Fabulous Felt

Rissa Peace Root © 2006

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I love fiber, especially wool.  In addition to being a Crazy Quilter and avid stitcher, I am a spinner. Let me clarify, I do not mean I exercise on a stationary bike at the gym while an energetic instructor runs me through drills.  I mean I spin wool in order to make my own yarn.  My house is full of wool in every possible stage, from raw fleece to finished product.  

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

In addition to the mouth-watering display above, I have managed to fill the large closet under the stairs with fleece of every variety.  I also enjoy dyeing wool, so I am surrounded by all kinds of beautiful roving and locks.  I get a thrill every time I handle roving that I am about to dye, because I am looking for a way to unlock its potential.  I also get creative inspiration just looking at the wool after it is dyed, which is why I like to display it.  It might seem like a strange choice for home decor, but I find balls of roving in a basket or bowl infinitely more interesting than papier-mâché balls or wax fruit.

I live in the hot and humid south, so in the summer months, I do not enjoy spinning wool. During the summer, I dye more frequently and build up my stores for winter spinning. I spent the better part of the last week scouring raw fleece; picking out vegetable matter and washing away dirt and lanolin to prepare it for dyeing, spinning or felting.  So when I say I have been up to elbows in fleece, I mean it literally!

When you wash fleece, the most important thing to avoid is accidental felting.  Crazy person that I am, after processing the raw wool from two sheep, I had the intense desire to felt something.  The key ingredients for wet felting are hot water, soap and friction.  I am lucky that I have an instant hot water dispenser in my kitchen, because it makes the job faster and easier.  I pulled out some interesting roving, a tray, a dowel, some Dawn Direct Foam and a piece of corrugated shelf lining.  My plan for the afternoon was to make some sheets of felt, some beads, and a few organic shapes.    Basically, I align my wool fibers the way I want them, wet them, add soap and very hot water, then rub them across the corrugated liner.  In a mater of minutes, the loose fibers will be matted and become a sturdy piece of felted fabric. 

To make tubes and beads, I wrap the fleece around a plain wooden dowel.  I go through the same wet felting process, except that I roll the fleece covered dowel across the ridges on the corrugated plastic.  Once it has compacted and felted fully, just set it aside.  When the fleece and the dowel are both completely dry, the felt will slide off easily. Just cut the tube with scissors or a rotary cutter to size. 

You can also make free form organic shapes.  To get the pieces to stick together in a pleasing manner, I use a needle felting tool in the finishing process.  In the example below, I used needle felting to attach the pieces, make the loop and work some fleece into place to cover the join and make it more secure.

Recently, someone mentioned that they were looking for a source for felt balls for a Stumpwork project, so I started to experiment.  While I can make beads with the wet felting method, I decided that needle felting would be a better choice for creating perfectly round shapes.  The purple/pink ball below is completely felted, but the brown/blue one is only partially worked.  Although most people use foam or brush forms, I prefer to use a pincushion stuffed with wool.  Needle felting is also a great way to secure wool appliqué and make small sculpted items.  If you try this technique, be very careful, since the barbed needles are extremely sharp and dangerous. 

In addition to felting wool, I enjoy fulling wool in the washing machine.  This is the arm of a sweater I bought on clearance for the express purpose of making fulled fabric.  This is the same fabric used in the pincushion pictured above.  Just make sure you use hot water and add a low lint item to the load to help create friction, like a sheet or a pair of jeans.  Also, to avoid permanent creases in your fabric, stop the load before it completes the cycle and dry flat.  Technically, knit and crochet items are fulled and not felted, but the two terms seem to be used interchangeably these days.

I hope that some of you will be inspired to explore felt and felting a little further.

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