Felting a Bag or Hat
Felting a Bag or Hat Lisa Matthews, Nov 07
(The text included in these pages are the intellectual property of Lisa Matthews any reproduction must be with explict written permission of the author with the singular exception of personal consumption. Copyright 2007)
Felt is achieved through the combination of wool, heat, and agitation. Wool has scales on its fibers which are opened up in the felting process then clamped down and shrunken once entwined with other wool fibers. Wool fibers are irreversibly meshed together during the felting process
Inge Evers defines felt as “a non-woven material which is created by the compression of wool, with the help of moist heat and rubbing but without the use of a binding compound.” We know historically of the use of felt since at or before the 6th century B.C. through pieces preserved in the graves of the Scythians of the Central Asian Steppes. The process in use in those early times is still effective and authentic for making felt in the modern age. When we make felt, whether alone or in a group, we are continuing a tradition (skill, process, art) that began in antiquity but has remained in use and useful since then.
Felt is versatile and the process can be used to make many items such as rugs, hats, bags, clothing, wall hangings, toys, boots, mittens, masks, saddle pads, hair extensions, and various decorations. One felter in Europe is even making “Cocoons” as a green alternative to the traditional coffins. Some modern artists have pushed the art form by using stiffening agents to harden felt in sculptural pieces while others have used it to create realistic landscapes.
4 to 6 ozs of wool
Any additional wool, silk, or animal fiber for extra decoration
Container for water
Olive oil soap or blue Dawn dish liquid
Plastic bag/heavy plastic
Additional items to help the process…
Bubble wrap plastic
Ridged top of a Tupperware container
Choosing your wool…
The first step in the process of felting is choosing your wool. If you pick a clean, short-stapled fiber your felting will go easier. Always make a test piece when trying new wool. Mark off a 4-by-4 inch square. Place 4 layers of roving or as many as you plan to use for your particular project and felt the piece. When dry you can place the piece back on your 4-by-4 inch square and figure out the percentage of shrinkage that type of wool will have. If you combine different types of wool you make get a different rate of shrinkage than if you used just one type. It is helpful to know that different breeds or even coarseness of wool will felt at different rates. Cashmere and merino with an 80s count tends to felt extremely quickly in my experience, while it takes much longer to felt karakul with a long staple and coarse micron count. Factors such as the hardness of your water, the temperature of the water, and how clean of lanolin or “dry” your wool is can also effect your time spent felting.
Common wools for felting….
Norwegian Felting batts
Most of the wool I have purchased for felting was just as expensive as wool for spinning and averaged $2.50 an ounce unless I was able to get it wholesale. For rugs, hats, and sturdy bags I personally enjoy Norwegian felting batts. I purchase mine from the Spinster’s Treadle run by Lori Flood (http://www.spinsterstreadle.com/). According to the website norwegian batts are a blend of “blend of 50% fast felting Pelssau wool with 50% Norwegian blend (C1).” Ms. Flood states that”C1 is a classification of wool in Norway that is created by combining the wool from white breeds such as Dalasau, Rygja and Steigar. C1 is the highest quality grade of this mix.The Norwegian batts are a bit more expensive but the quality and fast felting properties of the wool are delightful and makes a very durable, compact felt. I have also found that the Romney sold by Becky Petrick felts beautifully and is local.
For a more comprehensive list of breeds and their attributes, I would suggest reading “Feltmaking and Wool Magic: Contemporary Techniques and Beautiful Projects” by Jorie Johnson. Ms. Johnson has also recently published a book with Chad Alice Hagen, a popular North Carolinian felter, about Scarves and Nuno felting.
*Remember—Poor Quality Wool results in Poor Quality Felt!
Stages of felt and various ways of decorating with wool
There are three basic stages to felting.
Lay out: During lay out you place your fibers on your pattern alternating horizontally and vertically. At this point you also lay in your surface designs by placing string, roving, prefelts, needlefelted pieces, silk, or other items being felted into the piece. You can either place your decorations on the bottom and work up or work up from the bottom and place your decorations on the top.
Inlaid technique—create snakes or shapes from roving, lightly wet, then place on the plastic drawing then fill in with roving/batts or create your batt and place on top for decoration. Pieces of yarn and silk can be added this way.
Prefelts—shapes can be cut out of prefelt and placed on other prefelt or on roving then felted into a finished product.
Prefelt: Prefelt has been halfway processed. The fibers stick somewhat together but can still be added to.
Fulling: Fulling is where the magic happens. During the agitation of felting the piece starts to harden up and shrink. At this point you can concentrate on certain areas to make them harder or to shrink them. When fulling felt using a rolling technique, the interior of the roll is going to shrink fastest.
*Appliqué, embroidery, quilting shaping, and needle felting can also be used for decorative effects.
*During the fulling stage you will see your felt decrease in size from the pattern size you used in layout to the pattern size you are trying to get. At this point rolling, throwing, using a washboard, or a handheld ridged Tupperware top can dramatically reduce the time you have to put into it and help create a nice, firm, hardened felt.
** You can always harden your felt more but you can never soften it.
Beginning your project…
Read completely through the directions before starting!
First choose a shape for your bag or hat. After you draw your shape you need to enlarge it by about 40%. This is not a hard-and-fast number but should be based on the information from your test squares, or just plain guessing. Remember that your project will shrink during the final stages of felting.
1. Draw your shape 40% larger than needed and then cut out of plastic. If desired, then trace the larger pattern onto your plastic work surface.
