Sally Gulbrandsen Feltmaker: Her tutorials and techniques are as individual as she is—unique, experimental, and always interesting.
About This Felted Slipper Project
Here's how to make these wet-felted slippers. For this method, you will need a pair of transparent beach shoes. Don't worry, the shoes will not come to any harm, and the wearer can continue to wear them long after you have completed this project.
Borrow or buy a pair which are a size larger than those which currently fit the child or even adult person who you would like to make these slippers for.
Using Beach Shoes as Shoe Lasts
In this example, I used a pair of beach shoes which I bought for £1 from a local car boot sale. Keep an eye out for bargains such as these and build yourself a supply of 'shoe lasts' in a variety of sizes. Polystyrene shoe lasts are available, but they are expensive and these work just as well. Handcrafted slippers are the perfect gift for either family and friends.
Sizing and Shrinkage Info
The shoes I used in this example are UK size 25. They measure 6 inches long as is shown in the table below. Shrinkage on the finished slippers was minimal. The combined weight of both slippers weighed together was around 35 grams. Keep in mind that the shoes are being made on the outside of the shoe which does allow for a little shrinkage.
The transparent beach shoes will remain inside the project throughout the felting process. They will only be removed once the felting process has been completed. The end result should be a perfectly formed pair of slippers which are only slightly smaller than the shoes on which they were formed.
Shoe Size Example
|US Size||Euro Size||UK Size||Inches||CM|
Things You Will Need
- 1 pair of transparent beach shoes which are both soft and flexible
- Approx. 35 grams Merino wool roving. The perfect roving for beginners as it felts very easily but the finished boots will be soft enough for a small child but still keep their shape.
- A small bar of olive oil soap
- Hot water
- A cheese grater
- 1 pair of cut-off pantyhose feet
- A small square of bubble wrap
- A small squeeze or spray bottle
Why Olive Oil Soap?
I recommend that you use olive oil soap as opposed to just plain old dishwashing liquid which I have used in the past. It was recommended by a fellow felt maker. It is incredibly kind to the hands and to the project. It feels lovely to work with and leaves my hands feeling pampered as compared to the harsh effects of dishwashing liquid.
I know it is more expensive, but one uses such a small quantity during the felt-making process—and I imagine that if wool could talk, it would tell you that it is definitely well worth the additional expense.
Step 1: Grate the Olive Oil Soap
Grate a small quantity of soap and add it to a squeeze or spray bottle. Gently mix with very hot water. It will soon dissolve and be ready for use..
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Step 2: Place the Shoes on a Stand
Place the shoes on a stand of sorts. I balanced these shoes on two small coffee mugs.
Start laying out the fibers on the bottom of the shoe before moving up the front and up the sides.
Later I took the shoes off the cups and inserted my hands into them.
I also moved the project to the kitchen sink where I had hot and cold water readily available to me.
When it comes to felting, follow your own instincts and work out a method which best suits you and produces a good end result.
Step 3: Wet the Shoes
Begin by wetting the shoes with a little of the hot soapy water. It allows the fibers to adhere to the shoes.
Step 4: Begin Layer One
Start at the bottom of each shoe and work your way around each shoe. Keep wetting down the fibers as you work. Press them onto the shoe with your fingers or use a small folded piece of bubble wrap to do this with. Once you have covered the whole area of each shoe repeat the process twice or even three more times.
The thickness of each layer will determine how many layers you will need to add to your slippers. If a thicker felt is required, add one or two more layers. Always err on the safe side, too thin is to result in failure when starting out.
Uneven layers will result in thin spots occurring on the finished project.
Step 5: Add Hot Soapy Water
Add hot soapy water to the fibers using the squeeze or spray bottle. Press the fibers down onto the shoe with your fingers or use a piece of bubble wrap to do this with.
Work carefully to ensure that each shoe is covered in an even layer of even fibers. This is of paramount importance.
Smooth down the wool as you go and rub gently at first and then a little more firmly to smooth out any uneven patches. Put your hands into the shoe and use a piece of bubble wrap folded to smooth the whole of the project down properly. Once done, you are now ready to move onto the next layer.
Step 6: Massage the Wet Fibers
Massage each completed layer of fiber with your hands or use a piece of folded bubble wrap. Place one hand into the shoe and then use the other to massage the fibers. Do this gently at first as you don't want the fibers to mat together properly until you have completed all three layers of the slipper.
Step 7: Begin Layer Two
Repeat layer one, alternating the direction in which place the fibers down onto the shoe. Always try to ensure that the layers are kept as even as is possible. Add additional fibers to any areas which have thin spots.
A Note on the Use of Scissors!
As you build up the layers on the slippers, try to ensure that you keep the upper edges of the shoe (where the foot goes in) neat and straight.
Turn back any excess fibers to the outside edge of the shoe and cover with a few thin fibers.
Maintain a neat clean straight edge. The idea is to make sure you cover the shoe entirely without ever having to resort to using a pair of scissors to neaten up your edges.
It would be true to say that there are times when scissors can be used whilst felting, but this should always be considered only as a last resort. The use of scissors always results in additional work in order to achieve a good final result.
Keep Edges Neat and Tidy
In the image below you can see that the edges are neat and tidy. Add only sufficient wool to maintain a neat edge without having to fold the edges over too far.
Step 8: Continue Layer Two
Continue working around the shoes, keep the layers even and wet them down carefully with your fingers. Put your hand into the shoe and massage the wool gently. You may find it easier to rub the layers with a folded piece of bubble-wrap which will glide over the wet wool, but the bubbles will create friction which helps with the felting process.
