Sally Gulbrandsen Feltmaker: Her tutorials and techniques are as individual as she is—unique, experimental, and always interesting.
How to Wet Felt Custom-Made Boots and Slippers
Many people have difficulty in sourcing footwear which fits them perfectly. This tutorial has been designed to help them solve their problem. You'll need to start by making a pair of duct tape shoe lasts, and my tutorial for those is linked below.
I don't for one moment suggest that this is the quickest or the easiest method to create slippers. It is certainly possible to make wet-felted footwear with templates made from bubble wrap. These can later be molded to the foot using a vintage or polystyrene shoe last.
Is One Foot Larger Than the Other One? No Problem!
In the example above, you can clearly see that one foot is larger than the other. This pair of boots was custom-made to fit the wearer, who has one foot that is permanently swollen due to a medical condition they have.
This tutorial makes it possible to create custom-sized footwear which not only looks attractive but also fits the wearer perfectly.
Required Items for This Tutorial
- A quantity of merino wool roving suitable for felting
- A pair of custom-made lasts; see my tutorial for creating duct tape shoe lasts
- A squeeze bottle for damping down the fibers
- Washing-up liquid dissolved in hot water
- Bubble wrap
- A pair of stockings which are surplus to requirements
- (Optional) A tumble dryer is useful but not essential
Quick Overview of the Felting Method
- Lay out a small quantity of wool slivers on a table surface. They should be thick enough to ensure that you cannot see through to the surface below
- Damp down the surface in the area you would like to start out.
- Gently lift the small bundle of fibers from the table and place them on the dampened section of each shoe last.
- You may wish to place the fibers directly onto the last. If this is the case, wet the last in the area and start by placing the fibers down on the damp area.
- Cover with fibers with a piece of curtain netting and wet the wool with the squeeze bottle filled with hot soapy water and a small quantity of dish washing liquid.
- Flatten the wool fibers beneath the netting using both hands. Gently smooth the fibers below and rub the surface of the curtain net gently, until you are able to lift it off without disturbing any of the fibers below
- Continue onto the next area and repeat this process until you have completely covered the whole of the last.
- Once the first layer has been completed, Add another layer in the colors of your choice. This layer should be placed down with the fibers running at 90 degrees to the first layer. This helps the fibers to felt together when you later begin to rub the last vigorously under bubble wrap.
- Try to keep your fibers even. Fill any gaps if you can see the Duct Shoe Last showing through.
- This tutorial utilizes three layers. You may prefer to use four.
- A white layer was deliberated used here to make it easier for the reader to see the different layers, but sometimes this is not always sensible as these may show through in the completed project. I would suggest that if you are first starting out with felting; try using colors which blend easily into one another or use just one color.
1. Wet the Shoe Lasts
Hot soapy water helps the slivers of fiber to stick to the last. You need only wet the area where you intend to work at the time.
2. Lay Down the Fibers
Pick up the small bundle of fibers from the surface and place them onto the wet area.
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This step is optional. If you would prefer to lay your fibers direct onto the Last, this is perfectly acceptable.
3. Cover With Curtain Netting
In this view a fairly thick piece of curtain netting. Use a finer texture netting if you are a novice. It will make things easier.
4. Press the Wet Fibers Down Firmly but Gently
Wet the fibers through the curtain netting, press gently down at first, and then press the water outwards. little more firmly. Once they are wet but not soaking, rub gently until you can easily remove the curtain netting from the fibers without disturbing them.
6. Tuck in the Fibers
As seen here, the fibers have been folded down over towards the sole of the foot.
7. Add a Second Layer
A second layer has been added to the first layer here. You may wish to continue working over the whole foot and then add another layer. This is simply a matter of personal preference. Feel free to do what works best for you.
Answers to Common Questions at This Stage
Question: Should I complete one shoe at a time?
Answer: This is really a matter of personal preference. if you find it easier, do one layer at a time. The benefit of doing two at a time is that it helps one to replicate the design on both feet and get the thickness of the layers even at the same.
Question: Do I have to place the fibers down on a table and then lift them onto the surface of my last?
Answer: No, do what works best for you. The most important thing is that you should get your layers even. You may start out one way and then halfway through, adopt another method. This is no problem You may even want to start laying the fibers direct onto the last! There really is no hard and fast rule when it comes to felting—do what works best for you.
Question: Can I complete one layer over the whole Duct Tape Last before I begin the next layer?
Answer: Yes of course you can. It will make no difference to your finished project. The only thing that matters is that you keep your layers even through the project. There should be no thin spots left anywhere throughout the project. You don't want to end up with holes.
Question: Can I finish one layer and leave the project until the following day if I find myself in a position where I can't complete the project in one day?
Answer: Yes you can. I find that it makes no difference whatsoever to my finished project. The key thing is never to rub your wool so much between layers that the fibers are fused together before you start the next layer.
I deliberately left this project for two days before I completed the final layer. Spray the project with hot soapy water and smooth the fibers down before you start again. I did not as can be seen in the images, but I guarantee that wetting the project down will always make your progress much easier.
10. Add a Little Color to the Surface, Starting With the Toes
The toes area is a good starting point.
12. Wet With Hot Soapy Water
Wet with hot soapy water and then smooth down the fibers, rub a little and then remove the netting carefully.
14. Add the Next Layer of Wool Roving, Gradually Moving up the Foot
Start moving up the foot with the wool fibers.
16. Fold Over Any Loose Fibers
Use the curtain netting to help fold over any loose fibers and rub all the edges smooth, then remove the netting.
24. Place Curtain Netting Around the Edge of the Foot
Place the curtain netting around the edge of the foot and smooth all surfaces.
25. Add Fibers to the Foot Area
Remove the netting and begin placing a dark color wool to the surface area of the foot.
Note: Why I Use a Tumble Dryer
I am not a conventional felt maker. I do like to test the boundaries and I do like to try to invent the wheel! I don't mind using modern aids such as a tumble dryer and a microwave oven or even an Electric Sander. Here, I hasten to add, I always abide by good safety practices and so should you. It is so much better to be safe than sorry!
Overview of Felting With a Dryer
Rub the fibers on the lasts until they begin to feel a little firmer under your fingers and carefully encase both feet into one leg cut from a pair of tights. (See the detailed photos below.)
Put the lasts into the tumble dryer, for about ten minutes to begin with. If the project is very wet when you put it in, it might take a little longer to felt properly. It is best to keep on checking the fibers regularly. If they become fused to the stocking, don't stress, they will easily pull away later.
29. Put the Project Into the Tumble Dryer
Place in the tumble dryer for about ten minutes. Open the tights to check to see if the fibers have felted together. If not, put the Lasts back into the dryer until the wool has felted.
31. Rinse the Boots or Slippers
Still on the Lasts, Rinse the Boots with hot and cold water until the water runs clear of soap. Ease the boots gently from the Lasts.
Shape carefully and allow the boots to dry.
Share Your Feedback and Questions
I welcome your feedback. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have. If you have any suggestions for future felting projects, I welcome those too.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is there a way I can make and use these lasts in the dryer to make felt knitted slippers?