Nuno Felting

I was inspired by my recent purchase of a hand-felted scarf, and decided to give felting another try.  (My first attempt was a horrible wet, soapy mess.)  I picked up some needle felting supplies a while back, and have been tediously working little by little on the hem of  a wool cloak – but this means I also had a batch of wool roving ready and waiting for use.  At the Calyx art show, there were also some Nuno felted scarves that were lovely, but I thought the colours didn’t really work for me (too high contrast for my monotone wardrobe..) So… all of this came together for me to try my hand at some nuno felting, using a monochromatic colour scheme.

Inspirational instructions

I had read a few posts on Nuno felting prior to this, and had even seen a video on YouTube, but when it came down to doing it myself, I was somewhat silly (and impatient) and just looked on my iPod Touch for instructions.  This likely wasn’t the smartest move, because it meant that I ended up skimming over things instead of really reading them.  Ahem.

Nonetheless, I found the visual instructions from textile artist Ray Reynolds and her blog post about Nuno felting to be very useful, and they’re what I used while I was making this.

Subsequently, I also found some instructions on a blog called Catherine et les fées  – don’t worry, the instructions are in English!

Supplies

My materials - three shades of wool, bubble wrap, and some crepe chiffon

Here are the colours I worked with:

  • My silk crepe chiffon is just slightly off white.  I thought that the crepe texture would “hold” the wool fibers better than a smoother material.  (Though until I try another material, I won’t know!)
  • Off white wool roving
  • Chocolate brown wool roving
  • Heather grey wool roving
  • Plus you can see my bubble wrap on the bottom too.

The wool roving is from A Great Notion Sewing Supply in Abbotsford/Surrey, BC.  Unfortunately there are no indications on the package what kind of wool this is, so I’m not sure.  I found that it wasn’t as clean as I would have liked – there were small pieces of grass still in the wool, though that doesn’t really affect the felting, it just means I need to go in with a pair of tweezers to clean them out. Hahaha

When I was living out in BC going to school there was another supplier of wool roving, but she was working out of her house in Chilliwack, and these I bought when A Great Notion was in Calgary at a sewing show, and during a very brief visit to Abbotsford two springs ago.  I know that there is a local (just outside of Calgary) supplier of undyed wool roving, but that seems like a LOT of work (especially since I don’t drive…).  Thus, I think for the time being I’ll have to be satisfied with these materials!  the Felt Fashion blog suggests that Etsy is a good place to find wool roving though – I know I’ve seen a lot on there in the past… and it would certainly ship affordlably…. hmmm….   Finding silk chiffon in Calgary isn’t easy work either for that matter, the yardage I have here is leftover from projects when I was in school in BC too!

Step 1: Lay down the wool fibers, fabric, and more fibers

Laying the wool in fine layers beneath and above the chiffon

So the first step is to separate the wool roving into very fine layers.  On top of the bubble wrap I laid down first the bottom layer, from the outside in.  (I wanted the lightest colour on the outside, so I laid it down first.) I alternated the direction of the wool between colours, going from white to grey to chocolate.  Then I laid the chiffon down on top of the wool, and worked in opposite on the other side, laying down first the chocolate, then the grey, then the white, each time alternating the direction of the fibers.  (This is so that they will more easily barb together and felt.)

According to instructions I’ve read, it’s better to use natural fibers for this (silk, rayon, cotton) and using fine fabric keeps the finished fabric very light weight.  The goal is also to have the fibers go between the threads of the fabric, so something with a low thread count would probably work much better than a high thread count.

Step 2: Lay down a synthetic top layer

Polyester chiffon on top of the 'mountain' of wool

Since the next steps will involve rubbing the wool to full it (Fulling is the first step towards felting.) you need to put down a layer that will let you rub the wool without disturbing it, but that won’t get caught in the wool barbs and start being incorporated into the piece.  Thus, you need to use a synthetic fabric.  I suppose anything would work (though see-through would be better to know where you’re working), but the instructions I was reading said to use voile.  I used a polyester chiffon instead; leftovers from another project.

You can kind of see in the photo how the black chiffon is piled over the “mountain” of lofty wool.

Step 3: Water

Adding soapy water on top of the polyester chiffon

This next step is where it’s going to start getting messy…

Back when I was in school, trying felting for the first time, a classmate was sharing with us the basic instructions for how to make felt.  She used an analogy of Noah’s Ark, saying that felt was created when the sheep were in tight confines (and thus it was very hot), urinated on the wool they were shedding beneath their feet (thus changing the pH), and the boat was rocking back and forth so they were constantly trampling on the wool (agitation).  It’s these three things (heat, change in pH, and agitation) that create felt.

