Wet Felting and Wool Dyeing

Wool is a pleasure to work with.

I prefer the feeling of natural materials over synthetics in any case, but wool borders on supernatural as a creative medium. Spinning, wet felting, needle felting, stuffing, knitting, weaving all start with the same stuff yet achieve such a rich variety of texture and quality.

Working with wool is addictive. Every time I get into my wool collection, I wish that I had more time to devote to it.

Crafting and the making of homemade goods is a central theme in my homeschooling approach. With wool being such a magical material, wet felting and wool dyeing are great learning activities for me and the kiddos.

We started with wool dyeing. It's almost an identical process to easter egg dyeing, just add heat. We used food coloring and vinegar in boiling water to get this beautiful bright blue shade.  Because food coloring binds with proteins, natural fibers like silk and wool can be dyed as successfully as cake frosting. (It will not dye cotton permanently, though).

We added about 1/3 of a bottle of food coloring and say, 3 splashes of vinegar to 1/2 a gallon of water and brought it to a boil, then added the wool.

Leave the wool in the dye bath until your desired color is achieved,

testing the color periodically.

That's it.

Next came the wet felting. For home wet felting you'll need:

  • Wool roving
  • dishsoap with a strong degreaser like AJAX
  • a mesh laundry bag
  • a dowel
  • a rolling mat
  • hot water 
  • a surface to work on that can contain the soapy water (I used the lid of a big plastic storage container)
Step 1: Lay out the Roving

Lay out the roving in layers so that the fibers cross at right angles. Cover an area about 3 to 5 inches wider and longer than you'd like your finished products dimensions to be. You'll want at least four layers thick.

This is how thick my wool roving was after laying it out. If you're using commercial roving, it probably won't be this thick. My roving is extra fluffy because I carded it myself on hand carders.

Step 2: Lay on the Mesh Bag

Step 3: Pour on hot, soapy water.

If you're going to be working with little people, only make it as warm as they can comfortably play in. It is heat and friction that causes the wool to felt though, so keep this in mind when judging your water temperature. I used hotter water and just kept the kiddos out of it for the first few minutes until it cooled off.

Step 4: Work the Wool

With the palms of your hands work the wool in circular motions by rubbing it through the mesh bag. Try to move around the piece evenly as you work so that all of the wool felts uniformly.

Dump out cool water and replace with warmer water as needed.

Step 5: Play with the Foamy Bubbles

Step 6: Testing for Readiness

When your felt is done with this phase, you should be able to gently tug on the fabric from any direction without it stretching (a tiny bit it ok) or pulling apart. When you take it out you might notice that some areas are looser than others. Just return to the soapy water and mesh bag to even it out.

Once the material feels satisfactory, rinse with cool water to remove excess soap.

Step 7: Rolling

Place your felt on the rolling mat with the dowel at the bottom of the material, then roll it up.

Secure the mat with rubber bands. (optional)

Now roll the rolled felt back and forth for about 5 minutes. When you unroll, you'll notice that the felt has gotten stouter on one side. This is exactly what we're going for.

Rotate the felt 90 degrees then repeat the rolling process.

Step 8: Drying

Allow your felt to dry over night. If you want you can trim the edges. We are using this piece of felt for a magical wool backdrop, so I like the edges intact for this project since it feels more whimsical.

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