Felt Making, Needle Felting, And Wool Painting

‘Wool-Painting’ (see below) is my response to comments like this: “The wonderful colours … the super-soft feel … the children cannot resist touching this beautiful wool while I am felting.” But Wool Painting is not just for small children. Adding wool to your pictures can produce some amazing effects.

Nowadays there are two main ways to make felt. The traditional wet felting, and the modern needle-felting (or dry felting).


What to do.
Felting is very simple. Take a piece of wool. Get it wet and soapy, then roll it between the palms of your hands. Very soon the wool will turn into a hard ball. This is felt! Rinse under a tap to remove the soap, protect it from clothes moths, and this tough felt ball could last for thousands of years!
To make a flat piece of felt material.
Place a piece of bubble-wrap, bubbles up, on the draining board by your kitchen sink. On the bubble-wrap lay out a square of wool with the fibres going across. Place a second layer on top with with the fibres going up and down, then a third layer across, and then a fourth layer up and down. Cover your fluffy square with a piece of net curtain then pour warm water over it, the hotter the better, and press down until all of the wool is thoroughly soaked. Rub over the surface with a bar of soap (any soap will do). If you feel it is too sloppy just mop up some of the water with a sponge. Next rub the surface of the net with the palm of your hand , gently at first but more vigorously once you feel the wool is holding together. Remove the net, flip the felt material over, then repeat on the other side. Next screw up the felt material and rinse and squeeze in warm water, quite roughly. (A therapeutic alternative at this stage is to hit it with a stick or jump up and down on it!) Occasionally open it out and stretch it to ensure it is not felting into a ball. Finally rinse out all the soap from your felt, then stretch it and lay it out flat to dry.
To make larger felt pieces.
There are two main methods.
Method 1. Lay out your wool on bubble-wrap, on a waterproof floor surface. More layers will produce a thicker felt more appropriate to this method. Place any patterns on the top layer using coloured or textured wool as required. Cover with net or muslin then wet and soap as before (or simply add washing up liquid to the water). Take a class full of small feet and shuffle, jump and roll all over the surface until exhausted. Finally rinse, stretch, and dry the felt flat as before.
Method 2. Instead of rubbing with hands, feet etc., place a piece of drainpipe, broomhandle (or any suitable rolling pin shape you have) at one end then roll the whole thing up, and roll, roll, roll 100 times (have a sponge at hand to mop up the soapy water which will be squeezed out). Unwind, roll up from the other end, and then repeat for another 100 rolls. Do this several times then rinse, stretch and dry flat as before.
For even larger pieces (for Yurts etc.) wrap your woolly package around a large roller, attach the roller to a horse, then gallop off into the distance!

What to use.
All wool will felt.
Wool direct from the sheep is quite greasy (the sheep produces lots of lanolin) and most of this must be washed out for effective felting. Also the wool needs to be carded or combed so that the fibres can be layed out in the same direction.
The finer the wool the quicker it will felt, and the finer the material it will produce. Our favourites are Merino, Shetland, and Bluefaced Leicester. These fine wools felt with just a few minutes of rubbing and produce a superb quality of felt. Wool from most commercial sheep can take up to 10 times longer to felt, and the resulting material will be coarse and hairy. However this coarse wool can be useful for needle felting (see below).
Man-made fibres, silk etc. will not felt. However they can be included in your felt for decoration by simply laying a few fibres of wool over them to lock them in place.

Why it Works.
When you rub the wool the fibres become tangled. However if this was all there was to it then man-made fibres and animal hair would work just as well. The special thing about wool is that the fibres have scales along their length. The heat (from the water and your hands), and the change in alkalinity (from the soap) encourages these scales to open up. The rubbing and tangling encourages these scales to catch on to neighbouring fibres. Then as the wool cools and dries the scales close up again, locking the fibres together to form a tough permanent fabric.


Needle felting is quick, clean and easy. Like embroidery it can be done sitting comfortably at a table or in an armchair. Also like embroidery it involves the use of a sharp needle, so is not recommended for children under 10 years of age without careful adult supervision. It is particularly suited to making 3-dimensional woolly models like the sheep, birds and snowmen you might spot on other pages.

What to do.

You will need a special felting needle (see below), a sponge and a handful of wool. The sponge is your work surface so place it on a table or on a cushion on your lap. Prod the needle into the wool with short quick prods. The sponge will stop the needle going through to the table or the cushion, and you will soon learn to avoid prodding your fingers! Keep turning your handful of wool as you prod it and eventually it will start to bind together in a ball. Keep prodding until it is as hard as you want it to be.
To add decoration. Take a few fibres of coloured wool and prod them into your ball to make an eye. Repeat to make another eye, a nose and a mouth. In a similar way you could add any design of your own, like your name.
You can also add other pieces of material. For example to make a hat cut out a small piece of material, place it on your ball, then prod a few fibres of wool through the material into the ball. The fibres will hold it in position just as if it had been sewn on.
With needle felting you can also make 2-dimensional designs on material, as in embroidery. Simply place your material over the sponge then prod through fibres of coloured wool to build up your design.

What to use.
First you need a needle. With the fibres we recommend here a 36 gauge needle is ideal. It is quick to produce results and is robust. (Felting needles will snap if bent sideways.) With needle felting any fibre will work, even man-made fibre and hair. Different fibres will produce a different texture.
The fine wool tops we recommend for wet felting (Merino, Shetland, Bluefaced Leicester) will produce a good tight even surface.
Coarser fibres produce a more open, fluffier surface, ideal as a base for bodies of animals, birds or snowmen.
Washed Lambswool is good for making bobbly/curly surfaced bodies, or for adding curly white hair or Santa beards.
A Wool/nylon mix is good for adding a pure white, shiny and fluffy surface to your creations.
The decorative wools (Natural Shetland, or dyed Merino) are good for precise patterns or for the addition of colour or texture.

Why it works.
The felting needles have several grooves cut along their length. As you prod, these grooves catch hold of the fibres and push them down through the surface.


What to do.
First make a simple sketch on thick card. White mounting board or any piece of white cardboard will do. Make the shapes in your drawing big and simple – no need for any detail since it would all be lost under the wool!
Next spread some glue (wallpaper paste or PVC glue) across the background and press tiny amounts of coloured wool into the glue to suggest sky, grass, sea, sand etc.
Be very sparing with the wool – small amounts can produce big effects.
Build up the main shapes in your drawing in the same way – paint on the glue, press on the wool. For these foreground shapes try pushing the wool around in the glue to see the movement and swirling effects that can be produced.
Roll wool between your fingers to make tiny balls for eyes, nose, flowers etc., or to make woolly threads for legs, branches, etc.
Finally glue on curly wool to add special texture to the picture – for sheep, beards, waves etc.
If the card bends when the glue dries, just iron the back of the picture then press it for a while between heavy books.

Why it works.
Because it’s fun!