I learned how to make a felted vessel about 5-6 years ago. It was my first experience ever in wet felting and I just fell in love with it. Something about taking a bunch of wool fibers and wetting them down to create a piece of wool fabric is like magic to me. Hopefully you would like to learn how to do this too.
So let’s get started!
Supplies: a couple of bath towels–bubble wrap–2 pieces of netting/tuille–strips of old pantyhose or similar stretchy fabric–sponge–liquid dish detergent–assorted balloons–pool noodle–wool fibers (merino wool is best to start with as it felts much quicker than other wools)
You will also need a template for your vessel/bowl/vase. These can be created out of thick plastic sheeting. A cheap shower curtain from the dollar store is perfect. Then you have lots of plastic to create many different shapes for future templates.
Lay one bath towel on your work surface, then lay a sheet of bubble wrap down with your plastic template in the center.(photo above-top left) Separate your skein of merino in half to make it easier to pull (NEVER CUT YOUR WOOL-always pull) Then begin to pull small amounts from your merino and lay them around the template, slightly overlapping the wisps as you go around the circle (photo above-top right). You also want to have it hanging off the edge of your template approximately 1-2″. Continue laying small wisps of fiber to cover your template filling in the center of your circle of fibers as well(photo above-bottom left). You will want the fibers overlapping randomly to ensure that the wool ‘locks’ together when you start to felt it. Once you have covered your template fairly well, lay your netting or tuille over the fibers being careful not to disturb the placement. Then you will mix some very warm water with a few drops of dish detergent. Use a sponge to squeeze the soapy water around the circle of fibers. Once you have drizzled some water on wool, then use your sponge to press down on the netting/fiber pile to make sure all fibers are wet. Place another piece of bubble wrap on top of the netting and cover with another towel. While holding the bottom bubblewrap, template with fibers, netting, top bubblewrap and towel-CAREFULLY flip this over and remove your original bubblewrap and this is what you will see. below.
Now you will start turning all those fibers in towards the center of the template and it will look like this below.
Then repeat the same steps as above. Laying fibers around the edge, slightly extending beyond the template, then filling in the center. Cover with another piece of netting, wet down with sponge, cover with bubblewrap, towel and flip back over again. Once you’ve done that it will look like this below.
Congratulations! You have complete your first steps. Now you get to do this 3 more times each side. I always keep a pencil and paper handy to keep track of how many times I have gone through the process. Once you have a couple layers of fibers you can lose track so making hash marks on paper or writing down a number is a good idea.
When you get to your fourth & final layer you can add a different color fiber for contrast. I chose a bright coral color to contrast with the turquoise. I laid the fibers down in a circle (below), but you can do random bits of color or leave it solid color. Also note that I laid some very thin wisps of a paler turquoise over the coral just to make sure the coral gets ‘locked’ in when I start to felt.
After you have four layers of fiber on your template it’s time to start felting! Make sure your fibers are covered with netting both sides, wet thoroughly & sandwiched between bubblewrap and towels. Put your pool noodle at one end of the towel sandwich and begin to roll it up tightly. Use the strips of pantyhose to tie each end of the rolled up towel(photo below at top). Now the fun starts….You will roll your pool noodle wrapped towel sandwich back and forth over your work surface approximately 100 times. Then you will unwrap the towel sandwich turn your template a quarter turn and re-roll the whole thing back up, tie it and start rolling again. You will need to keep checking the felting process and the shape of the piece after about every 100 rolls. If you continued to roll without turning the circle you will end up with an oblong piece The fibers will stretch in the direction you are rolling. If that shape is what you want, then go for it. I prefer to make an oblong template when I want an oblong vessel.
