(photo description: Eight members of the Tactile Art Club are covering styrofoam egg or ball shapes with many thin layers of colorful wool. Some people have on gloves and others are working with bare hands. Everyone has a 16oz cottage cheese container filled half-way with warm water, a nylon knee-high stocking and a bar of Ivory soap in front of them.)
Tactile Art Club members at the Colorado Center for the Blind learn how to felt wool. This activity was organized by Linda and Bill Truman. They not only went out of their way to conduct a very fun class they also wrote down the steps so that you too can try your hand at this art form.
by Bill Truman
Felting a Christmas Ornament (Ball) or Easter Egg
Materials and Supplies:
Styrofoam form (Ball or Egg)
Approximately one-half ounce of carded wool (preferably Merino)
One (1) nylon pantyhose stocking
Container/bowl for hot water
Plastic food concessioner gloves (optional)
One (1) bar of soap (preferably pure soap without moisturizers or fragrances like Ivory)
String/twine (fine, smooth, not rough; if making an ornament to be hung)
One (1) 5 inch rug needle (for stringing the ornament)
Towel (facial or hand towel) or paper towels
1. Lay out the materials and supplies on a table or flat surface in front of you in a manner with which you are comfortable.
2. Choose a base color for your project and, if adding a secondary color, the complimentary color to your base.
3. Hold the base color wool in your non-dominant hand tightly. With your dominant (right or left) hand, pull off a shank of wool about 8 or 9 inches long. (Note: the width of this type of wool is generally standardized at approximately 1 ½ inches wide.)
4. Before beginning to apply wool to the Styrofoam form, rub your fingers over the ball or egg and familiarize yourself with the feel of the Styrofoam texture. When you have completed the initial wrapping process, you should not be able to feel any of the “bumps” from the Styrofoam through the wool.
5. With the shank of wool in your dominant hand, pick up the Styrofoam form in your other hand. Hold the form with the palm of the hand down. With the thumb of the non-dominant hand on the bottom of the form and the fingers on top, place the end of the wool under the index and middle finger of the non-dominant hand and hold tightly to the form. Pull the wool towards you, gently stretching and wrapping the wool around the form so that it overlaps the beginning place. As you do so, the wool should be “thinning” as you go, so as to create a wispy covering around the form. Repeat this process, continuing to pull and wrap the wool into strands, occasionally changing directions until the entire surface of the form has been covered. Do not be concerned if the wool “breaks” away from the form. This is normal. Just begin again as above. When you have used most of your wool, stop and feel the form to locate areas which may remain uncovered and apply wool to these “bumpy” areas until all are completely covered. Remember it is better to err on the side of a little extra wool, as the wool will shrink during the felting process.
6. When the form has been thoroughly covered with wool, set it aside momentarily. Here you made decide to add a secondary color wool. If adding a second color, simply create bands of the color in the same wrapping manner as above.
7. When application of wool to the form is complete, pull the nylon stocking over your dominant (right or left) hand until the fingertips extend to the closed end of the stocking. Spreading your fingers as wide as possible, place the form into the palm of your dominant hand (like a baseball glove) with your non-dominant hand and gently close your fingers around the form. Using your non-dominant hand, turn the nylon stocking “inside out”, i.e., off your dominant hand, in order to enclose the form inside the stocking. Be careful not to shift or dislodge the loosely packed wool on the form. Once secured inside the stocking, tie a slip knot at the open end of the stocking immediately behind the form so it cannot move around in the stocking.
8. Next, fill a container or bowl with hot water. The water need not be scalding, but should be as hot as can be comfortably tolerated by the fingers.
9. Dunk the nylon-covered form into the hot water. Rotate the form with both hands to ensure that the entire form has been saturated. Then set aside.
10. Wet both hands and thoroughly lather up your hands with soap. Pick up the form and begin to distribute soap gently over the entire surface of the form. Continue gently working soap around the form without applying pressure to the form at this point. Too much pressure may cause the wool to slip and shift. Rotate the form around in the palms of your hands, making little circles as you go and keep distributing the soap for about five (5) minutes. If the form begins to feel a little dry, add a bit more water with your fingers from the water container.
11. Next, begin gently agitating the surface of the form with your palms, applying slight pressure and changing the angles of contact, circling back and forth, around and around. Continue this process for approximately four (4) minutes. At the end of this process, the wool will have begun to tenuously adhere to the Styrofoam form.
12. Gently remove the nylon stocking from the form, ensuring that the nylon is not catching or sticking to the wool.
13. Feel the form to make sure that no shifting has occurred in the wool, and that the form’s entire surface remains covered by wool. When satisfied, begin transferring the form between the two hands/palms (slapping), as if forming a meatball. This process will flatten any areas of wool which may be uneven or sticking up. Once done, begin agitating the form between the two hands with greater pressure using the palms. Continue for several minutes, then squeeze out any excess soapy water.
14. Next, re-wet the form with new hot water. Again squeeze out any excess water.
15. Alternate between the transferring/slapping motion and the rolling agitation for about ten (10) minutes. Add hot water and squeeze out excess when it gets cold. Feel the form for any lumpy spots, slap down and add more hot water to cause shrinkage and felting. If the form begins to dry out, add more soap with the hot water so that the wool can continue moving and felting. (Note: Remember that felt is the result of hot water, soap and agitation. Inadequate application of any one of these three elements may prevent successful felting.) Shock fulling is the process of applying greater force to complete the felting cycle.
16. Finally, rinse the form in cold water to “full’ or finish the felting process. Squeeze out any excess water with the hands. Wrap the finished felted form in a towel or paper towels to remove all remaining excess water. Set aside to air dry.
If making a Christmas ornament to be hung, this can be accomplished using a 5 inch rug needle and a smooth string or twine. Thread the needle with the desired string and insert the needle through the center of the ball/ornament. With the string extending from both the top and bottom of the form, tie a knot on the bottom and pull the string from the top until the knot is snug against the bottom. Be careful not to pull too hard or the knot will penetrate the felt and Styrofoam form.
Once the bottom is secured, remove the needle and tie a loop about 2 or 3 inches above the top of the form. Be sure that the loop is large enough to fit over the needles on a branch of the Christmas tree. Trim any excess string from the bottom knot and top loop.