felt luminary

Monday, September 5, 2011

No, I did not knit this first...

  I had an interesting conversation with a woman in a local yarn shop today.  I was wearing a bag I made, similar to the one pictured below, and a woman complimented me on it then said "that's felted, right?"  I said yes it is then she asked me a question I was totally unprepared for: "what type of yarn did you use to knit that with, I can't even see the stitches?" I can only wonder at the confused look that must have been on my face while I was processing her question, no one has ever vocalized to me before that they thought my work may have been knitted first.  I explained to her that it was not knitted, it was made by wet felting using roving, water, soap and some agitation. Now it was her turn to look confused.  She had never heard of wet felting.  Completely dismissing the subject of wet felting she went on to tell me how she had knit several purses then "felted" them in the washing machine and said how great they had turned out.  I just nodded and said how nice, I wasn't about to get on my soap box about the difference between felting and fulling. 
  How many other wet felters have had this happen?  I will admit that over the last year I have become what my friend and I call a felt snob.  No, I don't feel bad about it at all.  There is a place for knitting something with wool then fulling it to shrink it down-some bags I've seen look really good, but don't call it felting.  When that woman asked me about knitting my bag I was surprised that my defenses went up, I almost felt like I was being insulted.  To be fair, she didn't know the difference, but it was the snob in me being proud for my craft.  What is the difference?  Let's see if I can get this right.  After you have laid out your wool and wet it the next process is felting it. I roll my work in bubble wrap and roll it about 800 times, stopping numerous times to re-wet it and turn it.  Some people cover it with plastic and rub over it.  Whichever, what you are doing is getting all those little fibers to interlock with each other by keeping them wet, slightly soapy and agitating them-this is felting.  Next is the fulling stage, getting the interlocked, felted fibers to move in closer to each other creating a denser, stronger piece of felt and in doing so the piece becomes smaller than when it started out.  There are so many ways to do this!  I take my piece out of the bubble wrap, remove a template if I'm using one and place it on a slightly ribbed piece of rubbery plastic and roll it up jellyroll style and roll back and forth, doing this from all angles. Occasionally I use a felting stone, the ridges on my plastic mat, I even have a rice paddle I use.  As the fibers move closer together the piece it getting denser, creating a strong piece of felt.  Some use a wash board or throw the work against the table or roll it up in a reed window screen and roll it.  Without this process you would have a weak, flimsy piece of felt.  This fulling is what knitters are doing with their knitted work, they knit the fibers together-not felt them-then by throwing it in a washing machine of hot soapy water that is agitating the wool yarn it is causing it to become denser by moving the wool fibers closer together-shrinking it basically and creating a denser fabric. 
  Am I being too picky?  Over sensitive?  Maybe.  I just want to clarify the difference.  To me felting is a rather magical art form.  Taking loose wool in the form of roving and creating felt is amazing and it is hard work too.  I think any wet felter will agree with me on that.  I never tire of the feel of wet soapy wool and watching the transformation from the loose fragile beginning stage of felting to the finished piece of good sturdy felt, soft and flexible as well.  Go on the internet and type in "felt artists" then spend some time looking at what some incredibly talented people are making, it truly is an art form.  There is a new book out this past month called 500 Felted Objects, check it out and you'll see some felt that will blow your mind.  I'm anxiously awaiting my copy, but I've seen some of the work that is in the book and am really impressed.  As soon as I figure out how to do it I want to have links on the side column to some of my favorite felt artists.  Ok, I'll list my favorite felt artist and her site; I have yet to see any other felt that has impressed me like hers, her attention to detail sets her apart.  Her name is Lisa Klakulak and her site is Strongfelt, just google it.  In fact the bag below was inspired by her work.
   I would be interested to hear your thoughts about this difference.  Being new to the world of felting this subject just amazes me.  I probably pissed off some knitting felters.  I'm not saying it doesn't create a good looking piece of work, it does, it's just not felting.  Has any one else run into this?  Let me know.

this bag is available on my etsy site: terrysifeltlikeit.etsy.com

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Stopping over from the I love felt Etsy group. Your description of felting makes me want to try it so much! I work with eco-felt so someone already felted it and I enjoy needle felting as well but there just sounds like a romance to wet felting!

    The sad thing? All those books at Joanns or Michaels call Fulling felting. Just about every book I have calls knitting and then machine washing "felting". So annoying.