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 were custom made to fit the wearer, whose one foot 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 fibres
- 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 direct 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 working at the time.
2. Lay Down the Fibres
Pick up the small bundle of fibers from the surface and place them onto the wet area.
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 one if you are a novice. It will make things easier.
4. Press the Wet Fibres 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.
5. Remove the Netting Gently
6. Tuck in the Fibres
As seen here, the fibres 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 a simply a matter of personal preference. Feel free to do what works best for you.
8. Cover and Wet the Project With Hot Soapy Water
9. Remove the Curtain Netting
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.
11. Cover the Fibres With Curtain Netting
12. Wet With Hot Soapy Water
Wet with hot soapy water and then smooth down the fibres, rub a little and then remove the netting carefully.
13. Remove the Curtain Netting
14. Add the Next Layer of Wool Roving, Gradually Moving up the Foot
Start moving up the foot with the wool fibers.
15. Cover With Curtain Netting and Wet With Hot Soapy Water
16. Fold Over any Loose Fibres
Use the curtain netting to help fold over any loose fibres and rub all the edges smooth, then remove the netting.
17. Rub and Remove the Netting
18. Continue Adding Color up the Leg
19. Cover With Curtain Netting and Wet With Hot Soapy Water
20. Remove the Netting
21. Continue Working up the Whole of the Leg Area
22. Cover With Curtain Netting and Wet With Hot Soapy Water
23. Work Around the Whole of the Leg Area
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 Fibres to the Foot Area
Remove the netting and begin placing a dark color wool to the surface area of the foot.
26. Cover Both Lasts With the Bubble Wrap
27. Damp Down the Bubble Wrap and Rub Vigorously With Fingers and Palms
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 with 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 fibres on the lasts until they begun 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 fibres regularly. If they become fused to the stocking, don't stress, they will easily pull away from later.
28. Cover Each Last With One Leg of a Pair of Tights
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.
30. Remove the Tights From the Lasts
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: Do you need to make the last a bit of a wet felted slipper larger than your actual foot to account for shrinkage of the wool?
Answer: To be on the safe side, the last should be made larger to allow for shrinkage of the wool. These days I prefer to use a flat boot shaped template to create the slipper and then use a last to shape it on once shrinkage has taken place so that I can get a better fit. However, this can be very useful if you have feet which do not fit into a standard pair of shoes or slippers.
Question: I’m having sections peel off. I’m using Alpaca wool. Parts of the layer are peeling as I get more rigorous with the project. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: In my early days, of felting, I did try Alpaca wool but I found that it did not felt as easily as Merino Wool. I think that your layers are peeling off because the wool beneath has likely not been made sufficiently wet or that you are being too rough with it before the wool below has felted sufficiently. Try rubbing the wool with a folded piece of bubble wrap, bubble side down using plenty of soap until it is smooth and then use a firmer touch until you can feel that the fibers have felted together. Alpaca, in my opinion, is not an easy wool to use for those just starting out with wet felting. The fibers tend to be a lot longer so I would try some Merino Wool for this project. You could try buying Botany Waste Yarn from World of Wool, (You don't get to choose the colors but you get a mix of delicious fibers in colors which can be easily blended together to make a lovely texture. You could also try the template method of making slippers and then shape them on your own feet or on the lasts when the wool has shrunk down a little.
A large bamboo blind does an amazing job of rolling slippers in record time. Please check out some of my other tutorials.
Question: I made the boots perfectly fit to my feet but now I can’t get them on my feet! What should I do?
Answer: There is very little one can do if the slippers came up too small except pass them lovingly onto a friend. However, it is possible that you could increase the size of your duct tape last by adding more layers of duct tape before you try again. These days I use the template method described in this tutorial with perfect results every time. I hope that you try again, felting may not be an exact science but it is the most amazing art form. https://feltmagnet.com/textiles-sewing/How-to-Crea...
Question: Is there a way I can make and use these lasts in the dryer to make felt knitted slippers?
