How I made it
My textiles file tells me that 1 sq m of felt requires 13g +/- 10% (because the moisture content varies so much) of wool in the form of fleece . This means it has come off the sheep and been washed and carded but NOT spun for knitting , crochet or weaving . So no , you cannot make felt from woollen thread of any kind but it is good for decoration . Fleece can be bought online from spinning/weaving suppliers in a huge variety of colours and breeds of sheep . Felting kits tend to use dyed merino which felts easily and evenly but is quite expensive . I was able to find both natural & dyed wool fleece nearby (it is Yorkshire after all) . In the UK your best bet is the ‘Knitting & Stitching Show’ which visits Alexandra Palace , London as well as Harrogate and I can’t remember where else . This textile Art & Craft show always includes more supplier stalls than you can find online . A word on natural fleeces ; don’t buy the Icelandic breed if you are just starting , better never . It shrinks excessively and unevenly and can make an awful mess of your best efforts eg
As you can see the background fleece in the left hand picture has shrunk more than the top layer and twisted and pleated it as well as depositing fluff all over in the right hand one .
You will also need a fabric base to build your layers up on . It must resist boiling , hot ironing and rough treatment without disintegrating . I have found unbleached calico to be best . You will need 2 pieces each big enough to cover your project with 2-3″ border all round . Then you need cotton thread , a washing machine with a boil wash and cold rinse , a hot iron and time/space .
Wool (indeed any kind of animal hair) will shrink , becoming thicker and stiffer under conditions of heat shock & friction . This doesn’t just happen to garments rubbed too much while hand washing in varying temperatures but can be induced in a controlled way in the unspun fleece . The result is an alternative fabric to those based on thread .
Lay out your first piece of cotton on a table or the floor . Eliminate draughts , toddlers , cats etc . Put down your base layer of fleece with the fibres running either up and down or side to side . The next layer must have them going the other way ie at 90deg/right angles . Continue alternating like this up to 5 layers . However thin you make them if they cover the previous layer you won’t have the colours showing through . Think of the 5th layer as your background and consider decoration with other threads or skeins of fleece . Knitting wool is really good here , it tends to stick more firmly to the fleece than eg cotton or viscose and will shrink a little – but less than the fleece does . Once completed cover with the 2nd piece of cotton and tack firmly along the edge where you can see the fleece is sandwiched between the 2 pieces of cotton . Then roll the sewn sandwich starting along the side you think of as the top . Holding the roll in place with elastic bands sew it shut firmly . Try to stitch only through the cotton otherwise the wool fibres could be distorted .
You may have to do a few of these before it is worth running the washing machine . The 95C wash with the cold rinse provides the heat shock and a bit of rough treatment . The consequent hot ironing of the piece both rolled up and unrolled provides the friction and more heat shock . (I also found that ironing it until completely dry facilitated peeling the felt off the cotton backing) .
Why I don’t do it anymore
When I started this blog I described myself as a ceramic and textile artist and intended to carry on with feltwork as I had stated in my MA Rukshana Afia August 2003 (the section of “Project” , ‘ And Now ‘ at the end . I didn’t really for 3 reasons :
1 I didn’t sell much felt – in fact even less than ceramics or drawings !
2 Leeds is a terrible place for moths so I have had to keep finished work in the freezer . Unfortunately I can’t justify using up freezer space to keep the fleece as well so……
3 Wool fleece is an expensive material compared to clay and even more so compared to the boxes of fabric oddments I have from years of alterations to & mending of clothes as well as remnants and fabric bought on spec. – this last augmented by my mother’s stuff which I have inherited – so that now I can contrast silk with velvet rather than felt .
I hope this makes sense jhv57 and I haven’t put you off !