When you’re holding a beautiful piece of felted something in your hand, it’s hard to say for sure what technique was used to create it. And that mystery can make it seem daunting to try felting on your own. Never fear, my lovelies. I’m here to tell you which is which and what’s what among felting techniques.
Hand knit slippers that have been fulled.
Technically speaking, felt is “a non-woven fabric of wool, fur, or hair, matted together by heat, moisture, and great pressure.” Hmmm. So those “felted” bags or slippers we’ve all knit and thrown into the washer are…what? Well, they are not technically felted; they’re fulled. Fulling is a precess that is applied to cloth that has already been processed. Woven, knitted, crocheted, etc. fabric is subjected to the same type of treatment as it’s non-woven cousins. In contemporary fiber art circles, we’ve come to use the term “felting” for the whole genre, and neglected the term “fulling.” But it ain’t necessarily so.
Making a felt robe for Bakhtiari shepherds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felt
Felting, then, is the process of applying heat, moisture and agitation to non-woven fiber that tangles together. It’s usually animal protein fibers that have natural scales on the individual hairs. As you’ll know if you read my post about the superwash process, it’s the scales that do the work. The fibers are laid out in cross-crossing directions so there is no “grain” to the final fabric. then they are wet down and rubbed, scrubbed, squeezed, wrung, trodden, suzzled, smunched, grinched, or otherwise treated very roughly.
Traditional Valenki, or Russian felted boots. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valenki
The end result can be flat fabric where the front and back sides are indistinguishable. It can also be dimensionally sculpted and shaped. This is oldest form of felting, with a long history of both practicality and artistry.
The resultant flat fabric or shaped piece can then be used like any other fabric. You can cut it and sew it together, just like any other fabric.
Some very pretty embellished felt pieces! http://www.feltingforum.com/forums/mixed-media/13735-mixed-media.html
You can also embellish it with embroidery, beading, applique, knitted or crocheted additions, or anything else you can think of. just like any other fabric.
Mim and Catherine collaborated on this nuno felted scarf with added locks for embellishment.
Sometimes, instead of laying out criss-crossing layers of wool, you can use a fabric backing that your wool fibers tangle through. This kind of wet felting is called Nuno Felting. We wrote some instructions for our new Nuno Felting kit that has a good description of how it’s done. The fabric substrate provides new dimensions in design possibilities, but also means you can use a lot less wool and get a lighter weight, drapey-er, fabric. With nuno felting, you can leave exposed fabric that has no wool over it. the bare patches become part of the design. But if you cover the entire surface of the fabric, it can be difficult or impossible to tell the difference between plain wet felted and nuno felted fabric.
Felting needles in three sizes.
Our last felting technique requires us to bend the definition a little bit. Remember our definition said that heat, moisture and agitation were required? Well, you can actually make a felted fabric without moisture, if you use the right kind of tools. Specifically you’ll need special needles. this kind of felting is called Needle Felting or Dry Felting. Catherine has explained at more length about the different sizes of felting needles, and how they work. Essentially, the needles have small barbs on them and, when you drive them into a bunch of wool, the barbs catch on individual fibers and tangles them together. The more you poke your wool with a needle, the more tangled it gets.
Mim and Lauren collaborated on this flat needle felted piece.
Needle felting can be worked flat using a previously felted wool backing like a canvas, various kinds of loose fiber like paint, and felting needles like brushes. Like other kinds of two dimensional art, precise control, color sense, proportion, composition, etc, require some native talent and some skills that can be acquired with practice. But the basic technique couldn’t be easier. Just keep poking your material with a barbed needle and you’ll be fine.
A pretty doll that Chloe felted.
The needle felting technique can also make three dimensional sculptures. Using bunches of wool as you would marble or wood, and needles as you would chisels, poke your bunch of wool over and over until it looks right. Every where you poke your needles will tangle fibers together…which will cause them to shrink. That’s how you make the shaping happen.
So that’s the skinny on felting techniques. There’s fulling of fabrics that are already woven, anf felting of loos fibers. Felting can be wet, which includes nuno felting with a substrate, or dry which is called needle felting. All of them are easy. All of them are beautiful. And all of them are fun. You should try it.
It has been a long time goal of mine to knit or crochet a swatch (at the very least) of every feltable yarn we carry in the store and see how well I can felt it by hand. So far I’ve gotten ahold of Cascade 220, Cascade 220 Fingering, Bartlett, Homestead Tweed, and Moonshine. So far all of them — with the exception of the fingering weight –had to be aggressively put through my washing machine and didn’t take too well to hand felting. In fact, as a note to any of you who might be interested in felting with the Homestead Tweed, it does tend to lose some of the dye in the process (or at least, the burgundy color that I used did). Cascade 220 Fingering did hand felt, but it took a long time and wore out my hands pretty quickly.
I’ve also felted with Malabrigo Worsted and Rasta, but only for needle felting. Now, before you faint or shout “blasphemy!” , remember the mini paintings we felted at the store for the Christmas tree auction?
There was one other yarn that I’ve been wet felting by hand that surprised me, and that’s the one I wanted to focus on today: Quince&Co. In particular, Chickadee.
Oh my goodness. Ooooh, my goodness. When knit on a US #2 instead of the #3-#5 that it recommends, this stuff felts like a dream! With very little time, effort, and a lot of soap I was able to get these results.
I’m sure if I had put in some more time, I’d be able to get it completely felted so the impressions of the stitches no longer remained, but this was a satisfying first attempt. Now, does it needle felt well (using a large gauged needle because this is already a densely felted object)?
Yes, it does! Do I needle felt letters with roving well? No, no not at all. I think I’ll be sticking to the Malabrigo for that.
There’s a lot you can learn about felting from online tutorials, youtube videos, workshops, etc. , but some things you have to learn from experience. Sometimes those things take a lot of experience to really give you that ” OH WAIT ” moment. Right now I’m going to share probably one of the most important pieces of advice for needle felting that I’ve learned, and this goes for whether you’re doing flat felting, sculpture with an armature, or without.
The most important piece of advice that I have is to persevere. Felt can be an incredibly forgiving medium, but it can take time, patience, and the perseverance previously mentioned to get your art to the point you want it to be.No matter how long you’ve been doing this, it’s quite likely that your project is going to look silly or weird for a little while– sometimes maybe too silly or weird.
Don’t let this make you feel discouraged. Over time as you work, your sculpture, painting, etc. will start to become more fleshed out. It still may not turn out 100% the way you envisioned once you’re done, but that part comes with practice and with finishing pieces even if you don’t think they’ll turn out great. If it does turn out great? Awesome! If not? Take notes of what you think should be done differently– or, even better, take notes throughout.
It can be really difficult to get to this part of the learning process if you don’t push through the beginning “oh my gosh this looks so ridiculous” steps. You can do it, though. I know you can.