Felt : how I used to make it & will I again ?

How I made it

1 Materials

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 .

2 Process

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 !




About rukshanaafia

Ceramic & textile artist
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6 Responses to Felt : how I used to make it & will I again ?

  1. dapherbs says:

    Very clear and informative. Sounds easy but a lot of work involved!

  2. Kathy Bergen says:

    You know so much about the process and can teach it well…I think you will probably do it again…but not regularly. It is very interesting. We have sheep farms here…a rancher that my daughter did a horse portrait for, used to get wool from the farmers and she had several different sized spinning wheels…she would spin to relax and sell it. If you made the felt into a large tapestry…do you think it would sell? I do. I love fabric arts and wish to know much more about them.

  3. rukshanaafia says:

    But most of my feltwork was pieced together into large circles ~ 1m across for which I charged £250 – cheap compared to paintings but I have only sold 2 ! At this stage I was reaching a limit wrt floor space to do the initial work on and some of the machine embroidery was getting difficult for 2 reasons – the space under the arm of the machine was fixed so I could only embroider up to ~ 18″ in and the weight of the felt was threatening to pull the sewing machine off the table ! I would love to have a commission for a really huge piece – then I could justify the expense of getting Habib to make me a really sturdy adjustable sewing table . Perhaps once we move to York …..

  4. Kathy Bergen says:

    I was going to ask if you might be able to make your sewing table more sturdy….and look for adjustments to make the arm able to do more work. I still have not taken my sewing machine down off the shelf for years…I would have to teach myself how to use it all over again. You have to target your market…find the people who collect this kind of fabric art. Yet, if it’s too difficult..and expensive…maybe you should stick to clay and other fabric arts!

  5. nannus says:

    My sister, who is a textile designer and weaver, developed a process of weave-felting. You might be interested in this. She uses a warp of cotton and wool for the weft. The material is washed in a washing machine together with small plastic beads that will beat it while washing. The wool felts and develops random patterns that can be partially controlled by the weaving pattern. See here for an example, a material she designed for a weaving shop in Germany (hope you don’t mind me putting a link here, just delete this comment if you don’t like that): https://asifoscope.org/2013/03/21/breeze/

  6. rukshanaafia says:

    Your sister’s work is interesting for incorporating both fundamentally . Usually weavers give a felted finish to woven wool which is more traditional of course . I have tried felting patterns with fleece onto woolen cloth but wasn’t pleased with the results . I particularly like the 2nd piece you show .

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