Wet felting

October 24, 2019

Create a woollen work of art with soapy suds and a lot of elbow grease.

rubbing soapy water onto partially felted piece
Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: 6+

Duration: 1-2 hours

Location: garden/home

Time Of Day: any time

Season: any

Tags: art, fabric, felt, felting, textiles, wool

Category: * what's new * art & creating tool use & traditional crafts

Introduction

Wet felting is the process of using a combination of friction/agitation, soap and water to make felt out of wool fibres. The hot water and soap changes the pH of the wool and allows the scales on the fibres to open up. The soap also helps provide a lubricant and allows your hands to move around the fibres easily.
Look at our felting guide to find out more about the felting process.
This activity shows the basic process of wet felting. We’ve suggested a range of different options for resources to use.

Environmental considerations

Consider the environmental impact of preparing, carrying out & completing this activity. Could this impact be reduced? Specific considerations for this activity could include:

  • source of wool
  • disposal of soapy water
  • re-use bubble wrap

Health & safety considerations

Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments.
Some considerations particular to this activity include:

  • if you have sensitive skin use rubber gloves
  • choice of soap product
  • wet floor

What you’ll need:

  • good quality tops* (Merino is best)
  • selection of coloured tops*
  • bath towel
  • piece of netting/mesh or tea-towel
  • bamboo mat
  • bubble wrap or anti-slip mat
  • rolling pin or something that rolls (broom handle/dowel/swimming noodle/pipe insulation)
  • hot water in a bowl
  • soap (liquid/flakes)
  • spray bottle or sponge

*Tops – also known as ‘roving’ – is wool that has been washed and combed so that all the fibres are going in the same direction. Wool top separates easily if you pull gently; pull hard and the fibres will lock together (wool has tiny scales which lock together which is why it is perfect for wet or dry felting). Tops normally come in long lengths wrapped up into balls.

Step 1 – preparing your work area

Create a clear working area on a table/flat solid surface and set it up to protect it from water spillage (wet felting is wet!).

Put a vinyl tablecloth down or a piece of plastic sheeting. Have a bath towel to hand to mop up any spillages. You can also put a towel down in addition to the plastic.

Step 2 – adding your work surface

Place the towel down flat.

Lay a piece of bubble wrap flat on top of the towel (if you haven’t got any bubble wrap you can use anti-slip matting or a bamboo mat. The bubble wrap does have the advantage of containing some of the water used in the process).

piece of bubble wrap over the top of a towel on a table

Step 3 – creating a base layer

Pull off small, thin pieces of higher quality tops (see our felting guide) and lay the fibres out horizontally to cover an area the size of the piece you want to create. Ensure they overlap slightly as you lay each piece out.

Add another layer on top at right angles to the first layer.

base layer of white wool tops first step in wet felting

Step 4 – adding colour & details

Add thin pieces of coloured tops over this to create your pattern/picture.

Keep an even coverage to avoid patches in your final piece.

If you use any particularly thick fibres to create a denser colour then tease out a few very fine strands of the same colour to lay across the thicker strands. The fine fibres will hold the thicker fibres in place, as they will felt more easily.

colours fibres of wool pulled from tops (for felting) on top of base layer of pulled white tops (for felting)

Step 5 – adding the soap

When you are happy with the position and colours of your fibres you are ready to start felting.

Make up a soapy solution in warm water (hand-hot rather then luke warm). Either use a mild eco-detergent or grate olive oil soap flakes into the water. The water should feel slippy. Add soap solution sparingly at first as you do not want too many bubbles when you start working (the bubbles may get in the way of the fibres meshing).

bowl of soapy water next to wool fibres ready to wet felt

Step 6 – wetting

Carefully wet all the fibres either by dripping on the warm soapy water or using a sponge or spray (apply liberally).

Lay a piece of netting/mesh on top; this has the advantage of you being able to see the wool whilst you work on it. Alternatively you can use a tea towel if you don’t have any netting. This layer helps keep the fibres in place as you roll the fibres (Step 7, 8 and 9).

Drip more soapy water over the netting then press down gently with your wet and slightly soapy hands, avoiding creating too many suds.

Alternatively you can rub a soap bar over the netting instead of making a soap solution. Experiment and see what works best for you.

netting over wet and soapy wool fibres ready to roll and wet felt

Step 7 – rolling up

When you are satisfied that the whole piece is wetted lay the rolling pin (or similar) at one end and roll the bubble wrap containing your picture around it.

Tip: you can also lay a bamboo mat over the top of the bubble wrap – it will provide additional friction.

Tip: if you do not have a rolling pin (or similar) just spend more time rubbing the piece when it is flat before you roll it up.

towel bamboo mat and rolling pin ready to roll in wet felting

Step 8 – rolling

Now for the hard work…

Roll the whole piece up tightly and start rolling, short and fast, for 5-10 min. This is the agitation/friction part of the process.

You can tie the roll up with elastic bands first but we found that rolling without worked and it was easier to unroll and turn or check.

rolling with rolling pin and bubble wrap in wet felting process

Step 9 – more rolling

And more hard work…

Unroll and turn your piece around by 90 degrees, add some more soapy water and roll it again.

Continue this turning and rolling process until the fibres start to knit; pinch them to test and see how matted the fibres are. If they are still loose you need to keep rolling.  If you get tired, have a rest or find a willing volunteer to have a go at rolling! You can also roll out using your forearms.

If you plan to put the finished piece behind a picture frame then you don’t need to worry too much about the degree of felting.

close up of wet felting piece showing fibres beginning to mesh

Tip: at any stage you can add more little pieces of wool and keep adding soapy water.

Step 10 – rinsing

When the piece is felted, rinse off the soap in warm water, either under the tap or in a bowl of clean warm water. At this stage you should be able to scrunch it up in your hands whilst you rinse it.

Leave to dry naturally.