So, added on top of the black polyester chiffon is hot (or rather, as warm as I could handle on my hands), soapy water.  I just used dish soap (sunlight was what my former classmate recommended), and then dribbled it on my hand (other instructions have suggested using a spray bottle, pouring water through a strainer to disperse it, or using a small watering can with a spray nozzle.

Step 4: Rub

Agitating the wool

The goal with this next step is to start fulling the fibers, by pushing the warm soapy water into the wool fibers, and adding agitation.  All I did for this step was first pat down the black chiffon, making that mountain of wool compress, and then I  rubbed the top of the black chiffon with my hands (action photo!).  The instructions I was reading said to do this for about 5 minutes, which I did. (Give or take….)

This is messy, mainly because the water gets soaked up by the wool, but not all of it…. and the whole thing is sitting on the plastic bubble wrap, so water can easily pour back off your project.  If I’d been smarter I would have put a large beach towel beneath the whole thing, but instead I just constantly mopped up the side of the counter.

Step 5: Roll & drop/throw

Rolled up on the rolling pin

So at this point I needed to roll the fabric – basically just an intense rubbing with lots of pressure.

Some instructions I’ve read suggested using a pool noodle, but since I was working with quite a small sample, (scarf size) I used a rolling pin instead.

I removed the black chiffon, and rolled the wool and bubble wrap together around the rolling pin.  I think that you really do need something firm in the middle to get the momentum to roll this thing, just rolling it on itself might not be enough.  I covered the edges (where my white chiffon was sticking out) with a plastic bag, and then secured the whole thing with elastic bands.

The instructions said to roll it this way back and forth about 150 times.  This made me VERY thankful that this was a small project!  Then I unrolled the bundle, and turned the felt/chiffon scarf over, re-rolled it on the rolling pin, and rolled it back and forth another 150 times.

From there, it gets noisy, because  I unrolled the fabric  and bubble wrap from the rolling pin, removed the bubble wrap, and screwed the whole scarf into a ball and started tossing it back and forth between my hands, throwing it into a clean sink, and a few times throwing it up against the wall (which then got cleaned off from all the soapy water!)  The instructions I read said to keep throwing until the fabric begins to really crinkle.  I suspect I didn’t throw quite as long as I could have.

From there I rinsed the scarf in hot clean water, rubbing it some more, then rinsed it with cold water to get the soap out, and hung it to dry.

Results!

The finished product!

Ultimately, there are a number of things I’d do differently with this project (and still possibly could).

  • The wool part is quite drastically different from the chiffon part in the weight/thickness of the fabric.  I think I could have used fewer layers of wool if I was only going to do a stripe.
  • I liked the mottled look at first, but now I’m not so sure.  It might have been better to keep the colours a bit more distinct?
  • If I wanted this very floaty and lightweight, I would have been better off leaving patches within the ‘stripe’ of wool that had no wool as well.
  • The monochromatic colour scheme looks kind of…. blah.  The chocolate brown doesn’t look rich, it looks muddy.  The heather grey doesn’t show up at all, and the white wool doesn’t show up very well against the chiffon, only against the brown wool.  I might consider dying this whole scarf and see what happens.
  • The wool seemed to felt fine, but I’m wondering if some additional needle felting (perhaps to add in some additional decoration) might help. I’ve also thought about tossing it in the washing machine to felt it even further.  (Or would that be overkill?)
  • I went into the project thinking that I’d make a scarf, but I didn’t really think much more about it than that. As it is right now, I wouldn’t wear it as a scarf, so I think better planning would be a good idea for a future project.
  • It would have been a good idea to finish all my edges (even just serge them temporarily) because while I was rolling, threads kept coming out… LOL
  • Despite loving monochromatic, I think that the white (or rather, just slightly off-white) chiffon just bored me after a while.  I might need to come back to this to fall back in love with it again, or, in future, consider some interesting monochromatic gradient dying or something.  I know that I don’t want a blue scarf with red and orange wool or something like that – but perhaps I’ve gone too far the other way…
  • Some instructions I’ve read have talked about incorporating silk fibers, lace, and other things into the felting process as well.  I have some beautiful silk fibers for the needle felted cloak I’ve been working on – I think that I’ll leave that for the time being though, but it’s an idea perhaps to liven this piece up a bit.

However, with that being said, I really like that I was able to do this, and think that I’ll try it again (but planned better!).

Next steps

So after all of that, I figure that more inspiration and ideas are necessary before I try this again.

Cape from Glamour Junkie

Etsy seller Glamour Junkie has this lovely grey silk chiffon with grey nuno felted ruffles cape for sale.  This might be an interesting non-scarf alternative to doing something, and it certainly has the monochromatic feel I was going for!  (The photography helps with that too!)  Check out the super-delicate wool nuno felted flower she offers as well!

