This week's blog post was written by Ammi Brooks of Ammi's Art.
I teach felting classes at Artistic Portland. My next class will be held on March 19th so I thought I would devote this blog to sharing information that my students (and anyone interested in felting!) will want to know.
A quick definition...wool fibers are laid out, wetted down and pressed together. The fibers entangle and then are shrunk (fulled) about 1/3-1/2 by repeated throwing or rigorous rubbing. (See my earlier blogs for an extended definition).
Sheep are not the only animal fibers that felt. Fibers from alpaca, llama, camels, goats (mohair) and rabbit (angora) also make beautiful felted items. Sheep are shorn once a year. This wool is called a fleece. It does not kill the animal, however, I understand vegans do not use wool products because man is interfering with an animal’s natural process. If left alone sheep’s wool will fall off in clumps.
As with human hair, each breed of sheep has its own fine-to-coarse-hairs. Above is a merino sheep which has one of the finest and softest fleeces used for making clothing...not the scratchy sweaters you may remember. The finer the fibers, the faster the wool felts. Thicker fibers are used to make purses, rugs, and other items that need more durability. Wool fibers also come in different lengths from short to long and straight to curly.
Two of my favorite sheep fleeces are the Wensleydale and Teeswater. They have one of the longest curly locks available and I love to include them in my scarf making.
For this scarf, I dyed the long locks orange.
If you are ready to start felting you want to buy roving or batting. All fibers you purchase at the store have been washed, cleaned and carded (combed out). Roving fiber is carded into a long continuous cord that is 2"-3" thick. The fibers are going in multiple directions (but generally more aligned than a batt). Batts are mangled up fibers like a blanket. Below is a roving of Merino and silk and below it is a wool batting.
Roving is also used to spin yarn. Some people knit hats, slippers and socks really huge and then put them in the washer and they shrink to size! This is called fulling...a distinction usually only known to Felters. One of my favorite ways of felting is to use wool fibers with cotton or silk. Any wool fibers can be felted into pieces of natural fabric such as silk or cotton. It is called Nuno felting (at one time called laminated felting). To make a scarf I like to use chiffon silk. It has a large weave and the wool fibers (the finer the better) move through the silk easily. It takes more time easing the fibers into a china silk that has a tighter weave than chiffon. To prove a point, one of my teachers felted through Levi material. It took six hours of rolling and rubbing
Below is a sample of Nuno felting with (top row) recycle cotton skirt pieces. The middle row is the china silk. If you look closely you can see the fiber coming through the silk with obvious folds in the fabric. The bottom has recycled silk chiffon pieces.