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Handspinning Fleeces, Roving and Felting Batts
Below is an article written by Debbie Martzall for our Coopworth Newsletter. Deb has kindly given me permission to put her article on my website.
Click on this link to see photos of some felted hats from a Deer Run customer.
FELTMAKING by Debbie Martzall
I want to share a workshop that I took last month-feltmaking! This is making fabric by compressing wool fiber into cloth. It is a process that is fun and another unique way to use wool. The wool is the only fiber that felts naturally. You may use carded batts or roving to make the process easier. Coopworth wool works for feltmaking but in a workshop where the group is on a schedule, the instructor usually uses Merino wool because it felts quickly.
Wool has microscopic "scales" along the length of it's fibers. When the scales rub against each other they interlock, pulling the fibers closer together. The feltmaking process can be added with moisture, heat and soap. The density of the fiber/cloth is increased as well as shrinkage. Do you remember ever putting a wool sweater in the washer and ????????? Now with feltmaking you are doing the same thing except YOU are in control with this process.
I made yardage in my workshop and plan to use it for a vest or maybe a type of jacket. It is best to first make a sample piece of felt. This allows you to see the percentage of shrinkage that will take place and be better prepared for your final project. These sample pieces may always be used in future projects, just let your imagination go!
The feltmaking process:
- Prepare the Fiber-(use either carded batting or roving) Pull off even tufts of wool and place down on the felting surface, for the directions we will use a 12 by 12 inch sample piece and your pattern may be a piece of paper 12 by 12. Your first layer of wool will be in a horizontal direction and you will fill the 12 by 12 sample. The second layer of tufts of wool will be on top of the first but in a vertical direction and again will fill the sample piece. Continue adding layers-4 to 6 thin layers instead of 2 thick layers. The thin layers give you more control in achieving an overall even finished product and a better end result. Make sure
to check for thin spots and fill in where needed-thin spots may become holes in the felting!
- Wetting the Fibers-Cover the wool with a netting fabric (nylon curtains are fine) that overlaps the edges of the wool. Dip your sponge into warm, soapy water. Press the sponge in the center of the wool and press down-this wets the wool and pushes out the air. Continue this process until the wool is totally wet, make sure that you keep your netting in place, this keeps your wool from moving! A fine line between too wet and not wet enough-and as with most things in life, practice! If the fibers are too wet or too soapy, they will float away from each other instead of felting together. If there are bubbles in the wool, then it is not wet enough and more hot,soapy water should be added with the sponge. Remove the netting and carefully fold over any loose edges and press them into the wool ( this allows you to maintain your sample size and shape ). If you want to add any bits of wool or yarn for contrasting embellishments, this is when it is done. Replace the netting, and again wet down the new wool-it will "melt" into the primary wool.
- Soft Felting-With the netting in place, begin to gently rub the wool in a circular motion. Make sure that the netting fabric does not become attached to the wool-just pull the netting away from the wool and replace and continue to rub. You will need to add additional, warm, soapy water as you work. When the one side is finished, carefully remove the fabric, flip the wool, replace the fabric and continue the process. You will know when the wool has reached it's soft felt stage by the pinch test. Pinch some of the fibers between your fingers. The wool should come up in one solid mass, if the fibers separate, rewet and
rub some more!
- Palming-When the wool is holding together in a cohesive mass, hold the wool piece between your palms and rub back and forth. The palming process starts the fulling process and ensures that fibers tangle together tightly.
- Hard Felt or Fulling Stage-This is when the felt becomes a solid piece of fabric. The fabric needs to shrink and in order for this to take place an agitation of some sort is necessary. Rubbing and rolling are the two most popular ways of fulling the fabric. You will also speed up the process by dipping the felt in hot water or pouring hot water over it first. ( hot as it is from the tap ) The rolling technique uses a bamboo mat or we had used a section of a swimming pool cover! We also used a swim noodle to roll the felt on-this was my yardage, not the sample and these may be bought at a discount store. You will also need several old towels to soak up the water as it leaks out of the project! The felt is gently rolled around the swim noodle and inside the section of pool cover (example) and tied with sections of pantyhose. The piece is rolled back and forth, open the piece up and shift the felt ninety degrees and roll and tie again. The felt will shrink in the direction that it is rolled, so continue turning and shifting the felt until it is thoroughly fulled. The rubbing technique for fulling uses a felting board or a washboard to rub the felt across until it has shrunk. This is fine for the sample piece that you should do prior to each project. You may also throw, stomp or pound your piece to reach the goal!
- Rinsing-Do not leave soap in felt for more than 24 hours. The soap may actually disintegrate the fibers and may also change your dyes. If you must leave a project, rinse the soap out, gently wring the extra moisture out and set the felt aside to dry. DO NOT PUT YOUR WET WOOL IN A PLASTIC BAG-moldy felt is not something to work towards! The final rinse-run warm to hot water over the felt until the water runs clear and free of soap. Finish with a cold water rinse. Blot out the excess water by rolling the felt inside a towel. Reshape the felt and smooth it with your hands or you may press it with a hot iron. It will take about 24 hours for the felt to dry completely. If you choose to dry the felt on a drying rack, be careful not to stretch it as it is drying. Do not allow the weight of the wet wool to distort its shape. Usually the wool will shrink about 30% in feltmaking.
I have given you step by step directions but I also suggest that if you are interested, treat yourself to a workshop-this gives you a chance to learn from someone that knows what he or she is doing and gets you off to a better start!
Enjoy-if you need any Coopworth roving let me know, I am now in the selling stages of my roving and can offer you an assortment of blends and colors. The prices will vary depending on the color and the blends.
Debbie Martzall, "Hearts of the Meadow Farm"
HC 71 Box 154 G-2, Tanner, WV 26137
Jim and Martha McGrath
178 Lough Rd.
Franklin, WV, 26807