Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nuno Felting

I showed my friends who got married this summer a Flicker set of all kinds of shawls because they expressed interest in a shawl for their wedding.  Both liked the Nuno felted variety rather than a knit version, which is what prompted the major blanket projects.  Nuno felting is a great technique, but the work put into it is nothing like the work put into a knit piece.

I bought some cotton and some silk, along with some netting, in the local craft store.  Cotton was to test the method, the silk was for the actual shawls.  I didn't realize until I tried the test scarves that the cotton I'd bought, while it was the correct open weave style and able to be felted, was in fact iron-on interfacing and therefore not useful for felting.  The interfacing caused a blockage and attempting to felt gorgeous wool onto that just didn't work.  I tried tossing it into the washer with the towels I was washing to see if that'd make it work better.  It didn't:

Fail
After the "learning experience", I decided to just go with the natural white Correidale roving I have and the silk I bought.  Here's a step-by-step of what I did:

Step 1

First off, I laid out my bubble wrap and the silk on top of it, to measure out the area and make sure I had enough bubble wrap.

Step 2
Next, I placed a fanned-out piece of roving under the fabric at each corner to mark the boundaries of the silk.  As my silk has raw edges and I didn't want to play with seaming anything, I decided to make a felted border all the way around to encase the edges.

Step 3
Once I had the corners marked, I filled in the outline of the silk by fanning out bits of roving.  I pulled off a chunk of roving, never very precise, just a rough handful, and fanned the chunk out to form 90 degree angles for the corners and 180 degree edges for the sides of the fabric.

Step 4
Then I filled in the design.  I decided to keep going with the fans and place fans of roving semi-randomly inside the border.  I can't do real random easily, so it's actually got a pattern.

Step 5
Now I replaced the silk on top of the bottom layer of roving.  The roving should extend slightly outside of the actual edges so that the raw silk is fully encased and won't fray or fall apart.  I fiddled with the edges a bit until it was how i wanted it.

Step 6
Once the bottom layer is the way you want it, it's time to add a top layer.  For this one, I tried to match the bottom layer exactly so that the pattern was intact and there were bits of non-felted silk as well.  As I pulled off the roving and fanned it out, I played match-the-fan and tried to get them as similar as possible to the ones underneath.

Step 7
Woohoo, it's all there!  Now that I have a full top and bottom layer of felt to laminate the silk, it's time to get down to business.  Everything needs to be covered by netting so that it doesn't stick to itself in ways you don't want it to.  The netting also helps create a rough surface to felt against.

Step 8
This is the part where you wet your surface with soapy water and rub it in to start the felting process.  Many places recommend cold water to better control the felting and rubbing with plastic bags over your hands to help kickstart the felting.  I decided to use hot water to start the process faster and instead of squirting the water onto the fabric and rubbing with plastic bags, I drilled some holes into the cap of a 500 mL soda bottle, filled it with the hot soapy water, and used that to both apply the water and rub it in.  It worked very well.

Step 9
Now you roll up the bubble wrap and roll it roughly 150 times.  Keep a towel handy, excess water tends to escape.  Then you unroll it, roll it up from the other direction, and roll it roughly 150 times.  Then, you take off the netting and flip over your piece, and repeat.  Keep doing this until you think your wool is felted.  One way to test if it's felted enough is to pinch up some of the wool.  Instead of individual fibers coming apart, it should form a tent because it's bonded to all the surrounding fibers.

To finish, rinse the soap out with cold water to shock it into a bit of a stronger felt, then crinkle it up into a ball and throw it against a surface (like the bathtub bottom) a few times until it feels as stiff and has wrinkled up the way you'd like it.  After rolling it will still be flat, but some of the appeal of Nuno felting is the wrinkles the felted bits give to the open silk.  Roughing it up after rinsing out the soapy water gives it those wrinkles.

Step 10
Hang dry.  You may want to do this in the shower because it will drip, no matter how well you've squeezed out the water.  Bask in the glory of your completed wrap.

Step 11
Make a second, and realize that this is a lot faster and easier, though more work-intensive, than nearly any knitting project you've ever made.  For a full-sized wrap.  Decide this is probably what people will be getting for Christmas, plan to order a bolt of silk plus some finished-edge scarves from Dharma Trading, and wonder if you should also get more roving.  Because two pounds of white plus six assorted colored rovings and a small bag of black aren't enough, right?

Step 12
Show off your completed wrap.  It's awesome and soft and lovely.  It's not quite as white as I was hoping, due to the fact that the wool I used is naturally, not artificially, white, so has a slight off-white, almost yellow tinge.  They're still gorgeous and I know at least the first bride loved hers.  I hope they'll be not only useful but also used.  I need to make one for myself now too.  I may order some black silk too, maybe an 11-yard bolt of each, and have some friends come over and felt as well.  This is a really fun technique that produces some really cool results, and is quite simple for the final product.  Each of these took an afternoon, and I could have gotten them both done in one day.  I can even do two scarves at once with the same setup.  I do believe that I shall do a bunch of Nuno felted presents for my family this year.  The only question is should I do scarves or shawls?  Or scarves this year and shawls next year if people like the scarves?  Hmmm....

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