Even if you’re more experienced in wet felting, you’ll still have projects that don’t go the way you planned. Sometimes that can lead to surprising results and to discovering a new technique, but sometimes they just turn into something you’re not happy about.
So, the question is ‘what went wrong?’ I often say that wool has a mind of its’ own. That’s actually one of the beauties of felting. But it’s also true that so many times the cause for a ‘failed’ project is you didn’t pay enough attention to a part of the process.
In some cases, you can still ‘save’ the piece, but the best way to deal with this is to know where things can go wrong. This way you can avoid running into problems in the first place.
Now, we know there are 5 important factors for wet felting: 1) wool, 2) soap, 3) moisture, 4) temperature and 5) pressure. So, if something went wrong with the process, we can assume that something went wrong with at least one of these 5 elements.
So, if things didn’t go as planned or your project just isn’t felting, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did I use the right WOOL type?
Not all types of wool are adequate for wet felting, and the best type will definitely depend on what you plan to felt. That’s why I ALWAYS have a recommendation about this for each project I teach.
If you’re new to wet felting, ask your wool supplier about the best wool types for your project and, before you make a big piece, EXPERIMENT and MAKE SAMPLES.
I buy my wool from Wollknoll, an online German supplier, and one of the things I love about them is that their catalogue states clearly what you can do with each type of wool (i.e. felting, spinning, etc.).
That said, a fine merino is nearly always a good option.
2. Did I layer the WOOL too thick?
If you want to speed up your felting project, please don’t give in to the temptation of working with thick layers. It’s always better to work with more layers, but thinner ones. Thick layers are harder to felt, they don’t connect well with each other, so they won’t produce a good quality item.
If you don’t want to end up with chunks of formless wool, ALWAYS pull thin tufts and use at least 4 thin layers.
Pulling thin tufts
3. Do I have uneven WOOL layers (thin spots)?
Take your time and lay the wool thinly and evenly. Wool batts are easier to work with (in this sense), because they already come in layers.
If you’re working with wool roving/tops pay particular attention to this and check if there are any thin spots in your wool before you start fulling. In this phase, adding more fibers will still be easy.
If you only notice the thin parts when the process is more advanced, there is a trick to solve this. What I do is I let the piece dry and check for the exact places where it’s thinner by holding it against any light source. Then I add two new layers of fiber (in a 90-degree angle) and felt them on to the piece with a felting needle. When I’m happy with the results, I go back to wet felting again.
Wool batts already come in layers
4. Did I layer the WOOL in the right angle?
Remember that felt is a non-woven textile. So, the way you make it resistant and durable is to create a ‘false weft and warp’ structure. That means you have to lay your second layer in a 90-degree angle to the fibers of the first layer. If you lay all the fibers in the same direction, the piece won’t be stable enough.
Layers with a 90-degree angle
5. Am I using too much/not enough WATER?
Moisture is crucial for wet felting, of course. But too much or too little water can make you run into problems.
I find it a great help to use a net when I’m adding water to the piece. It can protect your work if you have both too little or much water. Here’s how:
- If the moisture isn’t enough, the wool fibers will start sticking to your hands and you run the risk of destroying all the layering work you’ve done. But, if there’s a net between the piece and your hands, the fibers won’t move.
- If there’s too much moisture, the wool fibers might float away, because they’re extremely light. Working with a net keeps this from happening.
Water should be added slowly and from the center to the edges of the piece. What I do is I place the net, add water roughly all over the piece, and then start pressing from the center. This removes the air from the fibers and pushes the water to the edges, so that the whole piece is evenly wet.
Sometimes you just add too much. It happens easily, especially if you’re working on a big piece and with wool batts, because they tend to absorb more moisture. It can feel like the water isn’t enough, even when the fibers are nearly soaked.
In this case, just grab a sponge and gently press the water out. Be sure to do this, because too much moisture will delay or even stop the felting process.
6. Am I using too much/not enough SOAP?
In addition to water, wet felting requires soap, but it too should be used in the right amount. As is the case with water, if the soap isn’t enough, the fibers will stick to your hands. And if it’s too much, the fibers become too slippery, and won’t felt. You know you have the right amount when you start seeing some foam.
Is your piece too soapy? No worries. Just remove the excess with a sponge.
Here’s a GIF to show you how I add the soap to the piece. This process allows me to have more control over the amount of water and soap
If you run into a situation where the piece doesn’t seem to felt anymore, just remove the excess water/soap with a sponge and let it dry for a couple of days. When you resume the felting, apply hot water and I bet it’ll work again!
7. Is the water TEMPERATURE right?
You can felt with both cold and hot water. But the higher the temperature, the quicker the process. So, I like to start wet felting a piece with cold water because – since the felting process is slower – this gives me enough time to make any corrections.
As a rule of thumb, I recommend always starting with cold water and only using higher temperatures, when you go into the fulling phase.
Something that works very well for me – especially if I’m felting big pieces – it to alternate between cold and very hot water in the fulling phase. This temperature shock makes the fibers compact further and it gives the felt a wavier surface.
8. Did I use enough PRESSURE at the beginning?
It’s important to press the wool layers as you add them, especially if your felt is thick. If the air between the layers isn’t properly removed from the beginning, you can end up with air bubbles between the layers, that won’t allow them to attach to each other correctly. This might lead to an uneven surface or to wrinkles that you can’t eliminate any more.
9. Did I use enough PRESSURE during the fulling phase?
While it’s nice to have a soft felt piece, it’s also important to understand when the felt is ready. If you don’t full enough, the piece won’t be resistant and you won’t be able to use/wear it. If you’re not sure how ‘hard’ the felt should be, just do the pinch test. Just pinch the felt to see if the fibers are still loose. If you can’t lift the fibers any more, your felt is ready.
Can you think of something else that can go wrong? If so, leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.
Talk to you soon!
P.S.: Do you love felting and want to learn more? Fill in your name and email address above and I’ll keep you posted.