A history of felting
Handmade felting is an ancient craft that has been practiced for thousands of years. In the UK, felting has a rich history dating back to the medieval period, when it was used to create practical items such as hats, gloves, and blankets. As wool production increased in the UK during the 18th and 19th centuries, felting became more widespread and was used to create a wider range of items, including clothing, rugs, and decorative pieces.
During the 20th century, felting experienced a decline in popularity, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with many UK crafters rediscovering the joys of this traditional art form. Today, handmade felting is enjoyed by a growing number of people, who appreciate its versatility, durability, and unique aesthetic.
Felting is now widely recognized as a versatile craft, with a range of techniques and materials used to create a wide variety of items. Many UK crafters sell their handmade felted products at craft fairs, markets, and online, and it is estimated that there are now thousands of people practicing felting in the UK. Whether enjoyed as a hobby or as a profession, felting continues to be an important part of the UKs rich crafting heritage.
Tools of the felting trade
The main tools used in handmade felting include:
Felting Needles - Felting needles are used to interlock the fibers and create felt fabric. They come in different thicknesses and have barbed tips to help with the felting process.
Felting Mat or Sponge - A felting mat or sponge is used as a surface to work on, and helps to control the direction of the felting.
Soap and Water - Soap and water are used to help the fibers interlock and form felt fabric during the wet felting process.
Wool Roving or Batting - Wool roving or batting is the raw material used in felting, and comes in different colours and textures.
Measuring Tape - Measuring tape is used to measure and cut the wool roving to the desired size and shape.
Scissors - Scissors are used to cut the wool roving to the desired size and shape.
Rolling Pin - A rolling pin can be used to help compress the fibers during the felting process, making it easier to create a dense and sturdy fabric.
In addition to these basic tools, there are a range of other tools and materials that can be used in felting, including silicone mats, resist templates, and felting needles with different shapes and configurations. The specific tools used in felting will depend on the type of item being created, and the desired outcome.
Materials used in felting
Here is a list of the main materials used in handmade felting, including examples of their use:
Wool roving or wool tops: These are long fibres of wool that are usually sold in a loose or loosely bundled form. They are used to create the base fabric of a felt piece by matting the fibres together.
Silk or other natural fibres: These can be added to wool roving to create a softer or more lustrous felt. The fibres are usually laid over the wool roving and then felted together.
Soap and water: Soap and water are used to help lubricate the fibres and allow them to mat together more easily. A small amount of soap is added to the fibres and then hot water is applied to create friction, which helps the fibres to mat together.
Matting tools: Matting tools, such as felting needles or a felting mat, are used to help mat the fibres together and create the felt fabric. A felting needle has barbs along its shaft that help to interlock the fibres, while a felting mat is used to apply pressure to the fibres.
Dyes: Handmade felters often use dyes to add colour to their felt pieces. There are many different types of dyes available, including acid dyes, natural dyes, and synthetic dyes. The type of dye used will depend on the type of fibre being dyed and the desired result.
Techniques of felting
Wet flat felt making
You can buy felt to use in your projects but as with everything that is pre-made and packaged for you, it will cost you move than making your own. Also you will only be able to get the designs and colour available. You should allow about an hour to create a piece of flat felt, using water and soap.
Set yourself up on a flat table with a water proof layer, then an old towel. Over that place your rolling mat.
To turn fibres into felt textiles, you will need a bag of fibre, that you will place in layers on your suski mat. The basic technique is to pull small even rectangular wisps of the fibre out and place them on the mat, your first layer would all be placed vertically. Do the same again to create the second layer, (you could use a different colour) placing them horizontal to the first layer. The number of layers that you choose creates the thickness of the end piece of felt. Two layers will create a fine thin flat add additional layers for extra strength. .
Cover the layers of felt with your nylon cloth. You will need to soak the wool with warm soapy water through the nylon cloth and then hold the mesh with one hand and use a cloth to firmly spread and push the water through the flattened fibres. This action helps to bond the fibres together. Add more water and repeat. Careful lift the nylon cloth (as the fibres can push through) turn it 90 degrees and then wet and smooth again. Get a bar of soap and rub it in your hands, then firmly spread the soap all over the fibres through the net. Again, carefully remove the net and turn and repeat. Add more water and soap then keep rubbing for about another 25 minutes. You will know when it is fully felted, when the fibre stops moving.
Next is the rolling stage. Remove the nylon cloth and then tightly roll the fibre in the bamboo suski mat. One rolled up, rock it back and forth about 20 times then unravel. Turn the felt around to roll again for another 20 times, if the felt is a little big for the mat you can fold the sides in. Repeat the process again. You then need to turn the felt over and repeat the rolling process again as before.
Cleaning out the soap from the felt is very important. Run under hot water and rinse, then cold and rinse then under hot again and rinse. Giving the felt another dozen rolls on the mat, more will make it smaller. Then rinse again until the water is clean to make sure all the soap has gone.
Felting with needles
The advantage of using barber needles to create felt is that you do not need to use soap and water. You use this technique to form shapes like small animals characters. It is a really easy way to create a very nice finished product. Using felting wool just pull off strips to create the sizes and shapes you need for the main body and then add detailed smaller pieces and connect pieces together by just pushing the needle in and out. If you want to felt faster you can use a tool with multiple needles.
Tips and tricks of felting
Here are a few tips for selling handmade felting items at a craft fairs:
1. Display - Presentation is key when it comes to selling your handmade felting items. Consider creating an attractive display that showcases your pieces in the best light. You could use a tablecloth, props or backdrops to create a cohesive look.
2. Pricing - Make sure your prices are competitive, while still allowing you to make a profit. Take into account the cost of materials, labour, and overhead expenses when determining your prices.
3. Variety - Offer a range of items in different sizes, shapes, and colours to appeal to a wider customer base. You could consider making items such as felted flowers, keyrings, brooches, and other small items, in addition to larger pieces like wall hangings and ornaments.
4. Demonstrations - Consider demonstrating the felting process at your craft fair booth. This can be an effective way to engage with potential customers and generate interest in your products.
5. Marketing Materials - Make sure to bring along business cards, brochures or flyers to share information about your brand and products with interested customers. This will also help you stay in touch with potential customers after the fair has ended.
Ideas and inspiration for felting
Here are a few ideas for handmade felt items that one can make and sell at craft fairs:
1. Wall hangings - Felted wall hangings can be created using various techniques, such as needle felting or wet felting, and can feature a range of colours and textures. These hangings can be made to complement a specific room or decor style.
2. Ornaments - Handmade felt ornaments, such as stars, hearts, or seasonal decorations, can be sold as individual items or as a set. They can be made using a variety of techniques and materials, such as wool roving, roving, or recycled fabric scraps.
3. Wearables - Felted scarves, hats, and gloves are all popular items that one can make and sell. These can be made in a variety of colours and styles, to suit different tastes and preferences.
4. Home décor - Felted items, such as coasters, pot holders, or trivets, can be functional and decorative at the same time. They can be made in a range of shapes, sizes, and colours, to suit the individuals preferences and the style of the home.
5. Accessories - Felted brooches, bags, and jewellery can be created to suit different styles and preferences. They can be made using a range of materials, such as wool roving, roving, and silk, and can feature a range of embellishments, such as beads or sequins.
6. Toys - Felted toys can be made for children or pets, featuring a range of shapes, sizes, and textures. These toys can be created using needle felting or wet felting techniques, and can be made to suit specific preferences and interests.
Whether a seasoned felter or just starting out, there is a project to suit all levels and interests, allowing one to make and sell a range of handmade felt items that are both functional and decorative.