! You have shared what a great article. I think you have great collection, You have great skills and this tutorial is very useful not for me but other people as well

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