Answer: I used these lasts in a tumble dryer but my experience of making knitted felt slippers is limited to one pair made in a washing machine. You could use a pair of polystyrene shoe lasts in the correct size in the washing machine or tumble dryer or simply experiment using the duct tape lasts and see how you get on. I cannot see that they will be much affected by the process although the overall look will never be exactly the same as with a wet felted pair of slippers.
Question: How would you dry the felted slippers if you didn't possess a tumble dryer?
Answer: I would create the slippers using a template and then shape them on the custom made duct tape lasts. Alternatively, you could shape the slippers on your own feet or use some wood or resin shoe lasts.
Question: When putting the lasts into the dryer, I am assuming it is on high temp?
Answer: No, not necessarily, it is the tumbling action which felts the item. I generally use mine on medium heat. My dryer only has two settings but you could use one on a cool setting if it has one.
© 2014 Sally Gulbrandsen
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on July 05, 2020:
I always use the dryer after I have rolled any project in a heavy duty bamboo blind. I find I get a firmer felt with not a lot of effort.
Prue on July 05, 2020:
Do you still use the dryer when you make the boots with the other template? Curious.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on August 14, 2017:
Remember to be a little patient with yourself, it takes a time to perfect a pair of slippers, I just want you to have fun trying this out. Remember to check to out my other boot making tutorials using different methods.
mrpooper on August 14, 2017:
After reading this mny family will never buy boots again. very intriguing article and looks like fun
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on April 28, 2017:
That is wonderful to hear. Remember to err on the big side and I am sure you will have success. Remember that these lists can be used to make slippers using the template method as well. In fact, this method may work best of all. If you do decide to go that route, draw the template around the duct tape lasts and add several inches around all sides including the top. It is easy to shrink something down but not always so easy to stretch something if it shrinks too much! Practice makes perfect! I wish all the best with your project.
JanJT on April 28, 2017:
Thank you very much for such a quick reply Sally. And thanks for the tutorials, it's very generous of you to share your knowledge so freely. I am now the proud owner of a pair of custom duct tape lasts which look very much like my feet (bunions an'all, haha!) Now for the actual slippers!
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on April 27, 2017:
Definitely! I suggest using a large bamboo blind to roll the slippers or boots in. Keep on changing the direction in which you roll the project and roll until the fibres no longer move beneath your fingers. Alternatively, rub the project in between bubble wrap with the smooth side on the top. I have replied once to this query but for some reason, my reply is not showing. I hope you project works out well.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on April 27, 2017:
Definitely! I find that if you roll the boots inside a bamboo blind, bought from a thrift shop of car boot works this very well. Keep on changing the direction in which you place the boot to allow shrinkage from all directions. It is efficient and quick or you can put the boot between bubble wrap and rub until the fibres no longer move under your fingers.
JanJT on April 27, 2017:
Is it possible to make the boots without a tumble dryer? I don't have one.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on March 16, 2017:
I would needle felt the boots when they come off the boot and before they are fully felted. Try putting a piece of dense foam inside the boot in the area which is to be needle felted and then shrink the boots after the design has been embellished onto the wool. Hope this helps.
Meg on March 15, 2017:
I am wondering if you can needle felt on these after you have made the boot form with wet felting. Thanks!
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on January 11, 2017:
I made these lasts sometime ago and since then have found that it is a lot easier to use the template method and then use lasts or your own feet to do the shaping on. I think the actual wellington boots will be less successful for actually felting on because of the heel and their inflexibility. Please see my master class boot tutorial where I use Wellington Boots to draw the shape of the boots. I think these were extremely successful and the finish is excellent.
Polly on January 10, 2017:
Thank you for a great tutorial. This may be a silly question but I was wondering if you could use a gumboot as a foot last and felt over it instead of making your own. I realise the boot wouldnt fit quite as well and I would have to stuff it and seal the top with duct tape but do you think you could felt successfully over the rubber of the boot then pull the boot out?
