Learn how to felt wool by hand with this basic wet felting tutorial
Wet Felting (aka Wool Felting) is one of my all-time favorite hobbies! It is one of those activities (like gardening) where I get completely lost.
There is something very peaceful and zen in taking plain sheep wool, mohair or alpaca fiber and magically creating a unique piece of colorful fabric.
Each piece of handmade felt is completely unique because there simply is no way that you can duplicate the many intricacies of each lock of wool.
Even if you use the exact same type and color of wool, the outcome will be different. Those little fibers have a mind of their own! Not only that but if you use processed wool roving instead of locks, you get a completely different texture yet.
Honestly, felting wool is like magic as you watch the individual fibers and hairs bind together to make fabric that you can cut or sew into clothing.
The Basic Steps of Wet Felting:
- Gather wool, bubble wrap or bamboo blind, soapy water, spray bottle
- Spread out bubble wrap or a bamboo blind on a table
- Place a thin layer of wool on the wrap or blind
- Add a 2nd thin layer, perpendicular on the 1st
- Spray with soapy water and work with your hands
- Add a 3rd thin layer, perpendicular to the 2nd
- Again, spray with soapy water and work
- Repeat adding layers and working in the water until fibers hold together
- Roll up felt and work it back and forth
- Full the fabric by lightly dropping it on the table
- Rinse and hang to dry
This is Part 1 of my Wet Wool Felting Series called Basic Wet Felting. If you’re a beginning felter, make sure and check out my article How to Felt: A Beginner’s Guide
In this first part of wet felting for beginners, I will show you all of the basic steps involved in wet felting wool. I will teach you step by step how to take the loose wool locks or wool roving and create a piece of fabric.
By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to take any wool or fiber and create a truly, unique piece of felted fiber art. All you need are the basic steps and you can wet felt just about anything!
This Complete Kit has all of the felting supplies you need from colorful wool roving, bamboo mat, bubble wrap and olive oil soap.
- What Is Wet Felting?
- Wet Felting Supplies
- Step by Step Felting Instructions
- What can you make with felted fabric?
- Why is my wool not felting?
- Can you needle felt after wet felting?
I highly recommend this The Complete Photo Guide to Felting to any beginning and intermediate felt makers.
What Is Wet Felting?
Felting is the process of connecting or blending wool, wool roving or fiber together to make a fabric.
With Wet Felting, that is accomplished with water, water temperature fluctuation, soap and agitation.
The other form of felting is Needle Felting which utilizes special felting needles to create felt fabric. Check out Needle Felt for Beginners for more info.
Here is how Wikipedia defines it.
You might also be interested in my other felting tutorials in this series including Nuno Felting, Cobweb, Lattice and Vessel Felting aka How to Make a Felt Bowl.
Wet Felting Supplies
- Wool Roving *
- 2 pieces Bubble Wrap or a Matchstick Blind **
- Hot Water
- Olive Oil Soap or Dish Detergent ***
- Spray Bottle ****
- Waterproof Table Cover
- Old Towels
Some thoughts on my recommended felting supplies:
* WOOL ROVING:
If you are just learning how to make felt, please don’t spend a lot of money on fancy supplies. Keep in mind that you are still practicing. This inexpensive wool roving is perfect if you are just learning.
Once you feel comfortable with the process, you can move up to a finer wool.
This is my favorite roving for super soft, next-to-the-skin pieces such as felted shawls and scarves.
How much wool roving you need depends, obviously, on how large a piece of felt you want to make.
This felted piece will be about 20″ x 12″ so 2 ounces of roving is plenty.
Note: your wool will shrink anywhere from 20 – 30% during the felting process so plan your piece accordingly.
I’m using a combination of hand dyed merino wool roving for the front and light fawn alpaca roving for the other side.
If you prefer, you can use just one color of fiber. Also, for those of you that are doing a lot of felting, check out this 30# bulk roving.
** BUBBLE WRAP or MATCHSTICK BLIND:
As I said above, if you are just practicing, don’t spend a lot of money. Bubble wrap will work fine for beginners. Two pieces of bubble wrap will last for two to three felt projects.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of wet felting or you plan on making larger pieces, a Matchstick Blind is a must have tool. They are durable and last a very long time.
*** DISH DETERGENT or OLIVE OIL SOAP
The type of soap you use is really just personal preference. Some felters swear by Olive Oil Soap while others prefer dish soap. Honestly, I have always used plain dish detergent.
Note: if your wool is white or very light in color, make sure your soap is white or clear. I felted a lovely white shawl with orange detergent and guess what …. my lovely white shawl turned an icky pale orange.
**** Spray Bottle
I have found that regular spray bottles don’t deliver enough water for felting large pieces. You will be surprised how much water it takes to thoroughly wet down wool roving.
Instead, I cleaned out and repurposed a small vinegar bottle and poked a bunch of holes in the top.
Seedling sprayers are perfect for this, especially if you plan on working with a very large wool project and need lots of water.
Step by Step Felting Instructions
Lay out the wool roving
Before you begin, you will want to cover your table with the plastic. Felting uses a lot of water so you may need to cover part of the floor as well.
Personally, I like to work outside as much as possible and then you don’t really have to worry about making a mess.
