Friday, March 18, 2011

Advanced Tutorial: Wet Felting a 3D Bunny Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 2-part tutorial. This first stage is making a 3-dimensional wet felted bunny shape out of wool roving. The second part will be on finishing the bunny and adding needle felting as embellishment.

For this stage, you will need:
wool roving (I refrain from amounts because you might make a giant bunny!)
bubble wrap
synthetic fabric (for your pattern)
hot lightly soapy water (from shaved glycerin or olive oil soap)
work space that can get wet! and towels to act as buffers

paddle or some other agitation device
pool noodle to roll up bunny in for agitation

Learning how to make a 3D object in one piece out of wet felting was a revelation to me. I had seen demos on how you can make a hat around a form but this way is to make a 3D object with a flat pattern and no sewing involved!

Cut out a shape of a bunny out of your synthetic fabric. This will act as a resist and the center of your piece. Remember that felting shrinks about 30% so make it larger than what you want to end up with.

Hand tear your roving and lay out so that it is just larger than your pattern.

Set pattern/resist on top of felt. You will be felting around this pattern/resist.

Wet generously with your hot soapy water. Remember, less soap is better in felting! Too much soap and it stops the fibers from attaching to one another. Ideally, you want the exposed outside edges dry as it is easier to fold them around the pattern. I got them pretty wet as I was taking photographs. Pat the form gently to make sure it is all wet. At this stage we are just wetting and layering the wool, we are not felting yet. If you start tapping or pounding on the wool too early, your layers won't build up in a solid felt.

Carefully fold over edges around pattern.

Without flipping pattern, cover top of pattern and wet and pat gently, no rubbing!

Flip over entire piece carefully and keep adding layers in opposite directions, wetting, gently tapping and folding edges, and flipping the whole piece and repeating until you have at least 6-8 thin layers total. Your pattern/resist should still be inside the bunny. I added some spots as I was adding on layers. At this point I have only gently tapped the wool and have not begun felting. This took me about 15 minutes to get to this stage but I work pretty fast.

Once you have all the layers you want, then you can start the felting process. I like to just tap firmly with my fingers like I am typing or playing a piano. If you are doing it right, water should be flying everywhere as you tap. If not, add more water! Keep flipping the piece and working the wool. Don't rub at this point, you want the layers to attach to each other top to bottom.

Once you can pinch up a bit of the wool and it "tents" or stays all in one piece, then you can start tossing the felt around or whatever wet felting strategy you prefer. I also rolled it up in bubble wrap around a pool noodle and rolled it back and forth and that helps the felting process along too. The key here is to keep the form wet at all times with the hot soapy water and agitating the fibers like crazy so they start to cling to each other and shrink.

After 15 minutes or so of tossing and rolling, you can see this little bunny is starting to felt.

At this point, I like to start rubbing the wool with something other than my poor over-worked fingers. Lots of felt artist use lots of different tools. I love this scraper for gutting pumpkins. Weird, I know, but it has a nice ribbed surface on the back and is small enough for getting in tight corners to smooth out and work the felt.
Now he is ready to cut open and become 3-dimensional.

I like to cut at the bottom because then I can stuff him and needle felt closed the seam and no one will be the wiser.

Carefully cut until you have found the resist and pull it out.

See, your fabric pattern/resist has done its job and the bunny is hollow! Wool won't felt to a synthetic material.

UPDATE: I discovered the hard way that wool can, indeed, felt to synthetic material. Especially extra fine synthetic material that you work way too long before cutting open. The key is to work your shape long enough for it to felt but not long enough for it to stick to the fabric.

Now you can stick your hand inside of the bunny and work around all the edges with the paddle or your fingers and continue the felting process. Keep him wet and work the felt until you are satisfied. You can even poke the blunt end of a chopstick up in the ears to solidify the shape. I left my bunny slightly lumpy because I like the texture. Then rinse with hot water to get the soap out and then a final cold water and vinegar rinse to stop the felting process. Allow to dry.
At this point you can stuff him and sew or needle felt him closed or add embellishments with needle felting.

Part 2 will be on finishing and embellishing the bunny!

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