Felting is the ancient process of causing wool fibers to entangle making them into a nonwoven sheet of matted wool. Have you ever accidentally shrunk your wool sweater? Then you made felt! You may also be familiar with felt (made out of synthetic fibers) sheets you may have used for arts and crafts as a kid. The reason felt for kids is popular is because the edges don’t fray—you just cut and the felt is good to go.
I discovered felt years ago, but it wasn’t until I went to the annual Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival six years ago that I knew this would be my new fiber of choice in my artwork. Felt is magical to me. From tufts of wool roving (and some bits of silk, cotton and other fibers) the boundaries of what can be done with felt is as limitless and your imagination.
From ancient times, felt has been used to make socks, shoes and other wearables. Today, in Central Asia, nomadic people make yurts, clothing and rugs from felt. It is used in the automotive industry, in home construction, for musical instruments, hats and much more.
Felt is made both by hand and machine. Industrial felt is sold in a variety of thicknesses and is uniform in its characteristics like color and weight. Felt made by hand varies widely in colors, thicknesses and design.
All felt is nonwoven, which means you can cut it and it will not fray or unravel. So if you sew with it, you need not make seams and there are no raw edges, like this basket, below.
There are several methods of making handcrafted felt.
Wet felting is done using wool fibers like Merino wool roving and adding hot water, soap and agitation to transform the roving into wool mats or felt fabric.
Another method of felting is needle felting, where the matting and entanglement of wool or other fibers is done using barbed needles.
Fulling Knitted and Crocheted Fabric
Beautiful objects can be made by first knitting then felting. In the bag below, the bag was knitted then shrunk in a washing machine using hot water, soap and agitation.
Small amounts of wool are layered on a pre-existing fabric like silk or cotton. During the felting process, the wool fibers migrate through the fabric and fuse into one.
As you can see, felt is an amazing material and its applications are endless. I work with both industrial and handmade felt. From industrial felt, I have made bags, coasters, placemats, pillows and more. My artwork is created with both handmade and industrial felt.