WOOL FELTING: The Good, The Tricky, and The Awesome
"...and then you put a layer this way. Then, you put another in the opposite direction and you keep on doing that until you have three layers for each side. Remember to wet them. Once you have those, you start to gently rub the wool until it is all felted."
That is how my brief 101 class on felting went several days ago. My fibers mentor explained the process with hand gestures while verbally giving me instructions and then sent me home to try it on my own with her best wishes. It is a good thing that she is a great teacher and that I seem to understand her instructions because now I will share with you the whole process with lots of detail and photos. (Note: All photos are by Krusheska Quiros)
It is the middle of the summer and I just made myself two pairs of felted mittens!
The good news is that you can make some for yourself too and here is a "how-to" guide. The tricky part is that just as I had to, you will be trying out the project on your own. However, the awesome part is that felting is easy and yes, it is fun.
(Realistic note: Although felting is really a lot of fun and the list of stuff that you can make with this process is pretty much endless, it does take time and patience. Plan ahead and block a weekend just for felting. Invite some felting eager friends and get to it. Make, create and enjoy!)
What you will need - Keep in mind that this is a tutorial for making simple felted mittens. This list solely includes the basic materials that I used plus some optional things to have around while you do your felting.
- two pieces of cardboard large enough to trace the silouette of your hand to about a third down your forearm
- batts/carded wool (the finer the wool, the better)
- water (preferably, yet not necessarily, warm)
- soap (i used sunlight original)
- tea kettle (or another container for warming up water)
- large metal mixing bowl
- work table
Optional, but probably necessary-
- laptop and dvds
- snacky poos
How To -
1. Measure and cut cardboard pieces to make outlines of your hands and top of your forearms. Make sure that the outline includes about two centimeters all around which will serve as the shrinkage allowance. (check out the photo above)
2. Get the water warm and mix it with some soap in the bowl.
3. Pick the batts of wool that you are going to use.
4. Start the DVD player.
5. Eat some snacky poos.
6. Stretch a piece of wool so it is a little bit larger than one of the cardboard stencils. You want it somewhat larger so you can drape the edges over the stencil and onto the other side of the stencil. Make sure to pull off some of the wool that will go between the thumb and the other fingers. If you don't pull off some of the wool you will end up with a lot of bulk in that spot.
NOTE: If you want to use wool of different colours, combine fibres by layering them thinly as to make one solid layer with all of the colours.
7. Wet the layer of wool with some soapy water and place one of the stencils over it. Drape the edges of the wool over the stencil. Do it tightly yet be careful not pull the wool fibers apart.
8. Grab another piece of wool of about the same size as the first one and get it wet. Flip your stencil over and cover the other side. Make sure to wet the edges and to drape them over the edges of the stencil so to cover the edges of the mitts neatly. Do keep the cardboard between the layers so to keep the center of the mitten open for your hand. Keep reading, it should all make sense soon.
NOTE: At this point I was wondering if I was doing the layering right because the wet wool feels quite loose. Do not dispair! Once you add the other layers and start felting, you will notice that the wool starts to shrink and to gather into a tighter shape. Be patient and have another bit of your snacky poos stash.
9. Lay a long piece of wool with the fibers in the opposite direction than you used for the first two layers. The piece should be long enough to wrap around both sides of the stencil. Remember to wet the wool as you layer it with the soapy water.
10. So far you should have two layers of wool on each side of the stencil. Continue by putting one more layer on each side. Check that all of the wool is wet and that the layers are set smoothly against each other.
11. Now the felting action really starts! Get your hand wet and place it flat on top of the layers of wool. Press down on the wool and with out picking up your hand, start to move it all over the mitten. The direction does not matter at this point, just firmly yet gently move your hand around.
NOTE: Yes, the fibres of wool will separate a bit and will stick to your hand at this point. No biggie, just keep on gently moving your hand while pressing down on the wool. What is happening is that the fibres are clinging to each other. The more they rub against each other, the more they attach, and as the felting process progresses, the fibres will join so tight that the whole piece will shrink. That is why you made the stencil a bit bigger than the outline of your hand; to allow for the shrinkage.
12. Turn the stack of layers over and start the rubbing on that side. Take turns rubbing each side every two to three minutes. Work the whole surface of each side. Make sure to separate the layers at the bottom of the mitten (i.e., by the opening for the hand to go into the mitten) every once in a while so you do not felt the opening shut. If it happens that it does felt shut, you could always get the scissors out and cut it open; but let's just keep that as a last resort.
13. After about an hour of rubbing the wool in this manner, you will notice that the cardboard, now soaked with soapy water is not contributing much to the shape of the mitten. Put one of your hands inside of the mitten and pull out all of the cardboard.
14. It is now time to wear the mitten! Keep your hand inside the mitten and rub it against the table the same way as before. Remember to wet the wool every once in while and add some more soap to make the surface more slippery for the felting. Rub the wool between your hand and the table, shape it, felt it.
NOTE: If you notice any spots on the mittens that are not thick enough (it happened to me on the tip of the thumb of one of the mittens) take some spare fibre, stretch it a bit, wet it and set it over the spot(s). Continue to rub the mitten with soapy water yet remember to do it gently but firmly so to get the new small layer affixed to the rest.
15. By now you will probably be done watching at least one movie so put in another dvd, eat some more snacky poos and get back to felting.
So how to know when you are done felting? Pull on the wool fibres. If they separate and look like they will rip off, you gots to keep on rubbing/felting. However, if when you pull on the fibres, they feel tight and it feels like you are pulling on the whole mitten, you are done!
16. Rinse the mitten with clean water and then with a mix of water and a little bit of vinegar. The vinegar will help get rid of all of the soap because eventually the soap could damage the wool.
17. Since you are working on a pair of mittens, repeat all of the steps for the second one. You can always start the second mitten at any time and finish felting both mittens at the same time. One cool thing about shaping felt is that it will keep the shape that you give it so in the case of mittens, you can shape each so you end up with a left hand mitten and a right hand mitten.
There you have it! That is how you can make a simple pair of felted wool mittens. If you want to learn more about felting, I suggest Felt by Robyn Robyn Steel-Stickland. This small and neat book is a great source of information, technique and inspiration.
Further, here is a neat video on how to make a layer of felted fibre.
As always, we invite you to experiment, create and share with us what you learn and make. Have fun and let your imagination take over. From my part, I am planning on making a pair of felted slippers next... I'll keep you posted.
Originally published 7/19/13