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on December 22, 2016:
Yes definitely, I would trim the top of the boots and the wet the edges with hot soapy water and rub them hard using a piece of folded bubblewrap until they seal properly. You could also sew a blanket stitch around the edges or bind with a contrasting fabric. I made these early on in my felting career and I would also recommend a few of my other tutorials to see some alternate ways of making slippers which I have vastly improved over the years. Thank you for stopping by to comment.
DrivefastDiepretty on December 21, 2016:
Amazing! They look great...and Thank you for sharing!! Have you any examples or ideas of finishing the top edges?
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on January 16, 2016:
The slippers have a combined weight of 175 grams so estimate 200 grams, which should be sufficient depending on the size of the slippers or boots you are making.
I would like to update this Tutorial or even repeat it with some info which I have gleaned along the way.
If I were to do this again, I would put on a much thicker or longer pair of men’s socks, or even two pairs and then wrap my foot in cling film or a plastic bag and then put on a long pair of thinner men’s socks. By adding a bit more padding to the inside of the lasts, you should be much more likely to get the size of your slipper correct.
You are only going to cut the top thin pair of socks leaving the other pair/pairs intact. The plastic film in between, should make it easier for you to cut the last off your foot.
Unfortunately, felting is not an exact science. I am a bit of an experimental felt maker, always wanting to develop different or new ways of doing things. I hope that your project goes well:)
LisaRae on January 15, 2016:
Hello, beautiful slippers and colour combination. Just wondering if you can recall approximately how much roving you used for these boot slippers. Thanks
terry on January 15, 2016:
great explaination of making this,thanks so much.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on September 01, 2015:
Thank you for the visit and for taking the time to comment on this project.
C E Clark from North Texas on August 31, 2015:
This project looks interesting too. Yes, it's probably best for first timers to try something smaller and simpler.
GinnyK on January 15, 2015:
Thank you for the reply. Unfortunately she doesn't live near me. It's good to hear you don't have a problem getting the on and off.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on January 14, 2015:
I can take mine off and on with ease though there is no reason why you could not add laces if you wanted to. You can also wet the slippers and stretch them on her feet while they are still wet and warm.
GinnyK on January 14, 2015:
How easy is it for the person to take off these slippers? I made lasts for a granddaughter, but am concerned about her being able to get them on and off. Thank you!
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on January 04, 2015:
I think you would be surprised to see how easy they really are. I appreciate your stopping by to comment.
Tanya Jones from Texas USA on January 04, 2015:
This would be fun to do. The shoe lasts would be a challenge, but I'm sure I can figure it out. Excellent hub.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on October 27, 2014:
To be perfectly honest I have only done this once as an experiment - also because I wanted to find a way of getting slippers to fit me perfectly.
It would be preferable to sew or glue a pair of bought soles to the bottom of the slipper rather than the inside when the project is completed. It is unlikely that an inner sole would attach itself to the wool especially if it is made from a synthetic material.. Natural fibers always work best with wool - silk is particularly good for scarves - Nuno felting - thus making the finished item delicate yet strong.
You could try using a canvass type fabric where the wool fibers will stay trapped in the holes. Think something like a cotton crochet doily!
If would also suggest that you wear thick socks when you make you last to be sure that your wool does not shrink back too much during the felting process and make your slippers too small - meaning I would err on the larger size when you make your last. It will give you a much greater chance of succeeding if you want a really good fit in your end product. If you intend using them outside I would also make the wool thicker. If you look on pinterest you may find more ideas for working with soles and inner soles. I did see some on youTube and also e-Bay.
Unfortunately felting is not an exact science - which is why it is can be such an interesting and exciting medium to with. Sometimes one has to experiment and try to find a way that works for us. I have attempted several smaller projects for children using similar methods - you may be able to incorporate some of these ideas with this tutorial.
I would love to hear how you get on.
Aislinne on October 27, 2014:
In my giddiness at finding this tutorial I forgot to ask a couple questions. First. Can I start the sole with a pair of already felted insoles and just add the fiber over top of them?
