Tuesday 26 November 2019

Washing wool for felting

A while ago I was very kindly gifted a big bag of greasy fleece from a Jacob sheep. I’ve never processed wool from that state before, and I finally got around to preparing some of it so that I could use it for wet felting.  I thought I'd use this blog post to share what I did and what I used the fibre for once washed.

So, here's the bag of  raw fleece which has lots of colour variations in it, so it could be separated out or blended.

I had to google what to do with it, and without the facility or space to do the whole lot in one go I have washed and cleaned a couple of small batches.

I used a mesh laundry bag and put a good couple of handfuls of fleece inside and then submerged in a bowl of hot water from the tap and left it for 10 minutes. It’s important not to let the water go cold.

I drained away the very dirty water, and then repeated the process.

The water was much clearer on the second go, and as I was going to use the wool for wet felting it didn’t seem vital to get it 100% clear. Any other dirt would be well and truly removed during the felting process, which of course involves lots of water, soap and rinsing.

On removing the mesh bag, I gentle squeezed out as much water as I could without wringing or agitating the wool too much - the last thing I would want is for it to start felting already!!

I lay the fleece gently on a towel in front of our Aga to start drying it out...it took a couple of days of gentle drying.  I did a double take a couple of times when walking into the kitchen, because it did look like there was some sort of creature lying on the floor!!

Now, I'm not sure if my method is 100% correct, and no doubt there are many ways and opinions on how to wash a greasy fleece, but this seemed to work okay for me on a small scale.  Feel free to let me know in the comments if you've tried this and what method you used, I'd be really interested to hear!

Once dry, the colours were much more evident and there was just a little vegetable matter (bits of twig/foliage) to remove by hand.

Next was to use my hand carders to tease the fibres out - I separated some of the colours, and blended others.  I’ve ended up with a variety of lovely natural browns and greys.  The fibres are quite 'hairy' so anticipate that when felted it will be more coarse.

coarse and 'hairy' fibres after carding

Time to see how it will felt! I laid out a few small samples to see how it would do on its own and blended with some other fibres.

It felted well, despite being very ‘bouncy’, and I like the way it turned out blended with a little merino.

These natural tones really appeal to me...they are inspiring a few new ideas.  There are many breeds of sheep which all have their own colour variations, fibre quality and texture...it’s surprising how many ‘natural’ colours of wool there are, and of course they can be blended to make even more colours like mixing paints.

I had a bit of a play with the carded wool, and quickly laid out a rough landscape including lots of different things - silk, yarns, scrim, lace, small amounts of dyed merino fibres - anything I could lay my hands on!  This was done without anything definite in mind and without worrying about whether it would ever become a 'finished' piece. 

It's good to do this to find out what 'felts in' well and what doesn't.

During the felting process, there wasn't much additional  'dirt' that came out of the wool, so it seems the two soaks in hot water was sufficient for what I wanted.

So this is how it turned out after felting and drying - all the main fibres are those that I washed and carded myself, and I added some dyed merino in small amounts just add some more colour, and all of the threads and inclusions felted in pretty well.

It's quite busy, as I tested a number of things on this, but maybe I can do something with it...

You can see the bits of cotton lace, ribbons, chiffon, net and threads included - they've been secured by the wool fibres during the wet felting process.  The smallest amount of fibre laid on top of something 'non-feltable' can be enough to embed it into the fabric - I love doing that! x

Scrummy textures and layers

What's next...?

Well, with one thing and another, I haven't done as much physical making as I'd like over recent weeks, though I did finish off some pieces to drop to a local gallery. A break is sometimes a good opportunity just to spend some time thinking, making notes and plans for the things I'd like to try next.  I have ideas within felting that I'd like to explore further - such as including fabrics (or nuno felting) because I like the effects this can give and it's good to do things you enjoy, right?  It's important to stretch yourself rather than just keep making the same old thing, so I'm looking forward to much more sampling and playing to try and get the ideas in my head working practically.  

Outside of felting, I've got an itch to get some paints out.  I really like the immediacy of painting,  the ability to make marks quickly and spontaneously.  So, hopefully I can make some time to do that over the coming weeks and months.

I've been making some soft furnishings for our house, so I've got a few things there to finish off - trying to make friends with my sewing machine!!  I have no idea why I have such a phobia of my machine - I nearly always veer away from it in order to sew by hand - but I've been using it to make cushions and it hasn't bitten me yet, so I'll carry on!!  Can anyone else relate?

So I'll leave it there for the moment...thanks for reading this far!

Feel free to leave a comment, or if you have any questions I'll do my best to answer.

Sending best wishes

Tanya xx