Friday, September 05, 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Felting by Gabrielle. It’s been quite a crafty time for me of late. After the sheep shearing we had a pile of wool to deal with and it my job to find things to do with it. I have never learnt to knit; my mother did try several times to teach me but it was evidently not one of my talents. I read all about felt and liked what I read. Felt is easy to produce, probably one of the oldest crafts, and produces a material that is warm, waterproof, flame proof and extremely hardwearing.

I set to with the holy trinity of distance learning: books, friends and Google to discover what I needed to know. I first washed the wool in a mixture of soda crystals, soap flakes and warm water, taking care not to agitate it too much (which would start the felting process a stage too soon) and using, to excellent effect, a plasterer’s trough and a wire shopping basket from Tesco’s (liberated from its mundane supermarket existence to a new life in the country) in order to lift and lower the wool in and out of the very hot soapy water. Once the wool was washed, rinsed and completely dried (this in itself takes several days) I carded it using my lovely new drum carder that was a Christmas present from Stuart. The wool was now like candyfloss, lying in large rolls, called rolags (see photo at top with the finished article. The correct term is apparently a "batt", thanks Emma, for your comment, below) on the kitchen table and was ready for felting.
I set myself up with an old bamboo blind, a large piece of bubble wrap, soap flakes and a kettle for an ongoing supply of hot water. The basic principles of felting are to lay wool out in fine layers then soak it with hot water and soap then agitate it: rolling it up in a bamboo blind lined with bubble wrap works perfectly.
I have mostly black wool from our Ouessant sheep but also some lovely creamy wool from a Val’s flock, so I was able to add a contrasting motive to my first piece of felt. I was really pleased with the result and may turn it into slippers or simply keep it as one piece for a cushion. Full of confidence after this early success, I’ve since started to experiment with natural dyes: more on that soon.
For further guidance, a useful web article, The Ancient Art of Felt-making by Amanda Hone and a book, Complete Feltmaking by Gillian Harris.