Fleeced

I have an increasing number of friends who keep sheep and, therefore, they have lots of fleeces around at this time of year. This means that, because of my interest in things woolly, I get plenty of offers of fleece. In general, I turn them down because my real loves are knitting and crochet (and a bit of felt-making on the side) and I really don’t want to have to go through all the rigmarole to get to yarn (or wool tops for the felt). However, when one of my Twitter friends said that she wanted to have a go at making felted fleece rugs from her collection of fleeces, I asked if I could join in (just in case I loved the activity and would have found a reason to accept all those fleecy offers).

So, last Sunday, another friend and I trundled down to Carmarthenshire, and rolled up our sleeves, to get felting.

The idea is to use a whole fleece and felt the underside of it (using wool from a different sheep) whilst keeping the top unfelted. You do this (according to the instructions we were following) by working on a mesh, so that what will be the top of the final rug hangs down through the gaps and doesn’t get involved in the felting process.

You start my making lots of fluff from a tatty fleece, pulling it gently apart and separating the fibres, then you spread these out over the underside of the fleece. First in one direction, then in the other. After that, it’s simply a case of using soap and water to work the wool into felt. I say ‘simply’, but it’s actually really hard work to persuade raw (although washed) wool, in large quantities, to become felt. We made some progress with three of us working together, but we didn’t complete the rug.

It was an interesting experiment and, despite not ending up with a finished rug, we learned a lot:

  • It turned out that the gaps in the mesh of the fence panel we were working on were a bit too big – not providing enough support to felt successfully without moving the fleece around periodically.
  • The panel was a bit too bouncy as well, so a bit more support would have been helpful.
  • Our instructions suggested using washing-up liquid as the soap, but it’s harsh on the hands after a whole day and I would use olive oil soap in future, as I do for other felting.
  • There was no mention of covering the work with net (as I usually do when felting) to stop the fibres lifting up. It’s absence made the work much more difficult and I would employ a net cover next time.
  • The process could have been speeded up by using a rolled bamboo mat as a sort of rolling pin to give extra friction a bit later in the process.
  • A whole fleece was a rather ambitious first project – it would have been better to make some mats to begin with.

Nevertheless, we had a lovely sociable day, a fabulous lunch which we all contributed to, and an audience with a special interest in the project:

IMGP3640

Ken and Dave

I’m sure there’s going to be a next time! I might even remember to photograph the finished item second time round.

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26 Comments

  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing! Like you, I’m more about the yarn (and crocheting) after it’s been taken care of but I love to learn.

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  2. My gosh this sounds a big undertaking, but a marvellous joint enterprise. Really interesting.

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  3. I’d say small gauge chicken wire laid over what you were working on before might do the trick. I’m also wondering if a pre-felt mat laid onto the back of the fleece and persuaded to bond to the wool might be an easier way to go. That way, you can make the pre-felt with the full hard treatment without worrying about matting the main fleece, and just a bit of agitation to bond it to the raw wool?

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    • Yes, chicken wire is what we are planning using next time. Not sure whether prefelt would work, but it’s certainly worth experimenting with. I think it would help to card the wool for the backing at least the direction of the fibres would be more controllable then!

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  4. Oh my! You are ambitious:). Now that you have learned the tricks, I’m sure there will be many beautiful rugs in your future:)!

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  5. Annie

     /  July 16, 2017

    It’s great to see an alternative to sheepskin rugs, well done you.

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  6. I think this has promise – hope you do give it another try……….

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  7. It’s fun trying new things. Good for you!

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  8. Wow. This was interesting. Lots of work! I wonder if what we call hardware cloth here would work. Smaller that chicken wire and in squares. Wow, again.

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  9. When Ceri made large scale felt piece for her textiles degree finals, she used a 4×4, some canvas and a rough concrete yard!! Checking how feltable the fleece was first helped as some wool gangs up more easily.

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  10. What a huge undertaking–it sounds like it was fun but, my heavens, what a lot of work!

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  11. Loved this! I remember reading somewhere (online, most likely) about a fabric artist in the States who does very large pieces of felt in his driveway and then fashions ‘clothing’ from the felt for large installations. What impressed me about his method was that he uses a belt sander, minus the sandpaper, to provide the friction. You might want to try it on a sample and see if that helps. ~ Linne

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  1. Primordial felting | The Snail of Happiness

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