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Creating beautiful felted backgrounds

Hello there readers!

I get lots of compliments about my wet-felted background pieces and often get asked how they are made. So here’s a blog devoted to giving you an insight into the wet felting process and the tools that I use.

wet felting tools

To begin with, here are all my tools:

1. Liquid soap

2. Water spray bottle

3. Hand washboard

4. Bamboo mat

5. Roller

6. Net

7. Bar of soap

8. Wool yarns

9. Coloured wool roving

10 White wool roving

11. White vinegar spray

I begin by throwing an old towel over my work desk. This will absorb the liquid I use during the process (n.b. protect your table with a waterproof sheet if it could be damaged by water)

I lay out a bamboo mat (4) on top of the towel. These are widely available as table mats or roller blinds at very little cost (remember to take away the roller blind mechanism though!).

wet felting towel and bamboo mat

I always begin felting with two layers of white (natural) merino wool roving (10). This tends to be cheaper than the coloured merino and will form the back of the piece so will not be seen. The first layer is placed in a horizontal direction then the next is placed vertically. This ensures that the piece of work has strength in every direction.

layers of white merino wool

Next I lay my pieces of coloured wool roving (9) down in a horizontal direction. This is the most creative stage so it tends to be the most time consuming task. I am trying to create the impression of the sky and rolling hillsides which will be free-machine embroidered when the piece of work is dry. Therefore at this stage I place pieces of coloured wool roving deliberately to achieve a variety of different bands of colour. I usually work on the sky first, blending really fine strands of pale blue, white and sometimes lilac or turquoise too. On top of this I lay the various hill layers, usually starting with lighter colours and working down to darker shades.

merino wool used in wet felting

Lastly I place pieces of wool yarn (8) onto the work. When wet felted, these create an impression of hedgerows and walls.

Once I am satisfied with the placement of materials I cover it with a layer of net (6). This can be the cheap stuff you would buy to make a kid’s fancy dress outfit. The net helps to keep all the pieces of roving and yarn roughly in place as you wet felt.

cover wool picture with net before wetting

I fill my water spray bottle (2) with warm water. Empty spray bottles are easy to buy from places like Home Bargains or you can recycle one from your cleaning cupboard (make sure this is thoroughly rinsed first as any residual chemicals in cleaning product could affect the felting process). Squirt water all over the piece of work to make it damp.

Onto the damp piece of work I squirt some liquid soap (1). Normally I water this down one part soap to one part water. This makes it less gloopy and you tend to use a little less too. The soap works in two ways. It lubricates the work helping your felting tools glide over it more easily. It also opens up the scales on each shaft of wool by changing the PH of the wool. This helps the fibres to lock together more easily. There’s always much discussion within the felting world about the best soap solution to use. Many textbooks will tell you to use a plain olive soap and some filters might take a sharp intake of breath seeing my bottle of Palmolive hand soap. However, having spent years trying lots of different solutions I really love how effective this hand soap is. It’s also more easily available in my local convenience shop so I never need to fear that ‘aargh I’ve run out of soap’ scenario!

using soap in wet felting

Once I have covered my work in water and soap I gently flatten it down using the tips of my fingers and then my roller (5). Now this is my most expensive tool. A worthwhile investment as I’m felting all the time but it absolutely isn’t essential. You can easily smooth down your work with your hands. I work methodically across my work, usually starting at the point where the hillsides meet the skyline. As the fibres are loose it is easy to accidentally displace them so I always work gently at this stage. If your hands are sensitive to contact with soap it might be sensible to wear rubber gloves for this. Once I have worked all over with my fingertips I gently run the roller forwards and backwards across the work in a horizontal direction. This process is smoothing your work down flat and beginning to agitate the wool so it starts to felt together.

wet felting roller

Next I introduce my hand washboard (3). This was another investment and again, not essential. The washboard is a wooden paddle with ridges on the bottom which I work in a circular motion across my work. This continues to agitate my fibres, encouraging them to felt together. You can easily improvise the hand washboard for free by wrapping a coffee jar lid in a few layers of bubble wrap and tying the ends with an elastic band!

Next I gently lift my piece of net away from the work to check how the felting process is coming along. The net will not felt into your piece of work as it is a manmade fibre. However, if you don’t lift it away occasionally you can find that some of the fibres pull through the holes in the net and tangle together on the other side, trapping the net in the middle.

Once I am satisfied the felting process is well underway I roll up my work in the bamboo mat. I roll back and forth as though I’m rolling out dough with a rolling pin. This is a time consuming stage. The longer you spend and the more vigorously you roll, the more felted your piece of work becomes. I usually flip the work round a few times to make sure I roll in each direction. Your work will shrink substantially during this stage.

rolling wet felting

Once I am satisfied my work has felted nicely I wash it gently in warm water to remove the soap. If the wet felting process has worked it should hold together as a robust piece of felted fabric as you clean it. Once the water is clear, I spray white vinegar onto it to remove any soap residue.

Finally I carefully peg my finished pieces out to dry! On a rainy day I sometimes hang the work in my airing cupboard to dry but beware of using radiators – the intense heat can sometimes fix lines in the work where it has rested on the bumpy radiator.

I hope this guide has been useful. Pop back another time to read more about my felted wool art.

Bye for now!

Max x

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