Mar 5, 2008

Wet Felting a Woolen Vessel

A couple of weeks ago I decided to make a woolen vessel. I wanted a hollow, rounded shape with a small hole at the top, no seams, and a nice area at the center upon which to needle felt. I remember, as a kid in school we would papier mache around balloons. While the concept was perfect I DO TRULY HATE balloons. Besides, no balloon would stand up to the friction and abrasion required in wet felting wool. (This is not just my phobia talking here.) I thought a styrofoam ball would work well as my form but, how to get it out once the fibers were tightly felted? (I could hack it to bits but, styrofoam likes to stick to me more than wool does.) I settled on an old, rubber bouncing ball. It can be inflated and deflated, is sturdy, reusable and I have no unnatural fear of it bursting in my face.

After scrubbing the ball clean (for this ball had enjoyed many an outdoor adventure) I slowly covered it with thin, even layers of wool. The staple length of my fiber was about 2.5 inches long. My goals was to develop many fine, even layers of coverage. As I completed each alternating layer, some vertically aligned, some horizontal, I would lightly wet the fibers down to keep them attached. This process takes longer than you might imagine! Soon the surface area of the ball was evenly covered with about 4-5 thin layers, the last 3 of which were a color blend. Using warm, sudsy water I started rubbing this wool-covered orb, with very little initial pressure. The goal is to not displace the fibers before they begin to felt. After a while I was able to apply more and more gusto as the fibers melded together. This process is like washing your hands for an hour-not the most exciting adventure in the world. About the time I was ready to abandon the project I had solid felt. "Hooray! Release the...doves".

I'd placed a toothpick in the little hole that allows you to inflate and deflate the ball and cut my opening around that area. Then I used an inflating needle to completely deflate the ball and pulled that compacted, pruney thing out through the little opening. Then I wet felted the woolen orb with the vigor of an angry scrub-woman. Alternating between very hot and very cold water, I shocked the heck out of the wool and shrunk it down a great deal. I gave it a final rinse, pressed out all the excess moisture and set it up to dry in the shape I wanted my vessel to retain- flattening the bottom a bit so it would sit nicely.

Once dry, I crocheted around the opening of my vessel with a matching yarn I'd spun from the remaining colored roving. I also needle felted a face protruding from the side of the vessel with same mentioned roving. Now all this vessel needs is a fiber bouquet. Next post: Silk Fusion.