Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wet Felting Fun

I became interested in felt after seeing the amazing "Fashioning Felt" exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum a few months ago. Oh, the works in that exhibit were absolute wonders! Well, yesterday, I took my first wet felting class with Natalya and a few other friends. It was so much fun and there's nothing like a hands-on class to really help you appreciate the work involved in any art form.

Linda Brooks Hirschman was our intrepid teacher and we met at her wet studio for class. I was a complete neophyte when it came to felt, so Linda was kind enough to take a few moments to explain the principles of felting. In order to create your own felt, you have to start with roving. Roving is wool that's been carded. Each tiny little fiber in the roving bundle is a piece of wool; in this case, merino wool. Each piece of roving has little scales, for lack of a better word, that stick out from the shaft. As you work with the roving, these scales interlock and get tighter, allowing the wool to felt, or stick together.

The process of creating felt isn't all that difficult. You start with roving which you've pulled apart, using the heel of your hand to anchor the bundle and pulling gently with the other hand. You end up with a wispy collection of fibers which you lay on your surface (we used bubblewrap squares). You lay your first layer of roving all in one direction, overlapping the sections a bit so there's something for them to grab on to. If you have a skimpy layer, or sections that don't overlap, you'll end up with holes. That may be your artistic intent at some point, but we wanted to have the pieces hang together to start. After you've completed one layer, you lay a second one in the same fashion, but perpendicular to the first. If there are any subsequent layers you'd like to add, you have to continue going in opposite directions.

Two layers of roving, all laid out and ready to go

Once you've laid all your roving, you wet it with soapy water. The soap acts as a kind of glue for the fibers at this point. We used olive oil soap shavings dissolved in some water. Linda very cleverly used plastic water bottles with holes punched in the tops for this step. You can drizzle the water atop the roving without too much trouble. You certainly can't put this bundle under the tap! In any event, you next lay a layer of plastic atop the wet roving and press on it a bit, making sure that the water gets distributed throughout the layers. There's no need to worry about too much water.

Wetting the layers of roving

After you've made sure the roving is saturated, you begin the agitation step. This was so much fun! To start, you roll your roving around rods, pool noodles, bamboo sushi pads ... you name it, we used it if it was round. This is the step that helps the fibers all interlock. As you roll, water gets squeezed out and the whole thing starts to knit together. You may find you have holes (oops or hurray) or you may find that some sections are a bit thicker than others. That's part of the serendipity of felting. Once you're satisfied that the fibers are well connected you can start to knead it in your hands; you can even throw it unceremoniously onto the table to further bind the roving. (That last bit was very fun and created the coolest, knobbly texture in the felt.) This is also the stage when the felt really starts to shrink up. You have to be careful here because you can't undo any shrinkage. Once it's small, it's small forever. When you do get your felt to the size you'd like, you simply rinse out the soap.

A classmate rolling her felt

Once we'd made a simple piece of felt, we made another, this time adding all sorts of fun things to the mix: multiple colors, curls (wool that hadn't been carded), yarn, even lemon bag netting and sticks.

A table full of goodies to choose from and use

The process is the same for more complex pieces of cloth, except that you have to "veil" any non-roving materials, meaning you have to lay a fine layer of roving atop any such object so that the fibers around it can hold it in place. You can also rub some bar soap atop things such as yarn to help them stick better. I really enjoyed adding funky stuff to my felt and here's what I made.

Our last project was to use a resist to make a non-seamed vessel. This one is a little tough to explain without pictures, but suffice it to say that all managed to successfully make a vessel. How cool is that?

This was such a fun day and I'm looking forward to making more felt. Perhaps I'll try a scarf next!


Benedicte said...

Fabulous report on your fun day! Can't wait to see what you made in person!

Susan Schrott, Artist said...

OH WHAT FUN....are you all set to teach us now!!

Cindy said...

Wow! Both gorgeous! You make it look so easy! Can't wait to see that felt worked into another piece!

Kristin L said...

I love your little vessel!! I took a wet felting class a few years ago and made a lattice scarf -- it started out very big! http://kristinlaflamme.com/musings/?p=59

norma said...

You make it look like so much fun and I love your finished results, the flat piece and the vessel.

Natalya Aikens said...

boy that was fun! girl....

Anonymous said...

i just fell into your site and i am thrilled that you loved my class and got so much good info from it. i hope you are still felting. want a refresher? take another class. i just created one called "tips and tricks." more fun indeed. thanks,
linda brooks hirschman