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.
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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 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: 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.
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.
© 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.