No-Roll Felting in Dryer

Felting Instructions for a No-Roll Nuno Felt Scarf by Nancy Ballesteros & Heather Davis

If you were asked what is your least favourite part about felting – most people would answer the ROLLING! Especially if you have any problems with your neck, shoulders, or hands, the rolling can be a painful part of the process. Thankfully a solution has been developed to replace the rolling. Read these simple instructions to find out more. These instructions are intended for Nuno felting with superfine Merino wool.

Materials Needed to Make a Felt Scarf

Wool tops
You will need approximately 50 to 75gm of superfine Merino wool tops for an average scarf. If you want to make a Nuno scarf, we suggest anywhere between 1.8 metres and 2.5 metres of fabric. Remember a well felted scarf should shrink 30 to 40 %.

Approximately 10 to 25gm of other fibres or fabrics to decorate the top layer of wool. Silk tops (either Bombyx or Tussah), Silk Textured Waste and/or Silk Hankies are often used.

Thin painters plastic
Inexpensive large sheets of thin plastic from the hardware or paint store.

Netting (slightly larger than the size of your project)
We like stretch netting. You can also purchase an inexpensive mosquito net from IKEA that is very good. We usually choose to avoid stiff or scratchy netting, I find them annoying. An old net curtain from a second hand shop can do a good job as well.

Water jug with sprinkling top
Use an old plastic milk jug and make lots of small holes in the lid with a large needle.

Olive oil soap
Make a soap slurry by using a potato peeler to flake off the soap into some very hot water (approximately 2 tbls per 1 liter water), or just hold the bar in your hand.

Several old towels

Three pieces of strong elastic
Long enough to tie around your felt bundle.

Table or work surface
It’s easier if your project will fit on the table all at once, however if not, treat your work like a ‘scroll’ – rolling up the part you have finished and then working on the other unfinished part. Please make sure your work surface is ergonomic for your body. Your table should be high enough so that your elbow and forearms are at a 90 degree angle when you roll.

Old glass washboard or plastic painter’s tray (with a lot of ridges)
You can find old glass washboards at antique shops or a plastic painter’s tray at a hardware or paint store. As a last resort use the drain board by your kitchen sink.

Electric household tumble dryer
Your own dryer should be fine as long as it is not mounted upside down on the wall (in which case the electrics are at the bottom and it’s not a good idea to use it this way). A small second-hand dryer can be purchased at any cash converter store for very little. We will only use the ‘cool’ cycle. It is NOT the heat of the dryer that does the hardening – it’s the ‘thumping’ or dropping action that takes the place of rolling your felt. Because these instructions are intended for use in nuno felting with superfine Merino wool we only use a cool dryer.  The felting process needs to proceed slowly so that the fibres have time to migrate through the fabric.  If rushed (by using a hot dryer) you risk that the wool will just felt to itself quickly and not to the fabric.  Also you will not have as good a quality of felt, the fibres need time and encouragement to move and intertwine to create good felt.

Begin by Laying Down the Fibres

First put down your painters plastic on your work surface leaving at least 50cm of extra plastic before the start of your project and 50cm of plastic after and 30cm on each side. You will need another sheet of plastic exactly the same size, such that you can sandwich the fibres in between the plastic. Now you will need to choose some wool. Wool tops are a very easy form to use since all the fibres have been carded then combed into a long rope-like preparation ready to use. Begin by pulling off a short length from the wool tops – about 25cm is a manageable length. Simply put your hands about 15-20cm apart from each other, making sure the top is not twisted, and pull. Never cut the wool with scissors as this alters the character of the fibre. Next divide your 25cm lengths into skinnier lengths by separating them lengthwise into at least quarters. Drafting the fibres can be done in a variety of ways, I choose to hold the tops in my left hand, with at least a fingers length of fibre hanging out from my hand, then using the fingertips and base of my palm on the right hand I grasp the very tips of the wool and pull out a thin layer and place it on the plastic (you can choose to use bubble wrap if you don’t want to do your rolling in the dryer). If you are Nuno felting you should first lay out a length of fabric onto the plastic or bubble wrap and then lay your wool on top of the fabric.

Start by laying down your fibres across the plastic making a nice, even row. The next row should just slightly overlap the tips ends of the row before it. Lay out enough fibre for the length of your project remembering to account for 30 to 40 % shrinkage. Next, a second layer is added in the opposing direction (90 degrees to the first layer). Again all the tips should just slightly overlap the row before and be nice, even rows. Once you have done two layers you may choose to do a third, fourth or fifth layer, depending on the thickness of felt you desire. Several thin layers are better than one or two thick ones.

Decorating the Surface

Now is the time to decide if you would like to decorate the surface of your scarf. If so place your materials on the surface of the wool to obtain a variety of different visual effects. Experiment with any of the following: silk fibres, silk hankies, fabric, threads, yarns, etc…. Please consider that a scarf has two sides and that both sides are seen when it is worn. I generally decorate one side then cover it with plastic and flip over to decorate the other side. Once both sides are decorated you can go on to the wetting out phase.

Wetting Out the Fibres

When you are finished decorating, cover your project with netting. This will hold everything in place while you wet down your project with mildly soapy cool water. The water should be soapy enough to allow the water to be absorbed, but not so soapy that there are bubbles everywhere. After wetting out the wool, use a scrunched up plastic bag and gently rub (with the netting still on) the water into the wool, so there are no dry patches or air pockets. It should be nice and flat and wet all over but not dripping. Remove the net carefully and place your other sheet of painter’s plastic on top, forming a sandwich with the wool in the middle. Fold in the side edges of the plastic to seal. NOTE: If your felt hasn’t started to shrink and grab the fabric after 45 minutes in the dryer, you maybe using too heavy of painters plastic.  Try some thinner plastic. When using even slightly heavier plastic it can effect the felting rate because it doesn’t allow the fibres to move enough. 

