Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Funky Wet Felted Bracelet Tutorial

 I have been playing around a lot this week in my new studio with an idea for my latest school project: Make a piece of wearable art as self portrait.  I have been coming up with a lot of ideas and while these candy looking layers of felt probably aren't going to make it to my final piece, I realized that they would be great as bracelets! 
All you need for this is just a few materials and the most basic of wet felting skills and could be done easily in an afternoon.  I wish I had known how to felt in high school.  I would have worn these up my arms like goth-girl gauntlets.   OK, let's get started.

You will need:
-approx. 3/4 oz wool roving in 2-3 contrasting colors
-tapestry needle
-elastic cord
-fabric scissors
-bubble wrap
-small amount of dish soap or olive oil soap dissolved in warm water.

 For one of my bracelets I used 2 colors.  The next one I decided to layer 3.  Lay out your bubble wrap and start laying out each color in overlapping shingles.  Each color should be at least 3 layers and make sure you alternate the direction of the layers or your piece won't want to felt properly. 

Try to be as exact as possible as laying layer upon layer.  The more whispy thin waste on the ends means the more you have to throw out when you cut it up.  

Here it is with the 3 layers.  I have pressed down firmly on each proceeding layer before I did the next one to help it all stay together.  

Ready to felt?  For something this small I don't bother putting a mesh over the top of the felt; I just press down firmly on the felt and gently pour the warm, soapy water over my hand to distribute the water.  Do this carefully: you want to keep your layers even and in place.  Slowly work around the whole rectangle of wool, pushing out air bubbles and making sure the entire thing is saturated with water.  The warm soapy water raises the PH balance and opens up the scales in the wool so the fibers will lock into one another. 

Once you get the whole piece wet go around the edges, rolling them gently so that you get a nice square(ish) edge. 

Now comes the felting and fulling process.  You can do the whole thing with your hands but I like to use some simple tools so my hands aren't in water all day long.  (You can see how puckered my skin is in several of the photos!)

Basically in the first stage you want to press up and down on the layers.  You do not want to rub the layers because as the wool is not felted yet you can move the material around and create thin spots.  So you can gently start by tapping on the piece with your fingers and gently with the palm of your hands.  I do this for a few minutes, gently turn the piece over and do it for a few minutes more.

Then I start to use some of my tools to help speed up the process.  Sometimes on these smaller pieces I just double the bubble wrap over on itself and then lightly tap it with a pool noodle.  Pool noodles are indispensable for wet felting. 

I will also lay a piece of rubber shelf liner over the felt, roll the whole thing up and then roll back and forth about 50 times before unrolling, rotating the piece, and then rolling up again and so forth.    Check periodically with a "pinch" test.  If you pinch the felt and you can pull it apart, it has not felted yet. 

When the piece has felted (meaning the fibers are sticking together) then next comes the fulling part.  This is where the fabric really locks together and the piece visibly starts to shrink and buckle.  At this stage I like to toss the wet soapy piece around on the table.  Start gently at first and when it is really starting to full you can get more aggressive with knocking the felt around.    You can also rub it on a washboard: the texture does wonders for fulling the felt.  Just make sure to keep it wet -but not soaking- with warm soapy water.

Once it has felted and fulled together to your satisfaction (with this piece, the more shrinkage, the better) thoroughly rinse the felt and then soak it in a cool water bath with either a couple teaspoons of vinegar or fabric softener.  I like to use fabric softener because it smells better.  Either way, this step is VERY important.  If you just rinse the soap out of the felt you do not rebalance the PH in the wool over time it can deteriorate.  (Maybe not so important with a crafty bracelet but very important with a nuno scarf that took you 5 hours to make!)  The vinegar or fabric softener also helps to close back up the scales on the wool making it smoother.  That's why you like the effects of it on your laundry.  Rinse out the vinegar or softener after about 10 minutes.  Then you can roll it up in a towel to dry but I throw it in the dryer with a load of clothes to really shrink it up.  Usually after drying is when you block out a piece.  This doesn't need that.  Also, watch out with the dryer on delicate pieces: sometimes you only need a tiny bit of time or you can shrink a piece too far.

As  you can see, it has now shrunk quite a bit! 

Trim off all the edges with your fabric scissors.  You should see a nice layered effect of your colors.  I also ironed it a bit to smooth out some bumps but that is purely optional.  

 Next, cut it into 1" strips and then cut the strips into roughly 1" squares.

Thread your elastic onto your tapestry needle.  I had to tie thinner floss to the elastic and then feed it through the loop because the elastic wants to fray.  

Gather enough squares to fit your wrist and your aesthetic fancy of how full you want the bracelet to look.  

The green one is using thinner squares and I only used 30.  The purple one is slightly thicker and I used 32 squares.  Play around with it until you are satisfied.  Tie a square knot in the elastic keeping it so it is not too tight when it is actually on your wrist or it can distort the wool.  Trim elastic so it can't be seen between the felt squares.  

Wear out to fancy dinner party and impress your friends!  I like how light weight they are.  Now I am thinking of using the same technique to make a statement necklace or cutting the squares into circles instead. 
I love playing with wool!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your tutorial :) http://felting.craftgossip.com/2014/06/30/funky-wet-felted-bracelet-tutorial/