I finally have the before and after shots of felted merino woollen tops to show you. It always takes a while to do this kind of work. I need sunny days, an uninterrupted block of time and a great deal of patience.
The following images help to show the change in both the structure and colour of the woollen fibres once felted. But a word on felting before I get to that.
What is felting?
Felting is a process by which you agitate woollen fibres so that they interlock and tangle. Woollen top or roving in its raw form is incredibly delicate. Felting the wool helps give the overall structure stability and a robustness it otherwise wouldn’t have.
There are a myriad of ways to felt woollen top but essentially it involves the application of heat to unfurl the microscopic fibres and then the addition of soap and agitation to encourage those same microscopic fibres to interlock in a robust and dense fashion.
My felting process involves soaking/drenching knitted and knotted pieces of woollen top in hot water. I then allow the water to drain as much as possible before placing the pieces in my washing machine, with the aid of a mild laundry detergent to felt the fibres. The more contemporary wool washes you can buy now tend to be too gentle for this job. Find an inexpensive product with a ph of between 7 and 9 and it should work wonders. I use Softly Wool Wash.
This image below shows strands of woollen top soaking in hot water.
This image below demonstrates how drenched the top should be once it has been soaked in hot water and drained.
Using your washing machine for felting is not without risks and you need to be careful you do not overload your drum. Wet wool is very heavy. Check the capacity of your machine before you start. Be prepared to make mistakes too. There are no guarantees of a successful result. It takes time to learn the art of felting and your mistakes will be your greatest learnings.
I use a front loader but I hear that top loaders are excellent at felting as they allow for greater agitation. Please note though that I have no experience with using a top loader so it's best to do your own research on that front. My machine has a 10kg drum capacity and I usually fill it by half. Felting will shrink the size of your pieces (up to 30% in some cases). If you only have a few pieces to felt and you want to minimise shrinkage, I recommend placing some clean bed sheets in the load to help fill the drum.
I use a delicate setting (30 degrees celcius). My cycle runs for approximately 40 minutes and has a gentle spin cycle. Once the cycle is finished, I then put it through an additional spin cycle to remove any excess water. Otherwise the pieces take quite a while to dry. Unless pressed for time, I always leave felting for a sunny day to reduce drying time. The sun is your felting friend. Remember that.
Overall, the key is to be patient and not to rush the felting process. Be methodical and careful in your approach too. Wet woollen top is delicate and can easily tear or break if you place too much tension on a particular spot.
Depending on the size of the pieces I am felting, I may have to repeat this process several times to achieve the desired outcome. If there are any pieces that haven't felted consistently or have become attached to other pieces, I will separate them from the load, give those pieces a good stretch and add them to the next cycle of felting.
Once a cycle has been completed, I give every piece a good stretch and then place them out in the sun to dry.
Here are some before and after shots of the process.
1. Merino/Silk Woollen tops before felting
2. Wool/Silk Woollen top after felting, bundled with a small sample of the unfelted top
A close up of the same
4. Merino Woollen tops before felting
5. Merino Woollen top after felting, bundled with a small sample of the unfelted top
A close up of the same.
I love the change in structure as the process creates a textile that is highly functional, long lasting and robust. What do you think?
can this felted top be pulled apart and handspun?