No-Roll Felting in the Dryer

Next roll up a heavy damp towel (not dripping) and place it at the end of your project that has been sealed inside the painters plastic (Figure 1). Then roll this parcel up into a sausage shape beginning at the end with the damp towel. Now place this sausage on another dry towel. Make sure some of the dry towel extends off the side edges of the bundle. First fold these side edges in (to keep it from dripping out the ends) then roll up your bundle in the dry towel. Now tie an elastic tie around each end and place one or two more ties in the middle. Make sure your bundle is very secure but don’t tie it too tight or the wool will felt differently under the elastic bands (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

The fun part starts now, toss it in the dryer, shut the door and turn on COOL setting for 10 minutes (usually right at the top of your dial) (Figure 3). It is NOT the heat that will harden your felt but the THUMPING action of the bundle dropping over and over in your dryer. It should sound like you put an old pair of tennis shoes in your dryer, if not then have a look because sometimes the sausage gets wedged and you need to free it. After 10 minutes take the bundle out, untie it, check for wrinkles or anything that needs to be fixed, make sure your felt it is still plenty damp. Then roll it back up BUT put the damp towel at OTHER END (just as you would when hand rolling with a pole).  Roll it up again in the dry towel  and tie it off as before. Place in dryer for another 10 minutes; repeat at least 3 or 4 times. It is done when the work begins to pull in a little (shrink) if it is nuno felt, or the fibres have migrated enough for the wool to begin holding together when removed from the plastic.  If you continue from this point to continue using the dryer your felt will tend to be much bulkier and not as well constructed. As this point you remove the felt from the dryer and finish fulling it by hand.  The dryer method will replace ALL your rolling but NOT the fulling part of making felt. A smart way to work is to make use of this time and start laying up another project while the dryer is thumping away. NOTE: If your felt hasn’t started to shrink and grab the fabric after 45 minutes in the dryer, you maybe using too heavy of painters plastic.  Try some thinner plastic. When using even slightly heavier plastic it can effect the felting rate because it doesn’t allow the fibres to move enough.

Figure 3

Hardening the Felt by Rolling (if you choose not to use the dryer)

Place a pvc pipe or pool noodle at one end of the bubble wrap (or plastic) that your project is layed out on and roll up the whole lot into one big sausage shape. You may like to secure the ends with some ties but it is not necessary. You are now ready for the hardening part of feltmaking commonly referred to as rolling. Start rolling the sausage back and forth being careful to move your hands up and down the sausage so all parts get equal attention. You need to roll 100 to 200 times before unrolling the whole thing and rolling it up from the other end. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes

It is important to keep unrolling and rolling from either end to make sure everything felts evenly. Use these opportunities to straighten any creases in your work as you go. Some people are more vigorous and heavy with their rolling and this may result in a faster felting process, but it also requires more frequent checking and rerolling from either end. After about 600 to 800 rolls, all the fibres should be start to matt together. This early stage is referred to as a pre-felt. After approximately 2000 rolls (less if you are a quick felter) you are ready for the next stage.

Fulling the Felt by Tossing

Fulling your felt is also commonly referred to as tossing. You will know if you are ready for this stage if the wool fibres are obviously joined and matted together. If you are doing a Nuno scarf or have added anything to the surface these pieces should be firmly attached before you start tossing. Begin by taking the felt piece out of the plastic and put into a bucket of cool-warm soapy water. Squeeze out the excess but keep it quite wet, do not let your work dry out!· Now toss your piece up and let it fall onto the table top, pick it up and do it again. Gentle at first and but you can increase the intensity of your tossing as things been to shrink and firm up.  Continue tossing your work and notice the shrinkage occurring quite quickly now. Be sure and keep a close eye on your edges so that they don’t fold back onto themselves. To ensure good drape and finish we usually stretch the felt many times during this fulling process. Try pulling your piece back to its previous size (pull quite firmly), in all directions, before tossing it again. You should continue this process until the felt has shrunk at least 30 to 40%. The more you toss, the more it will shrink. Make sure to always keep your piece wet and well lubricated with cool-warm soapy water. When you drop your piece it should almost splash you!  Otherwise you run the risk of creating ‘hairy’ felt.  Superfine merino should NOT be ‘hairy’.  You have not used enough soap and water if this happens.  Keep your felt wet and soapy at all times – it should feel like a wet chamois.

Final Fulling - Glass Washboard

A beautifully smooth and firm finish to your felt can be achieved using the ridges on a glass wash board (or a plastic painter’s tray if it has lots of ridges) and LOTS of cold- luke warm soapy water. The following items can also be used but aren’t quite as effective – hard swimming pool bubble wrap, or the ridges on the top of storage boxes or failing that the ridges on the drain board of your sink. After tossing your piece to a sufficient stage, simply glide the work over the ridged surface with the aid of lots of soapy water. By gently gliding the felt over these textured surfaces it compacts and entangles the fibres considerably more than tossing. You will be able to achieve a smooth tight surface perfect for wearables where constant rubbing can result in the relaxing and pilling of fibres. This technique is also great when shaping felt, focusing on a particular area that needs to be shrunk for example a shaped hat or fitted garment.

Finishing Techniques

When you are happy your project is well hardened and fulled, gently rinse out all the remaining soap with tepid water and roll up in a dry towel or put in the spin only cycle in your washing machine (do not use the wash cycle of your machine, just the SPIN ONLY cycle). Next lay flat to dry, stretching the piece to your desired finished shape. When it’s dry, a steam iron will give your felt a professional finish, and any additional shaping can also be done at this point.