Fibers Under a Microscope

Let’s get up close with some wool, silk, and mohair Nuno felt fibers. Really, really close.

I always wanted to see the difference between types of fiber under a microscope, and got a chance today. You see, I live with a science teacher and I decided a few weeks ago that he really needed a microscope with a usb to hook up to his computer. He could show gross things to middle schoolers on the projection screen!. I got him one for his birthday and the kids loved it. Today, he left it at home. Hah! It was MY turn to play with his birthday present.

Here’s a link to one just like it from Amazon. I paid more than this, but it’s too late now. At this price, get one for everyone in the house!

My mom asked me how Nuno felt works the other day. I tried to explain that the wool was actually the base, or structure, of the non-woven fabric, and that, once felted, it was quite durable and wouldn’t just fall apart. Silk is an embellishment in this type of felt. It is possible to add wool to a large piece of silk, but I prefer the other way around. I’ve got this box of thrift store silk finds, you see, and it’s lots of fun to rip up old nineties shirts and re-imagine them as texture in a nuno garment. Here’s the scarf I photographed today, up close and personal, with some detail shots:

Nuno felt scarf collage with details

This was made with two thin layers of black-dyed Merino wool with silk fabric, Mawata silk “hankies,” silk fibers, and kid mohair locks added on top of the wool. I love black wool under bright colors with this technique.

Nuno is a wet-felting process, with hot water and soap, along with a LOT of carefully controlled agitation. The goal is to get the wool fibers to grab through the layers of silk, and then to shrink and bond in the felting process. Just like the wool sweater you accidently put through the regular wash load, it shrinks and gets thicker.

Using my guy’s new birthday present, I checked it out up close, and took a lot of photos. Try to guess what each fiber is before reading my description below the picture!

black dyed Merino wool magnified 1000x

The “magic” fiber underlying the felt structure, these black dyed Merino wool fibers show just a little bit of their scales on the surface, which tangle and bond together after the felting process.

Silk gauze woven fabric after felting. It is no longer smooth, but puckered and held in place by those few black Merino fibers you can see here.

Bombyx silk (which is the type of silk created by silkworms eating a diet consisting solely of Mulberry leaves.) This is undyed, before felting, from a silk “cap,” sometimes known as Mawata silk. It is made from many layers of cleaned and expanded silk cocoons.

Magnified kid mohair lock dyed orange and unfelted

This is an orange dyed kid mohair lock, showing its shiny, smooth fibers all aligned and perfect. I got a huge assortment at the Salida Fiber Festival a couple of weeks ago from some great people. Naumann Angoras, from Bandera, Texas, had one of the nicest assortments of mohair locks I’ve seen available. I was a kid in a candy store! This is just a little of what I got from them: kid mohair locks dyed

So, you’ve seen the basic fibers I used in the felt. Now, let’s take a look at them after felting!

nuno felted fibers magnified about 1000x

I love this shot. See the two mohair fibers hooked together right in the middle?

Magnified nuno felt fibers

You can see that the black Merino wool is rougher and crimped, and how it weaves itself in and out of the smoother silk.

Nuno felt magnified with wool and mohair

That smooth mohair resists felting. You can often see a lock rebelling against the felt and popping out, at least on one end, its little curls waving in the air. The fibers are thicker and stiffer than silk, so it’s harder for the wool to grab it and tie it down.

The wool has more variety in thickness than the silk. It’s really grabbing on to this teal silk, which was from a stretched out dyed silk cap.

bit of grass on silk and merino nuno felt

Whoa! What do you think that monster is?

Hehe. People who pick out “VM” from wool fleeces for their spinning or felting might recognize this tenacious little bit of grass which survived washing, picking, carding, dyeing, and felting to show up here under the microscope.

My last micro-picture shows that my artwork does NOT come from a pet-free environment. Can you spot the Hound Hair in this picture?

dog hair over silk and merino wool

Henry says he’s sorry.

guilty looking coonhound

I hope you found this as interesting as I did! It was a surprise to me that the scales on the wool weren’t more obvious under magnification, since I know that they are responsible for the magic of felt. I love the translucence of the silk fibers, and the way the colors showed throughout each fiber on the dyed silk. And check out this microscope! Who knows what you can find to examine up close!

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Copyright © 2018 Kelley Adams.  All rights reserved.

All text, photos, and graphics are the property of Kelley Adams.

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