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Wet Felting: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

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

This is a bird pod which has been completely re-worked.

This is a bird pod which has been completely re-worked.

How to Fix Felting Failures

Failures can and do occur but more so when you are new to felting. Understanding why these failures occur is the first step towards a better understanding of how the process of felting works. Correcting errors can be time-consuming. It is far easier to follow some basic felting rules and get it right the first time!

Extra Fibre Can Save a Project

Most projects can be salvaged by applying some extra fibre to any thin spots. Do this with a barbed needle felting tool such as the Soledi, which I prefer as it has a wooden handle and comes with several additional needles which can be safely tucked safely away inside the handle. I also find that wood-handled felting tools are more comfortable to work with than the ones which have plastic handles.

How to Rework a Failed Project

I have used the bird pod I made in my first ever article to show how a project can be salvaged when things don't go quite to plan. Many projects can be re-worked with just a little effort.

In this example, I cover the thin spots with fibres which I took from another failed project. The end result is a much stronger and more pleasing bird pod. Recycling or reworking a project can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, but these images below show that it can be done quite simply.

Incomplete fulling of the wool fibers

Incomplete fulling of the wool fibers

This is the how the same fibers above should look once they are fully felted

This is the how the same fibers above should look once they are fully felted

Insufficient Fulling (Right Side)

  • In this example above, it can be seen that the fibres were not sufficiently felted (fulled).
  • Because of this, I was able to peel a section off and re-use them to 'tart up' the 'failed' project.
  • I needle felted the fibres onto the less-than-satisfactory bird pod using a barbed needle felting tool.
  • Once I had covered the thin spots, I inserted a 'Gertie Ball' into the cavity of the pod.
  • I then blew the ball up using the plastic straw which came with the ball, sealed it with the little plug and wet the wool with hot soapy water.
  • I then put the project in the tumble dryer where the felting process was completed.
  • If you do not have a tumble dryer, simply insert a Gertie Ball into the cavity of the pod and rub or bounce the project on a table or on the floor until the fibres have completely fused together.
  • Reduce the amount of air in the ball several times during the process so that the fibres shrink back against the ball, giving you the required bird pod size.

Incomplete Fulling (Wrong Side)

The underneath side of the blue felt above shows that the project too was insufficiently fulled.  The fibers are still floating.

The underneath side of the blue felt above shows that the project too was insufficiently fulled. The fibers are still floating.

The lilac fibers have knitted together completely.

The lilac fibers have knitted together completely.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Side by side example of the perfectly felted pieces lying side by side.

Side by side example of the perfectly felted pieces lying side by side.

The 'failed' bird pod

The 'failed' bird pod

The 'Failed' Bird Pod With Thin Spots

This image above shows a bird pod which was insufficiently 'fulled'. It also had many thin spots. It was re-worked below to demonstrate how a project which did not quite go to plan can more often than not be salvaged using a needle felting tool and a few additional merino wool fibres.

A good source for Merino Wool to use for this project is Amazon or eBay. I generally buy Merino Wool Roving as it felts easily and is perfect for wet felting.

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Read More From Feltmagnet

Wrapping the ball in a layer of Merino Wool which was stripped from some of the partially fulled fibers which appear above.

Wrapping the ball in a layer of Merino Wool which was stripped from some of the partially fulled fibers which appear above.

Wrap the Bird Pod

This image shows how I peeled a layer of wool from a previous 'failed' hat project. I wrapped these fibres over the bird pod before needle felting them to the pod.

First I first inserted a small block of needle felting foam inside the pod so that I could not felt the walls of the pod together.

Needle felt the fibers to the existing Bird Pod.  The idea is to build up the fibers wherever you find any thin spots.

Needle felt the fibers to the existing Bird Pod. The idea is to build up the fibers wherever you find any thin spots.

The thin spots which were once visible have now been filled in the front of the Bird Pod using the needle felting tool

The thin spots which were once visible have now been filled in the front of the Bird Pod using the needle felting tool

Needle Felt the Fibres

This image shows the fibres being needle felted to the pod while the needle felting block is still inside the pod. The small piece of foam keeps the walls of the pod separate from one another.

Needle Felting the fibers

Needle Felting the fibers

A 'Gertie Ball' was inserted into the bird pod cavity and then blown up.  Wet the Pod with hot soapy water and insert into a tumble drier to complete the felting process.

A 'Gertie Ball' was inserted into the bird pod cavity and then blown up. Wet the Pod with hot soapy water and insert into a tumble drier to complete the felting process.

Insert the Gertie Ball Into the Cavity and Blow the Ball Up

  • This image shows the bird pod, which has now been completely felted with the Gertie Ball still inside the pod.
  • Once the felting process has been completed inside the tumble dryer, you can release the air inside the ball and remove the ball from the pod.
  • Decorate as desired.

