Friday, February 19, 2010
A Chooks Tail or How to make felt
It occurred to me that you may not know what handmade felt is all about. This is not meant to be a tutorial on how to make felt… just a brief description for you. There are many different ways to make it but this was the first technique I learnt. My felt begins with unspun sheep wool. This is just a small part of my stash. I have wool straight from the sheeps back, as well as wool that has been washed and combed. Some is commercially dyed, some I dye myself. Generally, I use merino. It is soft and easy to work with. Occasionally, for special projects, I use a courser type, like corriedale. It is much more difficult to felt but is harder wearing and hold its shape well. Felt created using a wet technique begins with pulling out tufts of wool and laying them down in the same direction. The next layer goes down across the first. And so on, until you have a thick, soft batt. To make the wool really interesting you can vary the colours. In this way the finished fabric has wonderful changes and blends that commercial felt rarely has. This is where the work starts. The wool batt is sprinkled with soapy water. A layer of gauze is placed over this and the water is gently worked into it. Working it further with small circular hand rubs starts to intertwine and tangle the fibres. This is the beginning of the felting process. If the wool doesn’t pull apart when it is pinched and gently tugged, we are ready for the next step. The batt is rolled up in bubble wrap and rolled back and forth for 50 – 100 rolls. Unwrap it, turn it, roll, repeat. This goes on for a while. Definitely a good way to give your upper body a workout. Occasionally the piece can be thrown onto the table; it can squished in your hands; and rolled a bit more. It can take a fair amount of time and effort to work the wool. Eventually the surface texture of the piece changes. The sheet of fabric, which had become very thin when wetted down, has thickened a bit and shrunk markedly. Voila! It is done and ready to use in whatever way you like. Maybe a tail?