First, place a large towel on the table and then lay the matchstick blind or one piece of your bubble wrap on top of that (bubbles down).
Now, take a piece of the roving (I used the dyed merino wool) and gently pull thin tufts from one end. If the wool is hard to pull, try moving your hands further apart.
Lay these fibers down in a row, overlapping the layers by about 1/2″. Make sure all of the fiber in this layer is going in the same direction.
Add a second row, again overlapping the fiber about 1/2″ and overlapping the rows. Add more rows of wool fiber until your piece is about 30% larger than the final size to allow for shrinkage.
Wool shrinks as it is wet felted. Have you ever shrunken a wool sweater in the washing machine? This is the same thing, except we are doing it on purpose.
Sprinkle the roving with water
For the next step, you will fill your spray bottle with hot water and add a few squirts of the dish soap. Gently shake and then generously sprinkle the water on your layer of wool fiber.
Next, place your hands flat on the wool and move them slightly back and forth. At this point, you want to work the water into the fiber without moving the actual fiber too much. Add more water if needed.
Make sure all of the wool is thoroughly wet because dry pockets inside the layer of wool fiber will not felt and may eventually pull your piece apart.
Add a second layer of wool
Once the first layer of wool is wet all the way through, you will add the second layer. In this piece, I used the light fawn alpaca roving for the back. Whichever wool or fiber you want to use is fine but keep in mind that the colors will intermingle a bit.
The most important thing to remember here is that the second layer needs to be perpendicular to the first.
Example: If the first layer of fiber was laid down horizontally, the next layer needs to go vertically.
Same as with Layer 1: Pull thin tufts and lay them on top of the first layer, in the opposite direction. Again, sprinkle and work the water into the fiber with your hands.
Apply the third layer of wool
Using the same colored roving (light fawn), lay down Layer 3 the same as before, perpendicular to the previous layer, overlapping all rows. (Layer 3 goes in the same direction as Layer 1)
Repeat as above: Sprinkle with soapy water and work it into the wool with your hands.
Felt a fourth layer of roving
Since I want the outside of this fabric to be colorful and the inside plain, I now need to flip the piece over.
To do this, place the second piece of bubble wrap on top of your layers of wool roving and carefully, flip the whole thing over. Layer 1 should now be at the top.
Repeat the steps above – Add the final layer of wool and as before, placing tufts of fiber in rows, perpendicular to the underlying layer. (Layer 4 fiber needs to go in the same direction as Layer 2). Sprinkle and work the fiber with your hands.
Pre-felt the wool
Now the real work begins! Place the second piece of bubble wrap on top of your fiber and begin rubbing it with the flat of your hand.
Work the entire piece – don’t forget the edges – in all directions, gradually increasing pressure. Continue working your fiber for about 5-10 minutes.
If you’re using a Matchstick Blind, you will roll your fiber up tightly and then roll the blind back and forth with your arms.
Test the felting process with a pinch test
Carefully peel back the top layer of bubble wrap and with your thumb and forefinger, pull up lightly on the top layer.
Is the wool fiber holding together? If it is, move on to the next step. If not, sprinkle with more hot water, replace the bubble wrap and continue working the fiber.
Fulling the fabric
Fulling is the final stage of the wet felting process where the fibers shrink and harden. With your wool sandwiched between the two layers of bubble wrap, tightly roll up the whole thing into another towel.
Using your hands, roll the package back and forth for about 5 minutes. If your roll comes apart, just roll it back up and continue.
If using the Matchstick Blind, open up your blind, flip the felt over and then roll it back up in the blind. Now, continue rolling your blind back and forth.
Finishing your felt
Finally, the last thing you want to do is throw your piece down on the table. That’s right, throw it! This is where the shrinking occurs. Throw it 30 times and check it. Stretch it out, throw it some more.
At this point, it is really up to you whether or not you continue to throw your piece. Do you want your felt to remain soft? Then it is probably a good time to stop throwing it.
If you want it to be firmer, continue throwing. However, make sure and check it often as the felt will shrink more and become quite hard.
What can you make with felted fabric?
You can make just about anything with hand felted fabric that you can make with any other type of fabric. It can be sewn into a purse, vest, scarf or a jacket. Unlike regular fabric however, felt can be cut without fear of raveling.
That’s it! The only left to do is rinse your felted fabric thoroughly to remove all of the soap and then and hang it to dry. What can you do with your felt? Actually, anything you can do with other fabric.
Here is a Journal Cover that I made with a scarf I felted years ago. Journals make great DIY Gift Ideas!
Have you tried felting? Please share your photo in the comments below!
Get all of your supplies in a handy Wet Felting Kit
Why is my wool not felting?
There are a couple of different issues that can keep your wool from felting property. Most likely your wool layer is too thick.
This can prevent the water from penetrating all the way to the center but it can also make is harder to work or agitate the middle.
Another problem could be that your water temperature is too cold. Hot water helps to open up the little barbs along each fiber which then get tangled with each other.
Can you needle felt after wet felting?
Yes, you absolutely can needle felt on top of a wet felted fabric. Needle felting is very useful for creating detail in a wallhanging, for instance.
I needle felted simple shapes (hearts and stars) on top of my wet felted wool dryer balls in this tutorial.