Helpful Hints and Advice

  • Choosing the correct type of wool for felting is very important when you wet felt wool. I use Merino Wool Tops or Roving for most of my projects.
  • Always lay your wool at 90 degrees to the previous layer when laying down your fibres; 5-6 thin layers are always preferable to using 2-3 thick layers.
  • Check your layers for thin spots before you add the hot soapy water. Inspect them with a small hand-held torch to check for any thin spots.
  • Use curtain netting or a screen to cover your work before wetting it with hot soapy water. A sponge can be used to dampen down the fibres. Little is always better than too much. There will be less chance of the fibres floating away if you do it this way!
  • You can use any kind of soap but try using Natural soap, such as Olive Oil soap which should be grated and dissolved in the hot water. It produces far less foam than dish washing liquid. It is also much kinder to the hands. Only use a small quantity of soap. Using too much can sometimes hinder the felting process.
  • You only need just enough water to wet the fibres. Any excess should always be dabbed up with a dry towel.
  • Keep your water as hot as possible though there are times when you may wish to slow down the process just a little, especially whilst working on something intricate. In this case, try using cool water and only add hot water when you are ready to hurry the process up.
  • When you 'full' wool, you remove the air from between the fibres. If they don’t tighten, the wool will pill and eventually it will fall apart. I find a bamboo mat, particularly helpful for Fulling. Always change the direction in which you roll the Project. This gives you complete control over the shrinkage process
  • How will you know when your fibres have been sufficiently Fulled? Simply said, the wool will no longer stretch when you pull on it.
  • Use the ‘pinch test’. Pinch your thumb and index finger into your felt and if you can pull two layers apart, then it has not been sufficiently felted. You will need to roll it some more!
  • When the Fulling process has been completed, rinse the Project with cold water. Any soap left in the wool can make the wool fibres brittle over time. The project may even disintegrate over time so rinse them carefully in cold water. You can add some vinegar to the rinse water.
  • Gently squeeze out any excess water. You can speed up the drying process by rolling the felt in a towel to remove any excess water
  • Let the project dry completely before adding any decoration. Wool has a very good memory and will hold whatever shape you dry it in. A full 24 hours is usually needed for the wool to dry completely.
  • Occasionally I put my wet fibres into the microwave and blast them for around 30–60 seconds to help speed up the process.

Some of My Favorite Felting Aids

  • Tumble Dryer: One has less control over the texture of the felt as you can end up with a firmer piece of felt if you leave it too long. The dryer does take out a lot of the repetitive rolling action and save your arms and neck from aching.
  • Palm Sander: A handheld sander can be used to effectively vibrate the fibres under a large sheet of plastic. (Please observe all the safety instructions for using electricity near water.)
  • Vintage Washboard: This is a great tool for fulling wool.
  • Bamboo Mats, small or large
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Kitchen Sandwich Wrap: Put this between layers of felt when making 3D items.
  • Rolling Pin: I use a wooden rolling pin or a broom handle for rolling large projects.
  • Curtain Netting: Use this as a screen.
  • Jiffy Bags: You can felt small projects inside these.
A rejuvenated bird pod

A rejuvenated bird pod

Questions & Answers

Question: Can a wet felt project be half completed and left for a couple of weeks then re-wetted and completed?

Answer: I sometimes leave a project for a few days before completing it. For some reason, this seems to help the felting process but I would not leave it so long that it becomes moldy. I suspect that if you let it dry out fairly quickly by placing it on a wire cake rack or on (similar item) you could return to it some weeks later. In that case, I would just wet it again with warm soapy water and continue with the felting process but the honest answer is, I have not left it longer than a few days. I use a tumble dryer for most of my projects. If you are finding it hard to complete a project, I would explore this option too.

Question: How can I join two pieces of wet felted fabric together?

Answer: I think it really depends on whether the fabric you intend joining has been fully felted or not! Please refer to this felted tutorial where I keep the seam area dry to create a seamless join - https://feltmagnet.com/textiles-sewing/How-to-Wet-... when the garment has been partially felted elsewhere. Pre-felt can also be joined using a large zig-zag stitch using a sewing machine. Keep the cut pieces aligned so that the seam lays flat. The process of wet felting can then be continued to create a seamless join if this is your intention! I would probably do this in the tumble dryer but watch it very carefully to make sure that it does not shrink too much. Embroidery stitches can also be used to join fully felted pieces together/ I would join them in the same way but embroider over the join using wool to conceal the zig-zag stitches.

Thank you for your question, you remind me that this is an area of felting which fascinates me and that I have long wanted to write another tutorial on it. I do however wonder if we are sometimes too focused on making seamless garments. It seems to me that a well-fitting garment often relies on seams to make it fit perfectly but it is an irresistible challenge for me to do the same without seams.