What is Felt? Felt
is the entanglement of woollen fibres. At its basic level, it occurs
naturally on animals where the hair is fine, warm, moist and where there is
the greatest amount of movement. Man has adopted these principles and has
developed a wide range of techniques, over the centuries.
What are its best
qualities? It can be as fine and soft as a
cobweb, or as robust as you wish to make it. It is waterproof, windproof and
will not catch fire. As a natural material 100% wool felt, allows air to
circulate, and therefore is pleasant to wear. It is an excellent insulator,
and is a very efficient sound-proofing material. It can also easily be
molded into new forms, and when it is dry retains its shape.
How do I look after
it? When dirty,
hand made 100% wool felts can be washed gently by hand - do not dry clean
because you will ruin it! Never wash it in a washing machine, as it will
shrink it further. To moth proof humanely, regularly place felt in the
deep freeze for 24hrs. That makes sure that the moth larvae and eggs are
killed off, or you can use lavender bags. Furthermore, hand-made felt hats
can be re-modeled when you want a different style, by soaking them overnight
in warm water; spinning the surplus water out and re-blocking them, and
leaving them to dry.
How is it made? It
is probably true to say that there are as many ways to make felt, as there
are felt makers. Each one is peculiar to every individual. Each one of us
has particular strengths, and has evolved methods that work for us. Some
methods produce better results than others. There is no one overall method.
However, 3 main categories of felt making can be identified:-
Industrial, using machines for
a) Wet felting methods
b) Steam felting methods
c) Air-blown felting methods
d) Needled method for creating
non-woven fabrics, e.g. 'vilene', inexpensive carpet flooring.
Hand felting, using wet felting
techniques with the aid of soap, that involve
a) flat rolling methods for scarves,
b) seamless methods for hollow felts
c) rubbing methods for felting rigid
materials with the woollen fibres.
d) molded methods for sculpting
e) combination of a), b), c) and d)
for multimedia felting.
Dry Needle, using industrial
barbed needles, held in the hand, and with a stabbing motion by which the
woollen fibres become tangled, a firm fabric or form is created. This is
particularly advantageous for 3-D work.
Do all fibres felt? No.
The fibres have to be woollen, with a long 'staple' (length of hair),
crimped in nature, and fine. Wool fibres have scales, and these are the very
scales that enable the fibres to tangle together during the felting process.
Silk, cotton and flax fibres, for instance, do not have scales, and
therefore are unable to felt together on their own. They need to have wool
fibres combed in with them before they are able to felt together.
What fibres give the best
felting results? Merino 64's Wool Tops give
you the quickest, finest and smoothest results, and are particularly good
for making fine but dense felts. They can also be used for combining with
other fibres, e.g. silk, flax, ramie, etc. which will not felt on their own,
but which when used with Merino will tangle in together to make a firm
fabric. 'Gotland' and 'Falkland' wools are also good felters. For my type of
work I use Merino, and only use other types e.g. 'Wensleydale',' Leicester
Longwool' and 'Blue-faced Leicester' for their decorative qualities as fringing. If you use odds and
ends and roving from the fields, you will never produce anything of quality,
and it will take you ages, producing very crude results!
What are the best
conditions for hand felting? When using
Merino wool Tops, use warm water and low lather soap, but do not use too
much of either of them. You need just enough water to make your layers of
wool moist, and enough soap to help the fibres 'stick' together while you
work. Too much water will make the fibres slide out of control, and too much
soap will create bubbles that will separate them. Everything you do, should
be to encourage the fibres to be as close together as possible so that they
can tangle together easily and quickly.
Can anyone felt? If
you can move your hands, arms and/or feet, you can felt. I have worked with all
age groups and all abilities, and without exception, they all produced
something to be proud of!
What dyes are suitable for
dyeing wool? I use Omega Dyes, which are
all-in-one, i.e. do not need any additional ingredients. They are acid dyes,
and are very economical to use, as afterwards whatever is left over (the
'exhaust' dye bath) can be stored in screw-top containers until next time.
Furthermore, they are relatively non-toxic as they are more in crystal form
than powder like, although it is always recommended to do your dyeing in a
well-ventilated area. For small quantities, dyeing can be done in a
microwave oven (specially set aside for this use) - 5 minutes, or in
microwave bags (one for each colour way), pegged to the side of a cooking
pot or metal container with 4" of water in the bottom - simmering for 1
hour. Full details and instructions can be found on Website: http://www.omegadyes.co.uk
How can I get started?
Many local Colleges throughout the
U.K., offer felting classes.
If you want to experiment for
yourself, you can buy the materials from Hand Spinning Suppliers, e.g.Wingham
Wool Work Low lather soap e.g. glycerine or olive, can be bought from
health food shops.
My books, 'Felt
in the Kitchen' will guide you step by step through wet and dry
processes, 'More Felt in the Kitchen', and 'Yet
More Felt in the Kitchen', will guide you further to explore more painterly methods, dyeing techniques,
and wet sculpting methods. 'Felt out of the
Kitchen' will show you the many different ways that felt and felting can
be used in our modern Western Society.
Where can I meet other
people interested in felt making? There are
groups of felt makers throughout the U.K., Southern Ireland, North
America, Scandinavia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Members of the
International Feltmakers Association
hold regional meetings throughout these regions. If you live in Scotland,
you can join the Scottish
Felters, who are a branch of the IFA.
Where can I see examples
of historical felts? In the U.K., branches
of the British Museum have collections. The Hermitage Museum and the
Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia hold huge collections of early
Pazyryk felts and items form cultures throughout Asia, Central Asia, and
States formerly in the USSR. In Europe and Scandinavia, local Ethnographic
and Folk Museums are also a rich source of inspiration. For example, in
France there is the Felt Museum (Musée de
Feutre) in Mouzon, and the Hat Museum in Lyons.
Are there any Exhibitions,
showing felt exhibits that I can visit? There
are several exhibitions throughout the year especially in the U.K., details
of which are usually to be found in 'Echoes' magazine, which is the
quarterly journal published by IFA
(International Feltmakers Association). Check out my Exhibitions
page as well.
Any other questions? Just
e-mail me, and I will be pleased to answer your questions if I can. If I do
not know the answer, I can refer you to someone who can. [click
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