2. Divide your wool into equal piles. You will use this for the front and then for the back.
3. Get out your soapy, hot water, sponge, and towels.
4. Layout the exterior design and colors.
5. Cover your pattern horizontally. Be sure to leave at least two fingers of overlap on each layer around the outside of the pattern.
6. Cover your pattern vertically. Be sure to leave at least two fingers of overlap on each layer around the outside of the pattern.
7. Repeat steps 4 and 5 till you have 4 to 6 layers, depending on the thickness of the felt you desire.
8. Place your cutout pattern over the wool you’ve just laid out. Carefully wet the area that it covers completely but be sure to leave the overlap dry.
*At this point use a piece of plastic or tulle and lay down over the felt. Rub in little, gentle circles with the palm of your hand to spread the water out over the felting area. If the wool starts to come up on your hand then wet it immediately. You can not use too much water in this part of the process. The plastic or tulle is used to help you keep the wool from pulling apart before it’s had a chance to start felting into itself.
9. Turn the first half of the piece so that the design side is facing up.
10. Place your plastic pattern over the wetted area of the first half. Layout any decoration needed to match the decoration from the other half, then fill in the rest of the area with your background color.
11. Take the overlap from the previous half one layer at a time and bring it around onto this layer.
12. Place a layer vertically and wrap around edging from the second layer
of the bottom piece.
13. Repeat till all layers have been filled. Take extra pieces of thin
roving and wrap around the edges to straighten them during the
14. Wet the area that you have just laid out then cover with tulle and rub
in gentle circles. Keep rubbing till the layers feel like they will not pull apart easily.
13. When both sides of the bag or hat feel cohesive enough, carefully
open the piece and gently place your hand inside, supporting the seam
which are still dry and unfelted.
14. Wet the seam and cover with tulle. Gently begin felting and work
your way around the entire seam of the bag/hat.
Congratulations! At this point you are halfway through!
This would be where we leave the Prefelt stage and enter into the wonderful world of fulling. Up until the wool begins to harden and shrink, you can continue adding pieces of roving but at this point your course it set. Add warm, soapy water as needed.
1. Roll up your felt
2. Knead it like dough
3. Count to 25
4. Unroll it and reroll the opposite way
5. Knead it like dough
6. Count to 25
7. Unroll and roll up a side
8. Knead it like dough
9. Count to 25
10. Continue till you are happy with the hardness of the felt
This process is where you really get to exert yourself. When kneading push down with the base of your hands. Squeeze with your fingers but be sure to push down and move the felt often. Any area you pay special attention to will shrink more than the other areas. This can be used to the felter’s advantage by allowing you to shrink edges that are too long or tighten the neck of the bag. I enjoy using a washboard to aid with this process. Another option is rolling your felt in a matchstick blind and tying it tightly with cord. Sit on a bench and use your feet to roll it back and forth like the Steppe nomads or place it up on a table and use your forearms. Be wary of repetitive strain. Place blocks under your table legs to raise them so you are not bending over in a manner that could strain your back. I find that loud music or singing songs helps this part pass quickly. Felting can be a very communal activity and when I have had the opportunity to participate in group felting there has arisen a surprising sense of community and shared purpose among the felters.
Shrinking—the Final Part of Fulling
Rinse your felt then either add soapy water to it or rub it directly with your olive oil bar soap.
1. Roll it up, bring it up high then THROW it down as hard as you can.
2. Unroll and reroll a different way. Throw it again.
3. Continue until the felt has shrunk to the correct size and/or is the hardness you desired.
4. Rinse all soap out of your felt and lay out to dry. If desired you can
lay it on a form.
*Note for hats … after step 3 you can place your hat on a form and continue to rub hard around the brim and places you want to shape to a form. An example would be placing the felt onto a bowl and rubbing hard to get it to shrink down and conform to the shape of the bowl.
-Consider shaving your felt or using an iron and a cloth to steam it flat.
-Embroider it or add beads, bangles, plaques, or feathers.
-Sew a piece of leather or fabric bias edging on the opening for a finished
-Add a handwoven or braided strap.
-Add a specialty button for a flap closure.
-Make a matching hat and scarf to go with it.
“Felt-Making: Techniques and Projects,” by Inge Evers
“Feltmaking and Wool Magic,” by Jorie Johnson
“Feltmaking,” by Chad Alice Hagen
“Fabulous Felt Hats,” by Chad Alice Hagen
“How to make Felt,” by Anne Belgrave
“Felt: New Directions for an Ancient Craft,” by Gunilla Paetau Sjoberg and
Patricia Spark. This book is out of print and currently sells on the Internet for $100 and up so if you see it cheaper grab it. It is the gold standard of felting books.
www.spinsterstreadle.com –has excellent pdf tutorials on felting techniques such as a felt vessel, one piece fish, scarves, etc. Also sells felting batts of several varieties of wool and felting supplies.
http://www.peak.org/~spark/feltlistFAQ.html –uberlist of how to’s, the felter’s email list, webpages, groups, charts, resources, etc
http://www.vertetsable.com/demos_feltapplique.htm –excellent website with pictorial felting instructions. Also a page on making felt boots and one on pointy toed slippers.
Whale Hat –felted with short mystery wool and Norwegian batt
Felted with Norwegian batts and dyed Wendysdale lockes.
2ndpic first half of felt bag by instructor Karen Page
Felt Hat—felted with Norwegian batt from class taught by Chad Alice Hagen. Shaped and dried on a form