I’ve recently been experimenting with felt, making both three dimensional objects and fabrics. In this tutorial I bring together both to create a wrap inspired by my new costal home.
To make something like this, you will need some wool tops, wool that has been washed and dyed and is ready for spinning or felting. I get a lot of mine from Wingham wool here , but there are plenty of places to choose from. I bought a skien of mixed tones of deep blues and greys, and a selection of earthy tones to create the beach. As well as your chosen wool you’ll need two lengths of bubble wrap as long as your work space (at least 1.8 m) some dress net the same length and/or painter’s plastic sheeting, something to roll it all around ( I use an old rolling pin but pool noodles are popular) natural or olive oil soap, a spray bottle and some old tights to use a ties. I also used dry felting needles and a block to make the 3d elements. Old towels and a cover to keep your work surface dry are also required, and ideally a body form or dress makers dummy. You don’t need an expensive one, a shop display torso with no stand cost me £17 on ebay.
The first stage is to lay our your yarn on top of your first sheet of bubble wrap. I tend to lay this bubbles down, so you’re laying out on a smooth surface. The edge furthest from me is the shore, so to build this I took smaller pieces of the sandy/earthy colours and laid them out. Try and work in layers, with the strands going left to right then up and down then right to left, but it’s not essential to worry too much. Break off small pinches and try and lay each in a different direction to the one underneath. I also roll some very loosely into balls and drop them in. Try and have some pictures of a sea shore pinned up around to help you get the feel of a beach, and don’t try and be too regular in your placements. Then the sea – for this I pulled longer strands of blues, greys and greens and sort of bent them into wave shapes before adding them in, still trying to work in layers that go in different directions. The white foam pieces I added last, so that they gave definition to the shore and a sense of breaking waves. Don’t worry too much about the odd hole, indeed, I often introduce them towards the lower edge of the fabric as the felt will still hold together fine and you can get some beautiful cobweb effects that way. Be bold!
- Now you’re ready to start felting.
Cover the wool with your dress net to prevent the fibres sticking to your hands and everything else, then fill your spray bottle with the hottest water you and it can take, and a dash of washing up liquid. Spray the wool through the net to get it wet – it needs to be wet through but not pouring water onto the floor, then wet your bar of soap and rub this gently through the net. Massage the wet wool with your hands trying not to dislodge the pattern but also press out air bubbles and look for any pockets of dry wool. This is the start of the felting process.
3. Rolling – nobody likes it but this is how you turn wool into felt.
Remove the net carefully, making sure none of your fibres are pulled out with it. You can replace it and use it when rolling, but I like to replace it with the thin painter’s plastic. Then put your second piece of bubble wrap on top to make a sandwich, putting this one bubbles down too. Then roll it round your rolling pin and secure with the old tights or rubber bands. Place a towel on your work surface both to help mop up water and to add more texture, and roll your work back and forth for about five minutes.
4. Then unroll and check your work –
Don’t worry about the impression of the bubbles, that will vanish naturally. Lift your work carefully and flip it over, then re-wrap in the same way and roll again for another five minutes. You will probably need to repeat this a third time, then do a pinch test. This is just where you pinch a piece of fabric between forefinger and thumb and lift it off the wet bubble wrap – it’s ready when the whole thing begins to lift, not just the few hairs you’re holding. I always feel this is when it looks the least interesting, as after rolling it’s very flat and thin looking, but don’t worry, the next stage is ‘fulling’ which changes all that.
5. The easiest place to full the work is a sink with a draining board.
Gather up your fabric and run a bowl of very hot water in the sink. Pick up the fabric and throw it as hard as you like onto the draining board. Take our your anger on it, and throw it about 30 times. Then dunk it in the hot water to start washing out the soap, then squeeze it out gently. I will then rub the fabric against the ridges on the draining board, then rub the fabric onto itself between my hands, then throw it a few more times. Check all the time that it’s not felting to itself and is still basically a flat piece. Wash it again in clean cold water, then clean hot water. If soap is still coming our, add a little white vinegar to the wash and soak the fabric for a few minutes. Gently squeeze out the last wash and press the fabric on the wool setting of a steam iron.
6. Shaping – drape the fabric on the mannequin.
There are no set rules about this. Move the fabric so you like the way it sits, I turn the top edge back at the neck to create a lapel. To make it fit better at the back neck, I fold the fabric into pleats. Traditionally if you were making a garment you might use vertical pleats, but with this I felt the horizontal pleats worked better and were more in keeping with the feel of the piece. When you’re happy with the pleats, pin them – pins may rust BTW as the fabric is wet, but as long as you take them out the next day this won’t be a problem, just don’t leave them in longer than that. I also pull the top edge of the collar section between my fingers to stretch it, moving it out from the neck at the top to make it more comfortable to wear. When you’re happy with how it’s hanging, leave it to dry over night stood on the towel to catch the drips.
7. Now make the pebbles.
There are loads of tutorials on dry or needle felting online and I’m going to assume you know enough about the basic technique not to need me to explain here. Make as many pebbles as you want, but try and have an odd number when you’re done as aesthetically that always looks better. Work them until they’re dense and smooth, but don’t work the underside as you need the fluff left in place there to attach them to the wrap.
8. The next day, when the wrap is dry, pin the pebbles into place. Take some time to be sure you’re happy with how they look, then take the wrap off the stand.
Start by working round the edge of each pebble, pushing the fibres through to the back of the wrap. Then turn the wrap over and you should see an outline of the pebble in fluff. The felt the rest of the pebble, working in a spiral from the outer edge to the centre. This should be enough to fix each pebble in place, give it a tweak to make sure and keep felting until you’re happy. Using the same method felt through your pleats, removing the pins first, to fix the pleats in place. When you’re done, the wrap is finished.
You can use this method to add all sorts of 3-d details – if you like needle felting you could also make sea shells and starfish for the shore, and even fish swimming in the sea. On other wraps this is how you can attach 3d flower, and if you are limited on workspace, you can make three or more sections of fabric, build them up on the stand in this way and them felt them together to create more extravagant pieces.
If you’d like to buy my work, please look at my ETSY shop here and follow this blog for more tips and projects. Caring is haring, so if you’ve enjoyed this, please re-blog or share it on social media, if nothing else it’s good karma! Feel free to ask my any questions about this or any of my posts in the comments box below, or just say hi!