Wet felting is a fun, hands-on craft that does double duty: It can entertain the little ones while providing last-minute gifts for the holidays.
Children and novices can tackle the easiest project: wet-felting colorful little balls, ranging in size from marbles to tennis balls. Finished pieces may be strung for colorful bracelets and necklaces or decorative garlands and trivets. They can be sliced in half to reveal their inner wonder like a geode, or turned into earrings or pincushions. And mounded in a decorative bowl, felted balls or geodes add a punch of tactile color to a room.
In Interweave's summer/fall issue of "Felted" magazine, fiber artist Leah Adams of Seattle shares her geode-making technique: She tightly folds and rolls a small amount of unspun wool (called roving), and then layers more colors of roving around it. Adams likes to needle-felt each layer to hold it in place, for a tighter roll, but that's not essential.
"The most important part is the core — your inner Gobstopper," she says. "Get it as dense as you can."
Needle felting uses a barbed needle to poke dry wool to enmesh fibers, while wet felting uses hot, soapy water and agitation for a more permanent hold.
Adams, who sells kits and tutorials at her online Etsy shop, SpiderFelt, recommends using six colors for geodes and wrapping them until the ball is about the size of a large grapefruit (it will felt, or shrink, to the size of a lacrosse ball, about 2 inches in diameter). Submerge the wool ball in hot, soapy water — as hot as your hands can handle. Wear dishwashing gloves, if necessary. Reduce the water temperature for children.
Gently squeeze and shape the ball in the soapy water; expect the process to take several minutes before the felting is noticeable. Working on a textured surface helps the ball felt faster, says Adams. She uses a washboard in her kitchen sink.
"It's going to seem that it's not doing anything," she says. "It's going to feel like a tennis ball in the end."
Drain the soapy water and fill the pan with clean water or rotate the wool ball under running water until it rinses clean. Go one step further and fill the basin with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of vinegar, and squeeze the wool ball until the milky water rinses clear.
"You don't want soap left in there," warns Adams; soapy residue attracts moths, she says.
Cory Phillips of Erie, Colorado, slices her felted wool balls in half, creating two bowls. The naturally dyed interior colors — deep oranges, yellows and reds — contrast with the brown outer shells. She sells them at her Etsy shop, The Midnight Laboratory.
Phillips tumbles batches of balls and other felted creations in the washing machine, tied inside pantyhose that are knotted between each item.
Here's a project for school-age children from Christine White's book "Uniquely Felt" (Storey Publishing, 2007):
FELTED BALLS AND GEODES
Wool roving in various colors
Shallow sheet pan
Scissors or electric knife
Dishwashing gloves (optional)
1. Tightly wad a central core of colored wool.
2. Wrap thin webs of wool around the ball. How thin? Tell kids they must be able to see their neighbors through each web layer that they put on the ball.
3. Wrap each layer completely around the ball and back onto itself, so it will stick. Think of each piece of wool like an athletic bandage. Wrap the layers tightly enough to keep the center from springing open, and to keep as much air out of the wool ball as possible.
4. When the ball is about the size of a baseball or softball, stuff it into an inexpensive knee-high nylon stocking (or pantyhose). If making more than one, push the ball into the toe and tie the stocking off like a sausage. Continue stuffing balls into the stocking, separating each one by a knot, until the stocking is full.
5. Submerge the stocking in the pan of soapy water and squeeze it to saturate the wool. Let the children gently work the wool through the stocking until the balls feel slightly firm and you see hairs poking through the nylon.
6. Cut open the stocking and let each child finish hardening the ball in their hands, using increasing pressure. If you intend to cut the balls open like geodes, they must be very hard. Use scissors or an electric knife.