My step-mother was always very fond of Waldorf-type toys. She handmade puppets for us, surprised us with wooden gnomes, and always had small ribbons and rocks to give the fairies. She would also pull out tufts of colored wool for us to create our own characters and creatures. I think my love of textiles was born as I pushed my hands into the softness of the wool bag and rubbed the fibers between my little fingers. I loved how the wool smelled and how it looked with those natural dyes making them shine in various colors of the rainbow. I grew up, still shoving my hands in wool bags, as I learned how to spin and weave. I’ve never been very gifted with either endeavor but, oh, how I love to sit and let the fibers run over my hands.
There’s so much a child can do with natural fibers like wool, angora, alpaca (a personal favorite), silk, linen and even dog hair. You don’t have to be a fiber artist to share these materials with your child, so don’t be concerned that learning how to felt together will be too difficult for you. You’ve got this!
The Rebirth of Felting
I’d made sheets of felt before in a fiber class, but it wasn’t until I came across the blog Lil’ Fish Studios that I learned about other types of felting, like needle felting and wet felting. The artist there makes all kinds of crafts from felted fibers: colored acorns, brooches, animals, rocks, mushrooms and flowers. Felting has experienced a rebirth, and now many artists and bloggers are willing to share their skill with those of us who are inexperienced.
The kids and I looked over some of these blogs and the instructions and decided to try our hand at wet felting a picture and wet felting wool over a stone. The stones we’re really neat but we like the pictures best of all. Mostly, we just had fun learning a new skill together from materials with which we enjoyed working.
How To Wet Felt A Picture
To wet-felt a picture, the first thing you need to do is gather some loose wool. You can purchase loose wool online, but I encourage you to seek out a local provider. The lady I purchase my wool from became such a good pal that my children called her their “sheepy” grandma.
One of my daughters had a rainbow in mind so she gathered the colors she wanted to use based on her idea. Another child looked in a book at a picture of a crown and decided to try that. What we should have done, but didn’t, was create a felt background first that we could put our picture on to make it sturdier. I’ll start my instructions with making a background. This part of the process is simple, but it does take some time, so if you’re working with young children, make the background on your own because they won’t have the attention span to do this and make the picture.
Gather a towel, bubble wrap, dish soap, spray bottle and strips of plain-colored wool to begin your picture. Be sure to have a water source close by. Lay out a large towel on the surface where you’ll be working.
Select a piece of bubble wrap approximately the size of the background you want to make. Wool felt will shrink about 20 to 30 percent, so the piece should be larger than what you would like your finished project to be. Remember, the bigger the picture, the more wool you’ll need.
Lay down three layers of white or plain-colored wool evenly across a length of the bubble wrap. Gently pull the roving apart into short pieces. Lay these on the bubble wrap, slightly overlapping each row of wool locks.
Continue to place layers, alternating the direction you place each layer in order to will help the wool stick together better.
Fill the spray bottle with warm water and a dash of dish soap. Spray the wool lightly with the soapy water—you don’t want it sopping wet, just damp.
Place another piece of bubble wrap over the damp wool and gently press down on it, rubbing it with your fingers and the palm of your hand for about a minute. This will allow the soapy water to soak into the wool.
Now carefully remove the top layer of bubble wrap. The wool should be a bit flattened and slightly damp. This will make it easier to lay your picture onto the top surface of the wool roving.
Have your child draw a picture of something they’d like to create in felt.
Using the picture as a guide, lay out pieces of wool to recreate it on top of your background, alternating layers and slightly overlapping edges.
Now it’s time to wet felt. Spray a generous amount of soapy water onto the felt picture. Lay down a second piece of bubble wrap onto the wool and gently press it down with the palm of your hands. Carefully roll up the wool in the bubble wrap, making a tube. Roll this back and forth with your hands for about 2 minutes.
Unroll the bubble-wrap tube, and straighten out the wool felt. Roll it back up again in a different direction and agitate it some more. The wool will move around as you are felting, so you will need to unroll it every few minutes to move it back into shape. Keep rolling and re-wrapping for about 1/2 an hour, checking every 5 minutes. You will see when the wool starts to felt because the fibers will bind and come together. When the felt is at a stage where the fibers are staying in place and not shifting around, take the wool felt to the sink.
Fill one side of your sink with hot water and a bit of soap. Fill the second side, or a large bowl, with cold water. Remove the wool felt from the bubble wrap and gently fold it in half and then in half again. Dip it into hot water, and massage the wool in the water for about a minute. Squeeze out the excess water and then dip the wool into the cold water and squeeze out the excess water. This makes the fibers shrink and stick together even more. Lay your creation out to air dry.
Step 13 (optional)
If you have the needles, you can needle felt on some details, or even sew some on with regular needles and embroidery floss.
Find a creative use for your pictures! Decorate small handbags or cushions, or a frame for Grandma this Christmas. We used ours to decorate our May Day Cones. To experiment with making your own natural dyes for your fibers, try herbal dyes or weed dyes!