Step 9: Wet the Fibers
Continue wetting and smoothing until you are perfectly satisfied with the second layer. Add additional wool should you find any thin spots. Once satisfied begin the third layer.
Step 10: Begin Layer Three
Begin adding fibers to the final layer. Once again ensure that you maintain very even layers. Fill any thin spots with additional fibers. Wet with hot soapy water and massage with the bubble wrap.
If you feel your layers are too thin, add a fourth layer.
If you require any decoration, add this to the final layer or alternatively, you could add your decorative layer to the shoe before you start the first layer. Once the project has been completed the slipper can then be turned inside out to reveal the decoration. Working in reverse can often produce a very good finish.
Step 11: Felt!
You can proceed with the felting process in one of two ways.
Option One: By Hand
You may decide to felt in a more traditional way, which is to do it all by hand. If so, continue rubbing each slipper until the fibers knit together (fulled) under your fingers.
Once you are perfectly satisfied, plunge the project first into very hot water and then cold. Repeat this a few times. Remove any excess water carefully with a towel and take the project outside. Put your hands into the shoes and begin hitting them one against the other.
You will see and feel the fibers begin to harden beneath your fingers. Once the Fulling process has been completed, rinse the slippers until the water runs clear. Remove the beach shoes and rinse again. Squeeze out any excess water and continue to hit the it slippers against the sink draining board until it is completely Fulled.
Rinse and shape the slippers with your fingers. Place them in a warm spot such as on a radiator or a cake rack to dry. Placing them on these items will allow the air to circulate around the slippers.
Option Two: With Pantyhose and a Tumble Dryer
Alternatively you may wish to rub the slippers for a little while and when the fibers are sufficiently stable enough to allow the shoes and slippers to be inserted into a pair of cutoff pantyhose without them falling apart, you can knot the ends of the pantyhose and insert the whole of the project into the tumble dryer for five to ten minutes.
The tumble dryer will agitate the wool and help speed up the felting process. Keep checking the progress by opening up the tights.
This is a good method, well suited for those times when you have to work with several children at a time. Younger children especially only have a short attention span and the felting really does work very quickly using this method.
Step 12: Remove the Tights (for Option Two)
Peel the stocking from the wool.
Use of a tumble dryer during the felting project can result in a firmer textured felt. This makes this method a good one for producing slippers which will need to be hard wearing.
Perhaps one does have less control on the overall felting process when doing it this way but it does suit the purpose. Hand-rubbing tends to produce a much softer textured felt, preferable to making scarves and flowers.
The stockings are easy to remove from the wool, but keep an eye out to ensure that the fibers don't attach themselves too firmly to the pantyhose. Keep checking the wool every few minutes to ensure this does not happen. Gentle tugging will always achieve the desired result.
The stockings are easily removed from the wool fibers but keep an eye out to make sure that the fibers don't attach themselves too firmly to the pantyhose. Keep checking the project in the dryer every few minutes.. It should be noted here that shrinkage in the slipper was minimal.
Keep in mind that should the slipper shrink more than is desired, this can be remedied by removing the shoe from the slipper and by plunging the slipper into very hot water. This relaxes the wool. Thereafter, stretch the slipper out again.
Armed with this knowledge, you should feel more relaxed about your ability to achieve a good result.
This project done right is really very easy.
A Size Comparison
As can be seen in image above, the slipper has shrunk very little but should you want to shrink it further, put it back into the dryer with the shoe still inside and tumble it for a little longer.
You want to stretch it a little, dampen it and then stretch it to fit the wearer. It is however far easier to shrink the wool than it is to stretch it. Caution and care are always needed to prevent mishaps from happening.
Step 13: Finish Off Your Slippers
There are many ways to change the look of your slippers. Try adding a few silk fibers to make them shine. Add a little crochet, silk or fabric to add interest and texture.
Good with crochet! Try adding a little crochet and elastic roll top to your slippers! Embroider with wool or incorporate lace tatting or silk into the surface of your layers. Add textures by mixing fibers which will fuse into the surface of the wool and sometimes even make it stronger. Remember that natural fibers work best.
Sew on small leather soles to help prevent children from slipping on smooth wooden floors.
Creativity is yours to do what you feel will make your project unique to you as an individual.
It is my hope that this tutorial will encourage new felt makers to take up this amazing craft. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions; I will do my best to answer any queries you may have regarding any part of this project.
Video: Another Slipper Tutorial
Questions & Answers
Question: Can rubber shoes without holes be substituted to make wet-felted slippers?
Answer: You have several options, plastic or rubber shoes without heels can be substituted as long as they are bendy enough to be easily removed from the slippers. Tiny beach shoes might be an option. You could use polystyrene shoe lasts, metal or wooden shoe Lasts as well. You could even try fitting them on a child when they are still wet. Shape them on the feet by rubbing the wet felt with a folded piece of bubble wrap and when shaped you can stuff the little slippers with a little paper, plastic bags or bubble wrap while they are drying.
Question: If using the dryer method to make wet-felted slippers, at what point do you rinse out the soap? Before the dryer or after?
Answer: I wash the soap out after the project comes out of the dryer. I use hot and then cold water. Repeat until the water runs clear and then give a final rinse in water with a dash of vinegar.
Question: Would the instructions in your article be okay to make large men's slippers as well? I saw your other article with water shoes for adults. However, the shape is different.
Answer: I prefer the method of using a template for making adult slippers, but there is no reason why you cannot use plastic shoes, water shoes or even your own feet or polystyrene lasts for shaping the slippers on. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to wet felting. Try experimenting with the different methods to see which one you enjoy working with.