I have written before about workshops at The Textile Space in West Sussex (www.thetextilespace.co.uk) which are always good fun and when I spotted a day making felt was to happen I had to go along.
The drive up to Charlton in the South Downs was delightful as it was a beautiful bright sunny day – the first for ages really, and all the new leaves coming out on the trees gave the landscape a fresh, new and optimistic feel.
The Duck Pond at East Dean was looking particularly picturesque.
On arriving at the converted barn complex where the Textile Space is located I was greeted by Deborah Harwood the owner with a lovely mug of tea. The Textile Space has been open since 2010 and runs a regular and comprehensive programme of classes and workshops covering all aspects of craft with fabrics from hand embroidery to couture dressmaking, the classes are always enjoyable and personally I have always come away feeling inspired having learned something new. On this latest day workshop there were just two of us, myself and a really delightful lady called Evgenya.
To start off we made a basic sample of felt using wool from sheep on the Goodwood estate. The sheep at Goodwood are Southdown sheep and are raised organically, but as Deb pointed out the wool we were using was no longer technically organic as it had been washed using a chemical process. Personally this doesn’t bother me and I have to say that I really enjoyed working with the soft but at the same time coarse and wiry, springy wool.
Felt making is surprisingly simple and really does not need any specialist equipment. All that is really needed are a couple of old towels to mop up surplus water, a bowl of hot water to wet the wool and start the felting process, a small piece of soap (preferably natural and unscented), bubble wrap, a piece of net curtain or scrap piece of dress lining and of course, the wool.
Wool can be obtained in its more natural state straight from the sheep, but it will need to be washed and ‘carded’ (combed) before it can be used and it is more common for wool to be purchased as ‘wool tops’ already dyed. These are readily available from craft shops, haberdashery shops and specialist craft suppliers. They are generally known as Merino Wool Tops and come in a vast array of colours.
For our second sample we were shown how to make double sided felt; that is a piece of felt with a different pattern on either side. This is achieved by first laying down the pattern for one side, then covering that with several layers of wool, criss crossed to give it strength and then the second pattern is placed on top. The whole ‘layer cake’ is then covered with the net curtaining or dress lining fabric which is wetted with the hot water and then soap is rubbed over and worked into the wool until the fibres begin to mesh together. Once the wool feels firm and the patterned areas have melted into the background the piece os finished and can be rinsed off in cold water to shrink and set it before laying it to one side to dry.
Double sided felt showing the bottom side with light blue spotted pattern, the background in plain blue and a final top pattern of dark blue spots
We were certainly on a roll now and it was time for another cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit (you can always be sure of a lovely biscuit at The Textile Space!) and then on to finding out how to felt onto a base of ‘pre-felt’. Debs explained that the pre-felt we used was commercially made, and was a lightweight loose weave but strong fabric which provided a support on to which wool could be felted to make items such as bags or things which required more ‘body’.
It is also possible to make up your own pre-felt, and the Southdowns wool we used would have been perfect for that. I added a couple of layers of coloured wool and then laid down a simple swirly pattern and then worked hard to felt the whole together. It is true to say that while felting is a simple process, it is quite physically tiring on the shoulders, arms and hands.
My layered pre-felt fabric
Lunchtime came round far too quickly and we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine to sit outside in the courtyard and enjoy our lunch over some good conversation accompanied by the warmth of the sun and birdsong. A perfect English spring day.
After lunch we set about making a piece of 3D felt but taking a plastic template (heavy-duty polythene is perfect for this) and laying the wool tops over it, carefully wrapping the wool fibres around the edges of the template before turning it over and repeating the process on the other side until there are 4 or 5 layers. Then it is time to wet the wool and begin the soap and rubbing process again. The felt is ready when the whole has shrunk back and the template can be felt to buckle slightly inside, now cut through the felt, remove the template and ease out the shape of your 3D object.
The blue felt bag (or perhaps not!)
This is kind of over simplifying it, but is basically what happens – in theory! My mini bag shape started out well, but due to operator error, I didn’t pay enough care to the edges and instead of felting them round I allowed them to extend which distorted the bag somewhat. 3D felt doesn’t seem to dry as quickly as ordinary felt, so I tried putting it in the tumble dryer to help it along, and while it developed a nice slightly bumpy texture it also shrank back weirdly – I think I shall have to cut it up and turn it into something else! Oddly enough I did try 3D felting once before and spent a day carefully crafting an oval bowl, which somehow ended up looking like a squashed rugby ball and finally became a fish!
The final sample of the day was to find out how to make nuno felt. This is a delicate fabric created by felting wool onto silk chiffon and can look very beautiful with lovely textures.
All in all it was a fabulous way to spend a day in the company of the ever ebullient Deborah and even better having found a new friend in the delightful Evgenya.
What do other people do with the samples they make at workshops like this? All too often I take them home and put them in a drawer/cupboard/folio case and forget about them. Not This Time! From the green pre-felt piece I made a set of coasters which have now found a use and a home on my coffee table…
So far though my favourite thing is the flower corsage I made from the Southdowns sheep wool felt. Here’s what I did: