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How to Use a Resist, Ball and Tumble Dryer to Make a Wet-Felted Handbag

Sally Gulbrandsen Feltmaker: Her tutorials and techniques are as individual as she is—unique, experimental and always interesting.

A wet-felted handbag with a matching scarf. The bag was made with the help of a ball.

A wet-felted handbag with a matching scarf. The bag was made with the help of a ball.

Felting With a Tumble Dryer!

Felt which is created inside a tumble dryer is always a lot firmer than felt made by rubbing or rolling the fibres by hand. This makes it the perfect choice for creating a handbag which will get a lot of use.

Add a simple template and a soft, squishy, round Gertie ball to the mix and you have the perfect project to make with small groups of adults or children.

Why Gertie Balls Are Great for Felting

The Gertie ball can easily be inflated or deflated using the small tube which is provided by the manufacturer and sealed with a long plastic plug. Gertie balls can be stored flat and used multiple times over, with or without a tumble dryer. They are great for projects just like this one and are often used in hat making, especially when making felt hats with children.

Merino wool roving, some of which has been enhanced with threads of Silk

Merino wool roving, some of which has been enhanced with threads of Silk

Things You Will Need to Complete This Project

  • A tumble dryer
  • A circular template which can be made from plastic packaging or bubble wrap with a diameter of about 17 inches (43 cm)
  • A quantity Merino wool roving embellished with silk for the top layer of the ball
  • A quantity of red Merino wool roving (or in a colour of your choice)
  • A Gertie ball
  • A bamboo blind
  • A handbag frame, which can be new or recycled from an old handbag
  • Dish washing liquid or grated olive oil soap which has been diluted in hot soapy water
  • Strong thread and needle for sewing on the bag frame

How Much Roving Do You Need?

The finished weight of the bag is a total of 400 grams. This is the approximate amount of wool roving which you will need to do make this project.

17 cm Template made from Packaging Plastic.

17 cm Template made from Packaging Plastic.

Step 1: Draw the Template

Draw the template on bubble wrap or recycled plastic packaging. I used some which came from the Pickford Van Removals Company.

Start by adding the fibres to the template.  Work from the outside in.

Start by adding the fibres to the template. Work from the outside in.

Step 2: Lay Out the Fibres

  • Start on the outside edges and work into the middle.
  • The fibres on the outer edges should overlap the template so that they can be neatly folded around the edges when the template is turned over.
The template has been completely covered in an even layer of merino wool roving.

The template has been completely covered in an even layer of merino wool roving.

Step 3: Cover the Template With Merino Wool Roving

Cover the template with the red wool roving taking care to make sure that no thin spots are left anywhere.

Wet the surface of the wool with the hot soapy water

Wet the surface of the wool with the hot soapy water

Step 4: Wet the Fibres With Hot Soapy Water

Sprinkle the fibers with hot soapy water and cover with a sheet of bubble wrap.

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Add a little hot soapy to the water to allow your fingers to glide over the surface smoothly

Add a little hot soapy to the water to allow your fingers to glide over the surface smoothly

Step 5: Cover and Wet the Surface of the Bubble Wrap

Wetting the surface of the bubble wrap helps your fingers glide easily over the top.

Remove the bubble wrap once the water has penetrated the top surface right to the edges of the template.

Remove the bubble wrap once the water has penetrated the top surface right to the edges of the template.

Step 6: Rub the Wool Fibres

  • Push down on the bubble wrap so as to disperse the water throughout the project and right up and until the loose edges.
  • Rub the surface firmly until the fibres are laying flat.
The second side ready to have the loose edges folded in.

The second side ready to have the loose edges folded in.

Step 7: Turn the Project Over

Flip the project over and use the hot and soapy water to help neaten the edges.

Smooth the surface and neaten the edges using the sheet of bubble wrap and a little water.

Smooth the surface and neaten the edges using the sheet of bubble wrap and a little water.

