29 Jul 2013

Dryer Felting - New to Me and Way Easy on the Arms

I love handmade felt.  I love the colour possibilities and vagaries of intertwining strands of hand-dyed fleece.  I love needle-felted embellishments.

But the actual process of wet felting is arduous for me and I seem to have enough aches and pains as it is without leaning over a countertop and rolling (and rolling and rolling) wool into felt for half an hour.  So I was very excited to come across this artfelting tutorial by Karin Skacel on a Knitting Daily episode on YouTube.  In the tutorial, they use some special paper to hold the wool roving in place before rolling it up and throwing it in the dryer.  After the roll is felted, they pour on boiling water to dissolve the backing paper.  She notes that it can leave a sticky residue but you should be able to rub most of it off.  While I was very interested to try this easier-on-the-arms-and-back felting method, the words "sticky residue" and "wool felt" juxtaposed so casually give me the creeping heebie jeebies, so I cast about for an alternative to the backing paper.

I decided to try Pellon Wash-n-Gone water soluble fabric stabilizer.  What's the worst that could happen, after all?  A big soggy mess plastered inside my dryer, time spent, a lesson learned.  Pshaw, says I.  Getting my hands on a 50 x 50 cm square (19 x 19") piece to experiment with, I embarked on this felting expedition. 

First step on the tutorial is spreading a wool batt out on the fabric stabilizer, which is a lot like fabric and therefore I think it would be nicer to use than paper anyway.

I dyed this white and grey fleece red and it came out this lovely darkish red colour
On the tutorial, it says you only have to tack the roving in place here and there with a felting needle just to keep it from sliding around.  I limited myself to minimal tacking because I really wanted to check out this method as described, to see if it really is that easy.  I felt like doing a lot more tacking but you'll be happy to learn I remained strong and resisted the temptation.  I did not do the criss-cross of roving that you usually do when wet felting; I just laid out the batt and tacked it in place.

Here's an action shot of some hands-free tacking

After the batt was in place, I raided my big bag of wool gatherings that I've cleaned off my drumcarder and my combs and added more colour, tacking these bits in place as well.

Proper action shot to keep you riveted

When I was done it was pretty lumpy and bumpy.

Then I added some yarn I had spun.  I was interested to see how well this felting process would incorporate something that distinct into the piece. 

Again, I tacked it in place with the needle, using a bit more care with the yarn than I did with the batt and roving.  It's still pretty loosely in place, though.

Next I forgot to take pictures for the following sequence so this is a RE-ENACTMENT.  I laid a wet towel in the bottom of my laundry/crafting tub (I'm lucky enough to have a waist-high bathtub as a laundry tub -- long story somewhat revealed in this blog entry.).  On this I set my felt-to-be, and I carefully poured cold water all over it, making sure it was all soaked through, but also making sure I didn't mess up my design.  Yes, I said cold water, and no, there's no soap in it. Then I laid a piece of plastic on top.

This is a cut-up garbage bag which is exactly as wide as my piece.  I wished it had been wider, because edges of my felt (remember I have yarn all along the edges) were kind of sticking out.  I envisioned the yarn sliding out and just felting to itself in a big mess.  If you're the kind of person to get anxious ahead of time over negative foreshadowing, allow me to set your mind at ease -- nothing bad happened because of my shade-too-narrow plastic bag. It is something to keep in mind for future activities, though.

Now you need a centre core around which to roll up the wool.  I used a rolled wet towel placed at one end. I don't know why I wet it - it made everything much heavier.  This might have made for a more vigorous thwapping around inside the dryer, but next time I may try a dry towel and see if there's any difference.

When I got to this stage, I noticed that the fabric backing already seemed  to have dissolved in the water.  Yikes!  But it was okay.  I kept rolling and everything held together.

The piece of plastic has to be long enough to continue wrapping around the outside until the entire piece is wrapped in plastic. 

Now the re-enactment is over and we're back to the actual wet stage of felting inside the craft tub.

Here's my wet parcel laid out in the bottom of the tub

I tied it tightly with butcher cotton in several places.  In the tutorial, she slides the roll into a leg of pantyhose instead of using string.  But pantyhose is one of those things I gleefully gave up many years ago so I don't have any kicking around the house.  Plus given that my piece is so much larger (and heavier) than the one in the tutorial, I worried the hose wouldn't hold it together well enough.  She suggests elastic bands as an alternative, but I went with string.

Note that there's an inch and a half or so of  wool beyond the outer ties - I was worried
that those edges would be lost as the wool slid out of the plastic in the dryer

This wet bundle went in the dryer for 20 minutes with no heat.  I checked it by sticking my fingers inside and seeing if they encountered loose roving or solid-feeling felt.  It kind of seemed fine, but I decided to put it back in for another 10 minutes.  When it came out I unrolled it carefully -- it was still completely soaking wet, of course -- and to my joy and delight it had felted perfectly!   

You can see it did shrink a bit, as it started out just as wide as the plastic.

Here's the back side, a nice solid piece of felt.  You can see the four ridges where the strings were tied around the bundle.  Held up to the light, the felt doesn't seem much thinner here, and they ironed out fine.  I might experiment with elastic, though, or even stockings to see if I can get rid of these ridges while still keeping the wool more or less in place during the thumping dryer-felting process.  All said, this is definitely the easiest piece of felt I've ever made.

I ironed it a bit on the back to smooth out some of the wrinkles from where the ties were.  Even the squiggly yarn going around the edges had felted really well into place.  There were only a few places where it needed fixing with a felting needle.

Then I needle-felted in some surface texture.

And added a much-loved quotation from Mary Randolph Carter that always makes me feel better when a certain aspect of my life gets me down.

It's crucial to keep the important part in mind, right? So leave the tidying for another day!



  1. Absolutely gorgeous! and I couldn't agree with the quote more!

  2. Great tutorial! And LOVE the quote!