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Make your own felt components

Combine two felting techniques to make colorful balls to use in jewelry

Most commercially available wool is cleaned, carded (combed so the fibers are aligned), and dyed in an array of colors before being offered for sale. Felting is a process in which loosely bunched wool fibers are interlocked and compressed, creating a dense piece of wool. In this project, I’ll show you how to combine needle- and wet-felting techniques; while you can use either technique exclusively, I find that combining methods gives me greater control and a more quickly felted ball. 

Read the instructions below, or download the free PDF here.

Materials

  • Wool roving, less than 1 oz. (28.3 g)

Additional tools & supplies

  • Dense foam (insulation or upholstery), at least 1 1⁄2 in. (38 mm) thick
  • Felting needles
  • Small bowls, 2
  • White vinegar 

Suppliers

  • Wool roving, felting needles (Outback Fibers, www.outbackfibers.com)
  • Insulation foam (Any hardware store)
Instructions
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Needle-felt the wool. Pull (don’t cut) a small tuft of wool roving. Place the tuft on a piece of dense insulation or upholstery foam that is at least 1 1⁄2 in. (38 mm) thick. Pull a second bit of roving, and place it on top of the first tuft with the fibers laying in the opposite direction [1]. Continue stacking thin layers in opposite directions until you reach your desired quantity. 

Roll the wool into a tight ball, tucking in the sides as you roll [2].

Tip!
Wool shrinks 30–50% during felting, so use more wool than you think you’ll need for your project. To estimate the size of your finished ball, wad the stack into a tight ball.
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Hold the rolled wool ball against the foam, and stab into the center of the ball with a felting needle a few times [3].
Tip!
Felting needles are long triangular- or star-shaped needles with sharp barbs along the edges. They come in a variety of sizes, from coarse to fine. The barbs start approximately 1⁄4 in. (6.5 mm) from the tip of the needle, so using just the very tip of the needle will have no effect.

SAFETY NOTE: Felting needles are sharp; it definitely hurts if you poke yourself! Keep your fingers away from the needle. If the process makes you nervous, use a second felting needle to tack the wool to the foam while you felt it.

Lift the wool, rotate it, tuck in any excess fibers, and stab it in the center again. Continue rotating and stabbing the wool to create an even, rounded form that holds its shape [4].

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Wet-felt the wool. Protect all work surfaces with towels; I like to keep a towel on my lap to wipe my hands on periodically.

Fill one bowl with hot water and a second bowl with cold water. Add a drop of dish soap to each. Dip the partially needle-felted ball into the hot water, and gently squeeze out the excess water [5].

Begin rolling the ball between your palms, applying very little pressure at first [6]. Sometimes, it’s helpful to simply toss the ball back and forth between your hands until the fibers begin to felt.

NOTE: If you apply too much pressure at first, you’ll end up with a flat, clumpy piece of felted wool. After a few tries, you’ll get a sense of how much pressure to apply and when you can increase that pressure.

Dip the ball into the cold water, and continue rolling it.

NOTE: The shift from hot to cold water, in addition to the soap and agitation, causes the cuticles of the wool to open and close (think hook-and-loop fasteners), interlocking the wool fibers and creating a dense felt.

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Continue rolling the ball, alternating dipping it in hot and then cold water. As the ball becomes denser, apply more pressure when rolling.

When you feel that the ball is felted enough, rinse it thoroughly in clean water until no more suds emerge when you squeeze it. Squeeze out the excess water. 

NOTE: Perform a pinch test to see if your ball is completely felted. Use your fingertips to pinch a tiny bit of the wool fibers, and pull them away from the ball. If the fibers pull out, continue felting [7].

When you’re satisfied with the density of your ball, soak it in a bowl of water and white vinegar (approximately 2T vinegar to 34 oz. [1 L] of water) to neutralize the soap.

NOTE: The slight alkalinity of soap can damage wool over time. Vinegar neutralizes the soap and restores the natural pH of the wool.

Rinse the ball in clean water, and let it dry thoroughly, preferably overnight. (If you have a cat, don’t leave your felt balls where the cat can find them. You might just wake up in the morning and have to go on a ball hunt. It has happened.)

Repeat to make more felt balls. I suggest making more than you think you’ll need, so that you have a variety of size and color options [8].

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