Once you have rolled your towel sandwich approx 500 times you will want to check the wool to see if it’s starting to felt. You should be able to grab the fibers in the center and pull the felted piece away from the template without the fibers separating. (photo above-bottom right)
I have to confess and tell you that I have given up my pool noodle-rolling days. I have given instructions for that method in case you are a beginner and want to know how wet felting is done. I have opted to take a different route, which is soooo much quicker than rolling.I purchased that nifty little tool in the above photo-bottom left. It makes life so much easier. I bought it specifically for nuno felting scarves but it works wonderfully for any wet felting project. It is made by Heartfelt Silks and is made from solid wood with a waffle like texture on the bottom. They call them palm washboards & they are well worth the money!
If you decide to purchase a palm washboard then you can forego the rolling. You will keep your netting on top of your fiber wrapped template and adding a little more hot/soapy water to the fibers, use the tool in a circular motion with slight pressure. You don’t want to start with too much pressure because you don’t want to disturb your fibers. Spend about 3 minutes circling around your entire piece then flip it carefully and with netting covering your fibers repeat on the second side. Continue flipping, circling and increasing your pressure. Check to make sure your wool isn’t felting into your netting. If you do see fibers starting to peek through, it’s time to remove the netting and check to see if your fibers are felting by pulling up on the center as above photo.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert felter and I am not a salesperson for Heartfelt Silks. This is just something I found that works wonderfully!
With either method of felting we are now ready to cut a hole in your vessel and pull that template out. Decide where you want your hole and how large, then pull up the slightly felted fibers & using a very sharp pair of scissors cut into it. I cut a medium sized hole in this one right in the center of the felted circle. If you want to embellish with embroidery or beading I would suggest a larger hole as it makes it easier to stitch. Once you have cut your hole you should be able to stick a finger or long tweezers down into the hole to grab your template and remove it. (photo below)
As you can see, the cut opening now has loose fibers. Not to worry we will continue felting this piece and the freshly cut area will ‘heal’ itself.
At this point, insert a balloon in the opening and blow it up. I used a rather large balloon (12″). You only need to inflate until the felt is fully expanded as photo below.
Then you can use either a palm washboard tool or a small piece of bubblewrap to continue the felting process. I sometimes just stand at the sink so I can continuallly add hot water and keeping rubbing all around your vessel. Bubblewrap works great at getting around the cut opening. It will help to seal up those loose fibers easily. You will want to add a little more soap as you continue to rub with bubblewrap or the palm washboard. After 3-5 minutes of vigorous rubbing your piece should be on it’s way to almost fully felted.
Remove the balloon, thoroughly rinse all soap out of the wool & squeeze as much water out as you can. Now we are going to throw that vessel as hard as you can onto the towel on your workspace. That’s right-I said throw it! It will ensure that your wool is fulled, meaning all the fibers have successfully woven themselves together and you have a very tight fabric. I generallly throw my piece about 5 or 6 times. You can check the shape as you throw it. You might want to open it out as though it was on the template and throw it that way a few times, then you can throw it with the hole at one end like the photo above where I removed the template. As you throw you are tightening the fibers so you want to change the direction of your throwing if possible.
You will be able to tell a huge difference once you are done throwing. It will feel denser/heavier. At this point, I usually stick a balloon back inside and blow it back up so it can dry on the balloon. You will want to put the balloon end inside a big cup if you want a more rounded shape. If you want a flatter bottom on the vessel then sit it on a towel with the balloon inside to dry overnight.
I really liked the gnarly shape and texture of my vessel once it had fulled so I decided to forego the balloon and just let it dry naturally. After it dried I added some embroidery around the opening.
I know it seems like this is a long process but this vessel took approximately 2 hours-start to finish (other than drying time and stitching).
Here are a few more vases/vessels I have made since that first one. They are rather addictive!
I hope I have inspired you to try wet felting. Believe me, if I made one without ever doing any wet felting you can do it too! Let me know if you have any questions. I recommend a book by Ruth Lane called The Complete Photo Guide to Felting. It is very informative and has been my go-to book on felting as well as the different types of wool and their felting abilities.