Felt was discovered when people riding horseback and sitting on animal pelts found that after a period of time the pelts or wool became 'felted'. This felt took a long time to make, however, and they sought a quicker way to produce this interesting new material.
What You Will Need
- Un-spun wool
- Wool carders (optional)
- A sheet of fabric double the size of the felt you want to make
- Rubber gloves
A carder is a wooden 'pad' with small 'nails' driven into it. It looks just like a big, flat hairbrush, and is used to brush raw, knotted wool into workable strands. If you don't have carders, you can use your fingers to tease and straighten the wool instead - this gives the oh-so-cool messy look. It might take longer, but you won't have to buy carders.
You need to separate out strands of wool and align them. Hold one carder in your left hand (handle at the top, paddle bit at the bottom so the nails face upwards) and the un-spun wool in your right. Now whack the carder with the wool - but not too hard! - and pull downwards so the strands of wool are caught in the carder.
When you have a fair amount of wool collected (it should cover the whole carder), take the second carder in your right hand and stroke downwards, combing the wool so it forms fibres aligned in one direction - up and down.
Pick up the wool from the carder and place it on your sheet of fabric.
Start the process over again, laying the next piece to the side of the piece you have already laid down, overlapping them slightly as you do so. Repeat this again and again until you have a big woolly mat the size you want your finished piece to be, with all the fibres aligned in the vertical direction.
Make three layers like this - although you could have 20 layers if you can be bothered - one layer vertical, the next horizontal and the final, top layer vertical again. This creates the 'warp' and the 'weft' that fabrics need to give them strength.
Working the Wool
When you've made your'mat', take out your bottle of suds and squeeze some over the wool. Fold in half the fabric that you laid the wool on, so that it makes a sandwich with the wool in the middle. Then fold the edges of the fabric over to completely surround the wool. Take your boiling water and pour over the wool so that the whole thing is wet. Make sure you let the water cool slightly - you don't want to burn yourself in the next step...
Now you have to put your gloves on and work all the soap in and make sure it gets into all the wool; you also need to massage the wool to make it into felt. Keep working at the wool with your hands, massaging over all the wool, kneading it and pushing it in all directions. This is the important bit that makes the wool fibres felt together, so carry this on for five minutes or so, making sure that you turn the whole thing over and do the other side as well.
Next, take your wool and plunge it into very hot water - this makes the fibres expand - then plunge into cold water - this makes the fibres contract, so they seize hold of one another and form a mesh of felt. Wash off the soap and squeeze out the water.
Now remove the fabric from around the felt. The felt will still be quite loose at the moment, so to make it more rigid, continue to scrunch and manipulate it: rolling, balling and squashing all help to make it into a stronger fabric1.
Basically, what you are doing when you make felt is exactly the sort of thing you don't do to your favourite jumper in the wash. Treat the wool badly, plunge it in and out of hot and cold water again and again, shout at it, kick it around.
There are many variations on how to make felt - it is a very adaptable material. Above is one method which works but you should experiment when making it. You can make spider-web-thin felt, or inch-thick mats. You could make a 'pocket' effect by placing a sheet of plastic in between layers of fibres before you start to felt. Using this method you could make gloves, purses, pockets and hats amongst other things.