When my daughter moved out of state, she couldn’t take everything with her. She talked me into keeping a box of silk garments she’d rescued from thrift stores over the years. (Twist my arm!) Although she has similar tastes to mine, meaning anything green, these garments were purchased solely for the natural fibers and not for the colors. There were some old silk shirts from the 90s which were definitely not in my usual color palette!
I had a bag of mixed colors of mohair locks, purchased from the Salida Fiber Festival a couple of weeks ago, and this old-fashioned color grouping kept calling my name. They struck me as very old-fashioned colors, reminiscent of the 1920s. I spun up a skein of mohair boucle yarn, using the technique I demonstrate on this video but with a wool core instead of slick silk.
Because the core was not slick, the locks were more drawn out than the yarn from the video. The idea was mostly to tie the ends to a core yarn to make them felt better. You can see in my previous blog post, Fibers Under a Microscope, that mohair is pretty stiff and slick. It tends to pop right out of a felted fabric, where slick silk fibers conform and allow themselves to be bonded by the wool really easily.
Here are some of the other “ingredients” for the scarf. The lavender shirt is sueded silk. The shoulder pads were taken out and it didn’t fit anybody after that, so it ended up in the thrift store. I ripped off a sleeve, feeling only mildly guilty about it, and cut it into more organic shapes for adding to the felt. I don’t really do straight lines in any of my artwork, so I couldn’t rip it into strips. The pink in the middle is a bit of silk gauze dyed a rosy color. Who knows why or when. These things just happen in my house.
The silk/camel down blend needs no further description. You can just SEE how soft it is!
Here, you can see how the fibers are laid out in layers, with wool or camel down carefully placed along the edges of the fabric to bind it to the underlayer of Merino. The yarn, also, has wool laid out across it here and there to ensure that it doesn’t escape.
When I’m happy with the composition, it’s ready to get felting!
With any felt including silk or with a careful composition, I always cover it with a screen before wetting. I use discount bin window screen. It’s usually fiberglass but I prefer nylon if I can get it. I’ve never gotten slivers in my hands from this form of fiberglass, but I worry because of other forms that have gotten me good. I use it for felting and for silk fusion projects. Window screen is heavy and durable, and presses the fibers right down to hold them in place while you get them thoroughly wet and soapy. Here’s an Amazon link to a nylon screen.
After it has mashed down and is soaked through, I rub my hand across the surface, feeling for places with friction, and I add more soap to those spots. Soap changes the ph of the wool, allowing it to felt as well as lubricating the surface so it can be rubbed without displacing the fibers.
For larger projects I add a step here before removing the window screen. I break out the power tools! (I am VERY careful to keep the motor from getting wet, and you should be, too, please! Electrocution is bad.) Here is the secret weapon which shortens agitation time drastically!
Cover your screen with a generous amount of bubble wrap, bubble side down onto the mesh. Then use a finish sander (the vibrating kind and NOT the belt kind!) over the bubble wrap.
Caution: As well as avoiding electrocution from using a power tool on a wet project, the bubble wrap keeps the velcro hooks that are often on the bottom of the sanding pad from hooking your fibers and pulling them out through the screen! Use bubble wrap between the sander and the screen and wet fiber!
Place it over all areas of the felt and let it sit and vibrate in place for 60 seconds. You may have to replace the bubble wrap, because the bubbles deflate sometimes during this process. You don’t have to press down! Think of those little bubbles as fingers, gently agitating the surface of your felt with every vibration.
You are going to wad up your precious soft-felted scarf into a wet, soapy ball, and throw it — hard– against a table. Pick it up and re-wad it (is that even a word?) and then throw it again! Do this about 20 times. (It’s funny to explain to the neighbors what I’m doing when I slam wet felt out on the patio table. It’s even funnier not to explain.)
The last step in the felting process, to make this a durable fabric as well as pretty, is to agitate over a rough surface or washboard. Some people use a waffle-surfaced felting tool. I prefer this inexpensive little washboard basin I picked up off Amazon. I got it last spring, and it has become my go-to tool for all kinds of fiber projects.
When you have hard-felted (all the violent parts) your felt, the surface will show the puckery texture that you’re looking for. This is a durable fabric, and, short of cat claws picking at it, shouldn’t have bits falling off or pilling over time.
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