Monday, April 20, 2009

The craft of Felting....Not just for Nomads and Needles!

Felting you say, what is felting, especially needle felting?

Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers. It is the oldest form of fabric known to man! Some items we use on a daily basis come from felt- rugs, tents or clothing. Needle felting is felting without water. A special, barbed felting needle (the same used in industry today) is used to push the top layer of wool into other layers or deeper layers. The unique property of wool fiber that allows it to "stick" to itself, causes the wool to "felt", without the need for soap and water.
Here's the story of Felting, with a brief history, construction, uses and some tips/techniques from some Minnesotan's that have FUN creating with the craft.

A Brief "Felting" History
Wool felt is the earliest known form of textile fabric and played an important part in the life of early man. Throughout central Asia, where some of the oldest felts have been found, Turkman nomads made their tents, clothes and floor coverings from the material and it consequently became a significant part of many religious rituals. Can you believe it, felting was also believed to have magical properties - Mongolian horsemen would hang felt figures inside their tents to bring good luck and to ward off evil spirits and a felt mattress would protect the sleeper from dangerous snakes and scorpions.
From the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries, a process called "carroting" was used in the manufacture of good quality felt for making men's hats. Through a lengthy drying, stretching, slicing, hot water, and rolling treatment; beaver, rabbit or hare skins were treated in a mercury solution to make hats. This toxic solution and the vapors it produced resulted in widespread cases of mercury poisoning among hatters. The United States Public Health Service banned the use of mercury in the felt industry in December 1941.

The Construction of 'Felt'
The fun and "clean" way of wet felting. The construction process can be done right in your home (also done by a chemical process in industry). At home, felt is made by a process, where the natural wool fiber is stimulated by friction and lubricated by moisture (usually soapy water). By layering your wool, fleece or whatever material you choose to use, on top of each other at 90 degree angles, you use water, dishsoap, a screen (to hold it in place), a towel and nature's air conditioning to craft the felting process. Felting wool happens fairly quickly! It can also be done with special 'barbed' felting needles, which grab individual fibers and drag them against their neighbors, thereby binding them. Somewhat the same as 'wet' felting, you layer the wool or fleece in layers and use the special felting needle with a up/down motion to meld the fibers together. You can check your work by looking at the reverse side to ensure the process is showing through. You know you are finished when the look and feel is to your desire.

Uses of felt
Wow, there are so many ways to use felt, one of them being needle felting to DIY crafts n' things. Just look at all the ideas you can create or craft: Hats, capes, a dress, bags, slippers, beads, jewelry, rugs, pillows, a curtain, an ottoman, hanging art work, post cards, felted chess set, and more! It's so easy, even children can do the simplest needle felting (with adult supervision of course).

Tips and Techniques of needle felting
Just a few tips and techniques from crafters that have created wears with the needle felting process.
*Before you finish your project, pull (gently) on both sides to see how thoroughly the wool is felted. If it starts to "give," you will probably need to needle-felt more roving onto the project.
*Since the needles are VERY sharp, make sure you keep your eyes on your project so you don't poke your fingers!
*The needles are very breakable as well, be sure to use a straight up and down motion with the needle. If you happen to use a slightly slanted up/down motion, the end of the needle (with the barbs) can/most likely break off.
*Did you know?: the higher the needle number, the finer the needle, which leaves a smaller hole in the design.
*A faster way to needle felt is to use a special sewing machine with 7 barbed felting needles, your projects will happen much quicker.
*You can even needle felt on Styrofoam! When the needle is pushed into styrofoam, the barbs pull the wool roving locking them together in place. As a result, no glue is needed. Voila!

Article by StoneyMistDesign


Alex Florenc said...

Thank you so much!
Very useful article.

Alexandra for all your craft needs

Anna said...

Very cool! I've wanted to know exactly how needle felting worked, but I haven't gone out of my way to read about it yet. Thank you!

♥ Lindsay ♥ said...

Such an interesting article! I loved that you included the history behind it. Thanks!

krex said...

Anyone interested in more info about needle felting can check out my blog . I have only been felting for about 4 months and have some "newbie" tutorials, fiber reviews from Etsy wool sellers and projects I made for the Mother's Day Shepherd's Harvest festival .