Second, do you have a video tutorial for this as well?
Thanks again. :)
Aislinne on October 27, 2014:
Thank you!!!!!! I have been looking for a tutorial like this for months. I too have a medical condition in my feet and have spent the last four winters in a pair of sandals ( in snow country ) cause I can't find shoes that fit. Now I can make my own and at last have warm toes!
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on March 26, 2014:
It really is amazing that one can create fabric from wool, a little soap, hot water and friction and no weaving or knitting takes place.
I don't make a lot of items but I do sometimes sell them or give them away as gifts. I am sure that if I were not writing about felting I would do more. It can be a time consuming hobby.
This all began when I realized that I could combine three hobbies of mine and earn a little money from them, namely, writing, felting and photography. It certainly pushes one to experiment with new and original ideas.
Wet Felting really is an amazing art form which seems to evolve all the time. Writing about it has certainly been very rewarding.
I very much appreciate your visit, thank you.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on March 15, 2014:
Plynn - the Last was quite pliable as it was only stuffed with plastic bags.
I first slipped the felt boot down as far as the ankle area. Push the leg of the last slightly forward as you do this and the felt should come off the foot fairly easily. I covered the area of the boot I was easing down with a tea towel. It helped me to grasp the wool without damaging the fabric of the felt boot.
I guess you could pull out some of the stuffing out but I found this not to be necessary. I might add that the last also remained in sufficiently good repair to use again.
I appreciate your visit and your very kind comments.
Plynn on March 15, 2014:
BOOT question. Wonderful tutorials and thanks for sharing with the world. Question: how did you get the fulled wool boot off the duct tape shoe last?
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on March 01, 2014:
I was unaware I had made the top 10 for the day with this Hub, actually I know it sounds crazy but I missed it when I checked the lists.
Congrats on your own selection - I loved that Hub.
Thank you so much.
Have a terrific week-end
Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 28, 2014:
Congrats on the top 10 Hub Pot Challenge for this hub the other day! It certainly deserves it. I did not know where they were publishing the results until janshares just popped into my hub and told me that I was in the top ten today! LOL I was clueless, then I went back two days, and there you were for this wonderful hub.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on February 28, 2014:
You are very kind. I am glad you thought it right to include a few Q & As. I do believe that having some of these at ones fingertips before you begin a project, helps takes out some of the mystery or fear of failure one might have. I appreciate your confidence in my ability. Thank you,
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 28, 2014:
You definitely are the queen of your niche with these detailed instructions and your creativity. I like that you've included Q&As. Well done!
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on February 27, 2014:
Thanks for the vote of confidence, the share the much more. I appreciate your visit as always.
Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 27, 2014:
Wow, another creative hub here! You better hurry up and get a patent on all of your wonderful creations. These are one-of-a-kind no doubt! At least, I have never any like these before.
Up and more and sharing.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on February 27, 2014:
Thank you very much. Thanks too for the vote up and the useful. I hope you have a great day
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 27, 2014:
You are amazing with such beautiful ideas and the creative suggestions are enormous from you. I admire your great talent in sharing such helpful hubs. I vote up, and useful.
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on February 26, 2014:
I guess one's feet though essential are perhaps not my greatest asset so on this occasion, think I might just keep them covered.
You are such a loyal supporter - I appreciate your every visit - thank you Billy
Have a great evening
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 26, 2014:
My goodness you are creative. The only thing missing from this fine article is a picture of you wearing some of those slippers. :)
Sally Gulbrandsen (author) from Norfolk on February 26, 2014:
Yes, they are warm and cozy to wear. The thicker the layers, the warmer they will be. You could also stick on soles to take them outdoors with you - though I am still to get to this stage. Thanks for your visit and the comment - they are valued as always.
kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on February 26, 2014:
SallyBea, you really are on a roll with your felt projects! First the gloves and now the boots! Very well done and illustrated! Is it warm to wear like slippers at home?