Warning! There is a bit of reading here before we get to some photos!
I know that many people are not enjoying lockdown, but I have been loving it. It is like being retired but without the financial benefit of getting your pension or being able to buzz off somewhere. Since I have to stay at home, I might as well be productive as who knows when I will be back at work again and the felting will go on the back burner. I have been teaching myself new things and watching videos and taking online felting classes. For someone who has been wet felting for just under a year, I have been very productive. I tend to get obsessed when I learn something new and I immerse myself into it. As my husband does paragliding when the weather is good, I am sometimes left to my own devices on some weekends, so I like to fill up my time.
I have loads of felting books and every one of them describes the same procedure for creating felt, and most videos are the same. Although some people do some things slightly differently by what tools or technique they may use, etc., it is pretty much the same. Layout the wool in a certain way, wet and soap the wool, rub a bit or a lot, roll a lot, and then to the fulling which can be anything from throwing the thing down on your table to massaging and scrunching. Although felting is a processed based craft, there are actually different processes for making felt, not just the one. However, if you look carefully, it seems that there is only one way, even if that is not the case.
Using the sander is not a new thing. It has merely been made popular by many Russian feltmakers lately. Sanding does not replace rolling as many people seem to think it does. It facilitates the stage of getting to the pinch test which is usually achieved by rubbing and is particularly effective when working on larger pieces. The sander is particularly useful in nuno felting as it helps facilitate the fibers to migrate and attach to the fabric. Although I am not adverse to using the sander on most everything these days, except for hats, I will still do some extra rubbing after sanding a 3D item, especially on the edges.
When it comes to rolling, we cannot be skimpy on it or take shortcuts. Rolling seems to be the least favorite thing for many felters. I am learning to embrace rolling. 100 rolls in each direction, on both sides, can seem daunting, but to start with you don’t go crazy with it. You might even have to roll 200 or 300 times depending on what you are making! There are many styles of rolling and many types of equipment for helping you to do it. You just need to find what is best for you and your project. Some felters have issues with their hands. I sometimes get spasms, so I might use my arms more one day. You can use your feet also. There is a no roll method where you do it in the tumble dryer without the heat. I am not convinced about that technique as that seems more like fulling rather than rolling with all that bouncing around and I do not believe that you will get the same kind of felt if you roll effectively. Rolling will help shrink your felt and to keep it flat. Flat felt is what we strive for. We want it to be strong and hairless. (we get to have some photos now)
This hat was made by rubbing and rolling only. You want a nice stiff and smooth felt for a fedora or trilby. There are four thin layers here. Although the layers were thin and I used a 19 micron merino, this piece took a very long time to shrink down, mainly because it was only rolled. I do not have any fuzzies and my decoration lies flat on the hat. This is probably the best quality hat I have made so far.
This hat and scarf were rolled and fulled. Think of fulling as fluffing, as that is what you actually do to the wool fibers. It does help the fibers shrink more, but it also adds more air to the piece and that is why the wool gets bumpy, the air gets trapped in the fibers and causes them to look bumpy. When you have decorative fibers on top of the wool that don’t felt, such as viscose and silk, they merely attach themselves to the wool and mimic what the wool does. So, if you want to add texture or keep your piece soft, then you need to do a bit of fulling. You can see how bumpy the viscose fibers are here. I learned how to make this hat and scarf from an online course by Lena Archbold. Lena has learned her felting from Russian felt makers and has been teaching for quite some time now and makes quality fine felt, particularly nuno felt. Her videos are quite in- depth and she is quite generous with her knowledge, and she gives you lots of tips to make a nice project. However, I am not certain that she has ever explained the benefit of each step mostly I think as English is not her first language. If you follow her steps you will make a lovely piece of felt, and she will usually give you an explanation, but not always the why. I need the why. No one has ever explained to me why you full and when it is acceptable until recently. But that is because I asked the questions. I sometimes take things at face value, but not everything. Since I started the online classes at RuFelt Online, I have produced some very nice felt, but I have also been able to ask questions which have been answered effectively. Some of the free content contains lectures that explain some of the ‘why’. I do follow their instructions to the letter and have gotten very good results. I started with the Lantern, then I made some mittens and then a hat. The techniques were different for all three of them. It wasn’t until I made a sample did I have my aha! moment.
Here is a piece of felt I made to cut up for a brooch. I love it so much I don’t want to cut it up. I have two layers of merino with some sari silk fibers. I only rubbed and rolled. I have a very thin, sturdy and flexible felt. The fibers are nice and flat and shiny and vibrant. It shrunk less than 30%. That is because I only rolled. I used the same wool and silk that I used for my fingerless gloves.
Sorry for the quality of this photo, but we have been having rainy days here on the coast and the light is not so good. However, I hope you can see that the texture on the glove on the left is more bumpy than the felt on the right. Although I used more silk fibers on the glove, the wool did migrate through a bit and created an interesting texture due to fulling.
You can see here that I have some texture because of the silk. I did a large amount of rolling before I even got to the fulling stage. These were done in herringbone layout, so you need to roll to get all of the fibers to knit together and get rid of any fine holes. I have extremely strong, thin, but soft and flexible gloves that should last for many years. If I didn’t do any fulling, they would be just stiff, which is great for a hat, but not for gloves.
I didn’t do any fulling in this painting, only rubbing and rolling. I rubbed between each layer and because of that I didn’t get too much migration between the layers. I did not get a lot of shrinkage either, which is fine because it is a wall hanging and I wanted it large. The reason I didn’t do any fulling is because the piece is too big. I didn’t intentionally not full it for any other reason than that. I made this before I had more information and now in hindsight I realise that I did the right thing, but without really knowing why. Now that I know, I will most likely try painting with wool some more. There is no stitching here, only wool and fibers, and that is what I think wool painting should be all about – just my personal preference.
Here it is in-situ.
When I brought this topic up on my Facebook page, someone suggested that when I take a class I just do as I am told and then afterwards I make it my own. That is well and good if you know what you are doing to start with, but if you are just starting out, one tends to take things at face value. I think we should know why we are doing what we are doing from the very beginning to avoid any confusion. When I made my pink hat, there was no explanation in the video about the rolling. It wasn’t until I shared my project with the tutor and asked some questions did I get answers. I followed blindly, but only because these ladies have a very good reputation. I am under the impression that many people that teach just pass on what they have learned because that is the way they were taught and probably don’t really know all the whens and whys. When I took a slipper class, I was extremely surprised that there wasn’t any rolling involved, only rubbing and a bit of throwing the piece still in the template, followed my more rubbing. Because I had more information, I actually rolled my piece and ended up with the best pair of slippers. When I mentioned about the rolling, or lack of it, the tutor didn’t even blink an eye. This person even completed the CIFt course many years ago. I wasn’t too impressed with her felting when she showed it to us in at my Spinning Guild. It was all too fluffy and didn’t look finished. The slipper class just ruined things for me as she was supposed to be an expert or at least highly accomplished. I am not an expert, but I do know good felt when I see it and it is something I strive for.
I will be the first to admit that I can be a pain in the ass when taking a class as I do ask a lot of questions. That is just how my brain works and how I learn. It could be any kind of class, I am not exclusive. I feel that the more information one has as to why something is done in a particular way, then one can make an informed decision on how to proceed with a particular project. I don’t accept when people say, ‘That is just the way we do it.’ To me, that just means that they don’t know why. There is a reason for everything. Techniques for many things have evolved over the years because there are people who ask questions and maybe want to find a better or simpler way to do something.
So, to full or not to full – that is the question. The answer is, it depends on the project. However, at least you now have more information than you had before, if you already didn’t know. Thank you for reading.