Wooly Bliss has a section on Nuno Felting. While her scarves are very colourful, I’m more interested in some of the details she’s added in – there’s pattern, sculpture, designs, etc… all done in felted wool.

QaraQul has some beautiful examples of Nuno felted scarves – this one on this link leaves large sections of the silk fabric, and large felted motifs decorate the scarf. More scarves are here. I especially like the winter one – done with brown, blue, and white.

Nicola on the Clasheen blog talks about taking a gorgeous piece of wool, and transforming it with just a few stitches.  This reminds me a lot of the things we’d make when taking the weaving class in BC – wanting to keep as much of the (insanely time-consuming) fabric intact, so creating garments without cutting out much; just using basic shapes (squares, rectangles) to make unfitted or lightly fitted garments.  At the same time we wanted the fabric to be the “star” of the show, not the cut of the garment.  Hmm… I should revisit some of those designs…..

I adore the blues in JaneBoFelt’s Sea-blue ruffled nuno felted scarf.

Barbara Pool has a number of posts on nuno felting as well, along with some videos and lots of information!

Tiger C has a gorgeous hand-felted circle jacket – an awesome alternative to a scarf.. though I can only imagine all of the extra work doing something like this would take.  I’m definitely not ready for this yet!

Nuno Felting Class with Jennifer Packer

Instructor Jennifer Packer teaches a class on Nuno Felting with Knit One One  – how beautiful is this scarf?  It looks like dark red silk, with a black stripe (with very neat, clean edges!) down the middle, with then little bits of red wool to create texture and pattern.  Of course, Knit One One is in California… not so much here in Calgary.  If, however you happen to be near Berkley, CA, they offer a BUNCH of fiber arts classes.

Feedback!

If you’ve tried Nuno Felting, or could answer any of the questions I’ve posed in this post, please comment below with your thoughts!

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3 comments on “Nuno Felting

  1. I appreciated your comment about my feltmaking (Wooly Bliss Feltmaking) on this blog!

    A few responses which I hope will support your nuno explorations.

    First: use cold water and work slowly —
    One essential thing to remember about nuno felting that is different from other wet felting processes:

    You want to coax those fibers to migrate through whatever fabric you are using for the base BEFORE you coax the fibers to shrink (full). Otherwise, you run the risk of your carefully-placed fibers meshing together ON TOP of the fabric rather than THROUGH the fabric. So use cold/cool water for the rubbing part, and check the underside of the fabric after a while to see if you can see those wool fibers poking out. Start very gently and slowly; don’t increase the temp of the water til you are close to the end, and then remember that the fibers may shrink dramatically and quickly. One rule is to check after every ten “thwacks” if
    you are throwing the piece. You don’t want to over-full a piece. You can always do more.

    The second bit of advice: take a look at Lori Flood’s recreated website: Felted Fibers. (feltedfibers.com). You can reap the benefit of her experience by reading her instructions for various techniques, including nuno, that are posted on her website. Lori’s works are featured in several felting books; her previous business name was “The Spinster’s Treadle.” She is a fine teacher.

    And finally: felting is a slow process. Nuno felting — a REALLY slow process!
    I admire your sense of adventure… Enjoy your slow art!

    All the Best,

    Ann Pangborn
    http://www.woolyblissfeltmaking.com

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for your reply Ann! I appreciate your suggestions – indeed, I was hoping to make the process go faster – and I hadn’t even heard about starting with cold water! Hmmmm something to try when I get my hands on some new wool!

  2. Nicola says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Congratulations on your nuno felt scarf but beware, it can be an addictive process!!! I have a few pointers that you might like to consider, there are no rights or wrongs in felting but sometimes it is nice to have a couple of different options in mind!

    – Cheesecloth and cotton gauze are FANTASTIC for nuno felting, thay give wonderful results, dye brilliantly if that’s your thing and are SO cheap to buy over your side of the pond (I live in Ireland!)
    – To achieve a successful light floaty scarf you only need to use ONE light layer of wool on top of your fabric, you DON’T need to lay it any thicker OR lay on both sides unless you want a thick, stiffer end result
    – The more ‘holey’ and uneven the layer of wool the more crinkled and textured the nuno felt will be
    – Lay out one fine layer of wool all around the perimeter of your fabric and that will trap any threads as you go through the felting process
    – I actually prefer a smooth chiffon or silk ponge fabric to a crinkled one, it seems to work better for me and make a more subtle finished result

    Hope this helps and don’t forget, anything goes!

    X

    Nicola

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