Oh – O! I feel another hobby coming on! Recently I did a wet felting workshop and made a hat. It was quick and easy, and I might even wear the result. Wearing hats doesn’t come easy for me. Some people just seem to own hat-wearing. They slap them on at a jaunty angle and look fabulous. They’re a bit like scarves. You either wear them like a boss or feel like a bozo. Scarves I can do, but hats make me feel self-conscious. That’s something I am going to get over now that I am living in a cold climate town.
Wet felting is an excellent creative pursuit. You don’t need too much equipment, and you can get a finished product in a couple of hours. Felting happens when you matt wool by agitating it. You simply lay unspun wool out in flat overlapping bundles, wet it with soapy water and then massage it until the fibres begin to stick together.
Wool, like our own hair, has a scaly surface. The soapy water opens up the scales, and the agitation makes them lock together. In the process, the fibres shrink, so you need to be mindful of the finished size you are aiming for.
The process is very tactile and fluid. By that I mean there is a lot of movement and touching. You have to pull the wool “tops” with even pressure to get the little “packets” to lay down in your desired shape. Next, you pat the packets down gently and feel for variations in thickness. Once it’s all laid out, you add the soapy water and massage it under a thin layer of plastic before rolling it up in a wet towel. Once you’ve made your woolly sausage, you roll and roll in flowing long movements. First in one direction then in another and another ensuring you use even pressure in all directions. The wool shrinks in the direction of the movement, so you have to roll it evenly – unless, of course, you want it to shrink more in one direction than another.
Once the wool is well matted and stuck together in one layer the next step is fulling. Our instructor (Jo) told us that fulling shocks the wool. Essentially you bundle your item up in your hand, squeeze it, and throw it down on the table. Jo encouraged us to whack it heartily against the bench. I have to tell you it’s a very satisfying process. The last step is to rinse out the soapy water and soak it briefly in water acidified with vinegar. This closes up the scales and sets everything in place.
Since the workshop, I have made a simple bag. I designed it to carry my laptop. As a first go, it’s a good prototype! I should have been more generous with the amount of wool I laid out, as it is too thin and lacks structure. I could (and probably will) line it with fabric and put board in between the layers to stop it from being so sloppy. I’m happy with how it looks, but it’s not very functional. I bought the leather strapping from one of the local saddlers who was quite intrigued with what I wanted it for.
Details of the wet felting workshop: The three-hour workshop was held at Walcha Handmade, and our very skilled tutor was Jo-Anne Barr from JAMB Millinery Designs. (@jambmillinerydesigns on Instagram)
Walcha is a small town about 70 km south of Armidale. It’s well worth a visit and will feature soon in one of my Snapshots of NSW posts