Step 8: Smooth the Surface

Fold the loose fibres over the edges of the template. Use your fingers and a little hot soapy water and bubble wrap to smooth the surface.

Neaten the edges so that the fibres are resting right up against the template edges.

Neaten the edges so that the fibres are resting right up against the template edges.

Step 9: Neaten the Edges

Use the sheet of bubble wrap and a little surface water neaten the edges and the top surface.

Silk and Merino wool, a decorative layer for the top surface of the handbag.

Silk and Merino wool, a decorative layer for the top surface of the handbag.

Step 10: Add the Final Layers

  • Cover the final two layers of the template with a decorative layer of wool roving which should be opened out flat as is shown below.
  • Run your fingers down the length of the wool roving and they will open them out, after which you can spread them evenly over the surface of the template.
Add hot soapy water to the surface of the opened out wool and silk fibers.

Add hot soapy water to the surface of the opened out wool and silk fibers.

Step 11: Wet the Fibres With Hot Soapy Water

Sprinkle the fibres which have been laid out on the surface of the template with hot soapy water.

Cover the fibres with bubble wrap and add a little surface water.

Cover the fibres with bubble wrap and add a little surface water.

Step 12: Cover and Rub

  • Cover the Merino/Silk layer with bubble wrap and add a little surface water to the top.
  • Disperse the water throughout the project by pressing down firmly.
  • Rub the surface of the bubble wrap, leaving the overlapping dry fibres on the edges to be folded over when the project is flipped over.
Bubble wrap removed

Bubble wrap removed

Step 13: Remove the Bubble Wrap

Remove the bubble wrap and flip the project over.

Fold over the edges and wet with hot soapy water.

Fold over the edges and wet with hot soapy water.

Step 14: Neaten the Edges

Turn the edges neatly over the edges using a little hot soapy water.

Adding the final layer

Adding the final layer

Step 15: Add the Final Layer

Add the last layer of flattened wool fibres to the template.

Cover the fibres with bubble wrap and a little surface water.

Cover the fibres with bubble wrap and a little surface water.

Step 16: Cover the Project With Bubble Wrap

Wet and cover the final layer with bubble wrap and rub the fibres below using hot soapy water.

The smooth wet fibres below the bubble wrap

The smooth wet fibres below the bubble wrap

Step 17: Remove the Bubble Wrap

  • Remove the bubble wrap when the fibres have been firmly rubbed.
  • Flip the project over and neaten the edges as described previously.
The template covered in 2 decorative layers of wool and silk

The template covered in 2 decorative layers of wool and silk

Step 18: Finish the Final Layer

The last layer is now complete and is ready to be rolled inside a bamboo blind.

Roll inside a bamboo blind and rotating the direction in which you roll the project.

Roll inside a bamboo blind and rotating the direction in which you roll the project.

Step 19: Roll Inside the Bamboo Blind

  • Put the project inside a large bamboo blind and roll it up carefully.
  • Roll gently at first without putting any downwards pressure on the fibres below.
Put the project inside the tumble dryer and tumble for about five minutes.

Put the project inside the tumble dryer and tumble for about five minutes.

Step 20: Change the Direction of the Roll

  • Keep on checking the contents of the bamboo blind.
  • When the fibres start to firm up change the direction in which you roll them.
  • Keep moving the template around inside the bamboo mat to prevent uneven shrinkage from taking place
The project with the template still inside.

The project with the template still inside.

Step 21: Put the Project Into the Tumble Dryer

  • I used the heat setting when the project is being tumbled inside the tumble dryer.
  • When the fibres have firmed up but are not completely felted put the whole project including the template into the tumble dryer and tumble it for about 5 minutes.
  • Keep on checking the contents of the dryer and when the project looks like the image below remove it from the dryer.
  • It should not take more than 10 minutes to get to this stage but nevertheless don't leave it in for this period without checking it regularly.