Monday, January 25, 2016

Felting on Purpose

For knitters, there's nothing worse than inadvertently felting a project.  Felting is akin to massively shrinking something, and usually happens when your pure wool hat, scarf, mittens, or sweater (EGAD) takes a trip through the washing machine and dryer without you noticing.  Felting is permanent - it will turn an adult-sized sweater into something that would barely fit a toddler.  So unless you're purposely knitting something really large with the intention of felting it (like the bowls I've made; slippers and purses are other commonly knitted-and-felted items), just the word "felting" brings a shudder to most knitters.

However, there's another kind of felting - wet, or nuno felting.  My mom has been doing this kind of felting for several years now - she's made scarves, table runners, even enough fabric to sew a vest.  Here's Paco modeling the scarves that she's given me:
Paco says he can pull off wearing three scarves at the same time just fine, thank you very much!

Last November, when I was visiting my parents, my mom showed me how to make a felted project.  Instead of using yarn, you use wool roving, which is the precursor to yarn (roving is spun into yarn).  She had lots of colors of roving, so I chose some that I thought would look nice together, and away we went.  My intention was to make something that I could either sew into a pillow, or use as a wall hanging, which is why it looks rectangular.  The process was fascinating - I am intrigued enough when I can take string and two needles and create fabric (knitting), but this was made using pieces of wool - somehow it magically comes together to create a solid piece of fabric.  Here's how we did it, in very simplified steps.

First step - build a background by pulling small hanks of the roving off of the large ball and overlapping it to create the size you want.  Layer the design on top of that background, and then you can add extra elements (bits of silk hankies, frizzled stuff, mohair curls, all kinds of things) for more interest.  I started off thinking I would do ocean waves at the bottom and move up to sunset colors, but I got sidetracked making swirls and it all ended up being an artsy mishmash:
It took me a couple of hours to do the design - I was overthinking it, to be sure, but it's also just a lot of hands-on work to get all of the roving laid out.

Next step - the magic happens!  We moved the piece to the garage, because the "wet" in wet felting comes from soapy water and it gets a little messy.  Also loud, as we used a belt sander finishing sander to felt the roving.  There's no sandpaper on the sander - I think she had a piece of plastic on the belt:
Top left:  Mom squeezing soapy water from the bulb contraption onto the piece
Top right:  Mom set the sander onto the piece and watched the clock as she timed how long she kept it there (I think it was 15 seconds per section)
Bottom:  I got to do most of the work with the sander - the vibrations are what makes the roving felt into fabric.

Next step - rinsing and even more felting.  I thought we were good at this point - the roving had come together to make a solid piece of fabric, but nope...we needed to rinse the soapy water out and then we scrubbed the fabric on an old-fashioned washboard to make it shrink even more:
Let me just say how happy I am to not live in the olden times, because I can't imagine having to use that washboard to get my clothes clean!

Last step - a vinegar soak, followed by more rinsing and then a trip through an old salad spinner to get all the water out:
Doesn't everybody have a spare salad spinner in their laundry room?

Done!  Well, it's laid out to dry here - it took about a day to dry, I think:

Posing with our masterpiece:
 So artsy!

I haven't made this into a pillow yet because I think I will do some stitching on the top, similar to what Debby showed me how to do on that mini quilt she brought me last October.  As usual, I'm overthinking the stitching and haven't even managed to thread a needle yet, but I should just dive in and see what happens.  After all, the first dive in came out pretty cool!


  1. Cool, I didn't know this process at all. The result is very nice.

  2. That Paco is such a cute model. I learned something today too I have never heard of that kind of felting before. That will make a very nice pillow.

  3. Oh my - that is gorgeous! I can't wait to see it with stitching and on a pillow.

  4. Beautiful!
    You should try felting a bar of soap. It ends up like a soapy washcloth. The cool thing is that as you use the bar, the felt dries and shrinks down to the soap. I've never done it, but some of my soaper friends have.

    1. My mom has made felted soap and I had a bar - it was weirdly interesting to use!

  5. You are so creative! Just beautiful.

    Also, I know you're short, so just how tall is your mom lol!

    1. To be fair, I was probably wearing my Danskos, which add a couple of mom is about 5' even, while I tower over her at 5'1.5" - HA!

  6. I knew about the felting for the hats you made, never realized that you could accidentally do that to something that made it's way into the washer and dryer! Looks beautiful - not sure I'd have the patience to do that, but the end result is stunning! And it has some of my favorite colors in it. :D

  7. Yes, add stitches!! Yes, dive right in!!! love your composition. I have never done felting, and I had never heard of the belt sander technique. Great post, and great pictures.

  8. Fascinating! That looks really cool. I just signed up for a beginner Crochet class in march. I can do basic sewing with a machine and by hand, but that's it.

  9. This is so cool! I never heard of this before and it looks beautiful!

  10. What a cool process! Hey, I wanted to introduce you to my blogging friend Rebecca Jo ( you may have seen her comment on our blog). She is a Runner and also a knitter. I thought maybe you would enjoy her blog. It's knit by god's hands. Com
    I will tell her about you too. I think you would have lots in common.

  11. SO nice!!!! And Paco? He's the perfect model!!!

  12. That is fascinating, and I love your creation. I really enjoyed seeing the process, but pretty sure I'll never do it. :) It will be fun to see what stitching you add to it.

  13. Thank you for sharing this, Shelley - I just had no idea this was even a thing.

  14. Thank you for sharing this, Shelley - I just had no idea this was even a thing.


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