A history of felting
Felt was the first fabric to be made by mankind. Felt dating back 2000 years has been found on skeletal remains...so it is pretty hard wearing. It is said that it was discovered by accident. Camel herders found pieces of camel fur felted in their boots having been felted by the friction of walking and moist sweaty feet. These days we do not use sweaty feet but soapy water or barbed needles - Louise Millswatts.
Felt is used around the world for everything from clothes and bags to huts for people to live in.
Tools of the trade
Making items from felt has the real advantage that you do not need lots of expensive tools. If you are making your own flat felt you will need a rolling mat (sushi), some nylon netting, a cloth and a towel. Plus access to clean water. For needle felt, you will need a needle, and foam block or brush to protect surfaces where you are working. With this rather simple set of tools you can make a very wide variety of pieces. You largest expense will be the felting wools.
As an alternative to a rolling mat you can get a rolling pin that has asymmetrical ridges, that that when rolling you are not going over the same spot.
If you are making cords and need the felt to have a hard surface you could use a felt fulling block. Fulling blocks can be square or round and the ridges can be smoother for lighter less aggressive working.
Depending on your project you will need to choose the fibre. This could be a natural felting wool or synthetic fibre. You will need to think about colours and how you will mix the colours together. In addition to the fibre you will also need soap and water for wet 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.
Ideas and inspiration
Felt is used in many applications, it is great for cushioning impacts and for dampening sound. You can create 3d shapes using needles and flat textiles with rolling.