It’s truly amazing that today’s hand-made felt is essentially the same non-woven, wool-based fabric that was crafted thousands of years ago. According to folks at Wikipedia felt is the oldest form of fabric known to humankind, with remains found in Turkey dating back to at least 6,500 BC. Check out the site to learn more felt history.
Felt happens when microscopic scales on wool fibers entwine and bond together. The process is made possible with the addition of soapy water and agitation. Simple as the steps are, making felt by hand is a time-consuming labor of love. When creating flat sheets of felt I begin by laying out fine layers of wool fiber over the surface of a large plastic sheet placed on top of bubble wrap. After wetting down the wool with soapy water, I cover the wool with an additional plastic sheet, wrap the plastic-encased wool around a swimming pool noodle, and agitate the fibers by rolling the bundle back and forth…for a very long time. Once the fibers entwine “fulling” begins. This step involves additional agitation by hand until entwining and shrinkage is complete. Finished felt will have shrunk 30 to 50 percent or more from the original layout.
The contemporary style of making laminated felt, often called nuno felt, involves laying fine wisps of wool fiber over a woven fabric base (often silk gauze) and then felting and fulling as described above. As the wool entwines and shrinks, it grabs the fabric creating tiny puckered folds, or rushing. The fabric base lends stability and adds appealing texture while making it possible to produce extremely lightweight and draping fabric. Nuno felt is most appropriate for many of the gowns and tops I design, as displayed in the Gallery.
When creating three-dimensional objects, including hats and seamless garments, I often use a flat plastic pattern that also serves as a “resist.” I encase the resist in fine layers of wool and then felt. The fibers bond together where they touch but do not penetrate the plastic. After the initial felting the plastic is removed and an open space between felt layers is created. Imagine felting a pocket by wrapping wool around a plastic pocket pattern. After felting, the top of the pocket is cut open and the resist is removed; the bottom and sides of the pocket remain intact. Many of the Workshops I offer involve felting with a resist. This technique is easy for beginners to learn yet offers tremendous artistic and structural possibilities for advanced feltmakers.
Below is a slide show of the nuno felting process described in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Threads Magazine:
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All images below are by Penney Calacci and are copyrighted. They may not be re-used without consent from the artist.