Hand Felting 101

Felting (or fulling) is a huge part of my hatmaking process, and I thought it would be appropriate to post a tutorial for those of you who are curious as to what goes into it. First of all, let me clearly state that what I do is different from what a milliner or commercial hatmaker might do. Typically, felt (usually from animal fibers) is wetted and stretched over a hat block to shape and allowed to dry. The felt has a basic, very loose hat shape the begin with. When I felt, I start out with wool yarn and a crochet hook, and I give my hats all their shaping during the crochet process, though I make them much larger than their final size because felting shrinks the fibers together. Then I felt them down into the solid, compact forms you see in my shop.

Wool felting can be done by the home crafter in two ways: in the washing machine or by hand in the sink or tub. There are merits to both, but I choose to felt my pieces by hand because I can control the shrinking and felting processes and make sure my edges get the stiffness they need to hold their shape. I also don't own a washing machine in the first place... Hand felting can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour depending on the size of your piece. One hat usually takes me between 30 and 45 minutes. Machine felting can take just as long and may need multiple cycles, but it doesn't require nearly as much elbow grease!

A pink wool cloche just before felting. It has all of its shape already, but it's obviously too large and floppy to be worn at this point.  Honestly, I think it looks like something Darth Vadar would wear if, you know, Darth Vadar was a girl.

Step 1: Assemble your tools
In order to felt, all you need are a few simple things: a clean sink, liquid soap (I love Dr. Bronner's all-natural plant oil-based soap), a pair of tongs, heavy rubber gloves, hot water, and your crocheted or knitted wool object.

Step 2: Just add water
Boil a kettle of water. Plug sink and add hottest tap water you can along with boiled water and a dab of soap. Insert wool object into hot water and use your tongs to agitate it: swish it around, rub it against the sides of the sink, etc. At this point I usually agitate off and on for five-minute intervals while I'm cleaning my kitchen or watching television (or crocheting another hat).

Step 3: Insert elbow grease here
In between agitation in step 2, put another kettle of water on to boil. When it's singing away, pour it into the sink and agitate your garment some more. As soon as the water is "cool" enough for you to handle - but still HOT - put on your rubber gloves and get in there and SCRUB that puppy. Don't worry about being gentle! The hot water and the agitation/scrubbing help the wool fibers to open up and wrap around each other, which creates felt. 

At this point, depending on how quickly your piece is felting, you may want to "shock" the fibers by running them under cold water (in a seperate sink) and then plunging them back into the hot. If your water is getting too cool or you think the object is going to take longer to felt, boil another kettle, drain a bit of water out of your sink, add the boiled water, and keep scrubbing. Rinse, repeat.

My full process usually looks like this: add water and soap, add hat, agitate, watch some tv, agitate, drink some tea, agitate, add more boiling water, check my e-mail, shock the wool, agitate and SCRUB THE HECK OUT OF IT, add more boiled water, shock the wool, SCRUB THE HECK OUT OF IT until it's done.

Step 4: Drying
When your piece has obtained the degree of felting you desire (I go for no visible stitches, but some people like to see them), drain the sink and wring the water out of your garment. To remove even more water, I then roll my hat twice in a doubled-up towel.

Step 5: Finishing
Newly felted objects are usually a bit mis-shapen from the felting process, so you will need to do something to reshape them for drying. While my hat is still damp, I pull it onto my head to help it get its general shaping back, then I place it on a foam head (or my husband's "Have A Happy Day" cookie jar, as the case may be), make sure the brim is positioned the way I want it, and let it dry overnight. For a purse or garment, you could lay it flat or on a sweater drying rack or stuff it with newspapers or towels to give it shape while it dries. Be creative and find what works for you!

Doesn't it look like a hat now? Vadar would be proud.

More questions about hand felting? Let me know and I'll add the answers to this tutorial!

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