If you haven’t tried the many styles of felt making, you are missing a big part of the textile arts experience.
The hottest trend in the fibre world right now is felting. To take beautiful colours of wool fibre and turn it into something useful, like slippers or a bag, or something sculptural like a vessel, is to witness the most amazing transformation. Let me introduce you to the different methods of felt making available to today’s fibre artist.
Wet felting is the oldest form of felting. Using fine merino wool fibre, the magic of wet felting will produce a small bag, which will be decorated with beads and silk cocoons. Wet felting is the process of removing air from the wool fibre, which is stacked in organized layers, wetted with water and soap and massaged, rubbed and finally formed into a felt object. This magic process makes fibre into felt. Dating far back in human history, felt has been there, providing warmth and comfort. Clothing, tents, yurts (a round shelter) and many other practical items have been produced this way.
Needle felting is one of those arts that have evolved from industrial uses. The humble felting needle is secured in a bed by the thousands and used to produce things like carpet underlay, felt boot liners, insulation and quilt batting. Taken by itself, it becomes a very versatile tool for the fibre artist. Without stitching a shape or stuffing, a figure can be built, layer by layer with wool fibre and one simple tool: the felting needle. A face can be detailed entirely with coloured wool using this method. The possibilities are limitless!
Many knitters are having fun with felting: knitting hats, bags, mittens, etc. with wool yarn. These are then placed in a washing machine to shrink and become felt. This process is properly called “fulling,” though it is commonly referred to as felting. It results in felt fabric, which is strong, warm to wear and beautiful.
The newest comer to the felt making scene is the embellishing machine. An embellisher is a sewing machine of sorts, without thread or feed dogs. Felting needles do the work of needle felting, inserted singly or in groups in the needle holder of the machine. Using the machine, flat pieces of felted and embellished work can be made. Many fibre artists and quilters are creating wonderful work with this single-purpose machine.
A world of fun awaits you as you step into the tactile world of felt making. Come join me at the Figurative Artists Consortium this June and create your own Blossom Bag.
Edwina Sutherland is a textile artist, teacher and historic costume expert, working in felt and cloth to create figurative sculpture.
1276 Wellington Street
Ottawa, K1Y 3A7