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Make your own felt components

Combine two felting techniques to make colorful balls to use in jewelry
Make your own felt components
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.
Make your own felt components WOOL ROVING
Wool roving

SUPPLIES

  • Wool roving, less than 1 oz. (28.3 g) 
  • Dense foam (insulation or upholstery), at least 1 1⁄2 in. (38 mm) thick
  • Felting needles
  • 2 small bowls for water
  • White vinegar

Needle felting supplies are now carried at most chain craft stores. For wool roving and felting needles, try Outback Fibers, www.outbackfibers.com. For insulation foam, check any hardware store, or look for special mats made just for the technique. 

INSTRUCTIONS

Make your own felt components P01
PHOTO 1
Make your own felt components P02
PHOTO 2
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 [PHOTO 1]. Continue stacking thin layers in opposite directions until you reach your desired quantity. 

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. 

Roll the wool into a tight ball, tucking in the sides as you roll [PHOTO 2].
 
Make your own felt components NEEDLE
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.
Make your own felt components P03
PHOTO 3
Make your own felt components P04
PHOTO 4
Hold the rolled wool ball against the foam, and stab into the center of the ball with a felting needle a few times [PHOTO 3]. 

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 [PHOTO 4].
Make your own felt components P05
PHOTO 5
Make your own felt components P06
PHOTO 6
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 [PHOTO 5]. 

Begin rolling the ball between your palms, applying very little pressure at first [PHOTO 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. 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. 

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. 
Make your own felt components P07
PHOTO 7
Make your own felt components P08
PHOTO 8
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 [PHOTO 7].

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

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 [PHOTO 8]. 

Use these balls to make my forged silver kinetic pendant, or create your own design! Once you master the basic felting technique, there is no limit to the creative ways that you can work with felt in jewelry. 
FIND MORE: artist beads , fiber

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