Felting and How Felt Is Made By Hand

What is Felt?

Felt is a unique material. It is a non woven cloth, that has no specific fiber orientation. It does not fray, can be cut in any direction and holds its shape. It is equally strong in all directions and is very versatile making it a natural choice for artists.

A Brief History of Felt

Anthropologists have found artifacts of felted materials dating back to 500 BC, making it one of the oldest fabrics known to man. Because felt is not woven, felting does not require a loom. It is made using heat, moisture and pressure to mat and interlock the fibers. Because the material is strong and water resistant, felt was perfect for making tents, clothing and saddles.

Legend has it that felt was created by accident, when a monk stuffed his sandals with fibers to make them more comfortable. He discovered that the combination of perspiration and ground dampness, coupled with pressure from his feet matted these fibers together and produced a cloth.

Types of Felt

Commercial Felt

This is felt that has been made by industry, not by artisans who would be hand felting theirs. It is a felt that is more consistent and and uniform in quality. It lacks artistry and character but it has it’s purposes.

Industrial Felt

Industrial felts are made for specific applications in manufacturing and industry. It can be made from all wool but more often is made from animal, plant and synthetic fibers.

Boiled Wool

This is a knitted wool that has been shrunk by boiling, it produces a felted cloth and is done usually on a commercial level in order to produce facilitate the handling of larger quantities. it is often used to make coats, jackets, berets and vests.

How to Wet Felt

Wet felting is a technique that uses heat, moisture, and agitation to turn loose wool fibers into densely matted felt materials.

Good hand-made felt takes a great deal of time to make. It starts by layering hundreds of thin wisps of fiber to a desired thickness, wetting them down with soapy water and compressing them by hand.

This wool sheet is then rolled up in bubble wrap or thermal wrap and rolled for quite some time, in order to get the fibers hopelessly entangled with each other. Once the fibers have locked together and are relatively stable, the felt can then be strengthened and thickened by the addition of hot water and more vigorous agitation like kneading and throwing. After working it for a longer period of time, the fibers shrink further and eventually you end up with a new material- felt.

 

pattern for felting a jacket

The size of the pattern I use to make a jacket. There will be 50% shrinkage after the felting process.

laying and wetting wool for jacket

The laying and wetting the wool for a jacket.

Nuno Felting

Nuno felting is somewhat similar to traditional wet felting but can produce very different results. By manipulating a minimum amount of wool through a fine base weave fabric often silk, a felted fabric with characteristics quite different from traditional felt occurs. Nuno felt is lightweight with drape and flexibility. It can be a highly textured piece of fabric with many exciting variations. Nuno felt lends itself perfectly for making fine garments because the wool can be laid so thinly.Nuno Felt will shrink up about 50%, so any pattern you work with needs to start out about twice the size as the garment you want to end up with.