Ten women gathered together at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca for a felting workshop with Jessica de Haas from Vancouver, Canada. All but one of us were raw beginners. I had knitted and then agitated my wool in a washing machine, but Jessica was quick to say this is NOT felting. Rather it is called fulling–which is the process of creating the wool structure first and then agitating it. Felting, on the other hand, is when you put wool fibers together to create structure.
The Felting Process
1. In a large 2-3 gallon basin, add room temp water and some liquid soap, about 1T. Put aside.
2. Cover a work table with bubble wrap, bubble side up, taping it securely to the underside of the table. Work on a concrete floor or outside. The floor will get very wet. Jessica covers her floors with old towels.
3. Put a bamboo mat on the table. We used a placemat. You can use a mat for rolling sushi.
4. Cut merino wool roving into 8-12″ lengths. We used wool that had been dyed the day before with indigo, pericone, cochineal, and then overdyed to get purple, moss green and brown. The wool was prepped by separating the fibers until it was fluffy. Note: merino wool is softer and also faster to felt.
5. Pull the wool fibers gently until you get a transparent piece about 4-8″ long.
6. Lay the fibers onto the bamboo mat In ONE DIRECTION each overlapping with the one before.
7. You can mix colors and do sections in different thicknesses. Patch areas that look thin.
8. For the second layer, lay down your wool pieces in the opposite direction. You will be creating a horizontal layer if your first layer was vertical or vice versa.
9. For the third layer, it will go in the same direction as the first layer.
10. 3 to 4 layers are preferred for strength and durability.
11. You can add wool, silk or cotton threads for texture.
12. The thinner your layers the stronger your fabric will be.
13. The cloth will expand when wet, and shrink up to 50% when dry.
14. Push the wool evenly into a square when completed, then cover with a clean piece of synthetic window screening.
15. Get a plastic bag and use it to dribble water –in thirds– over your screen covered mat.
16. Pat down each section with two hands u til wool completely absorbs the water. NO RUBBING. ONLY PATTING.
17. Use the plastic bag (vegetable bag) to rub the water into the wool cloth using a circular motion. Do this for about 5 minutes, keeping the cloth constantly wet with the sudsy water. The wool has to be completely saturated for the fibers to begin to break down. Remove the screen.
18. Fold the thin edges over so they are the same thickness as the rest of the square.
19. Roll up the mat with the wool square I side of it and then roll it back and forth in a rocking motion with two hands, using some force like you are rolling dough with a rolling pin. Count to 50.
20. Unroll the mat. Add water. Rotate the mat so you are rolling it up again from the other direction. Repeat Step 19.
21. Repeat Step 20. Do this process for about an hour until the felted wool fibers cannot be pulled from the fabric. From time to time, you can rotate the wool cloth inside the mat to make your cloth more even. Note: there will be wrinkles, but don’t worry. Just dribble more water on and these will even out.
22. Rinse your material in hot water. Squeeze out water. Hang to dry.