I often get questions about nuno felting, so I’d like to share a couple of tips to help you start experimenting, and to get the feeling for it, especially if it’s something entirely new for you.
Nuno felting is a very recent felting method, and it was developed when designers rediscovered felting, and started playing with new ways to use this old textile technique. It was developed by Polly Stirling in the 90s, when she combined the traditional wet felting with light fabrics, like silk for example. In her own words:
‘In 1990 I became entranced by the myriad of transformations of the rich and ancient textile called felt. I spent most of the ensuing decade seeing what new forms could evolve, as appropriate for the subtropics of Australia where I had lived for nearly 20 years. The techniques I developed for making lightweight felts soon led to experiments combining other materials, and in 1994 my assistant Sachiko Kotaka and I developed the technique we termed “Nuno Felt.” [From the Japanese word “nuno”, which means fabric.] By manipulating a minimum amount of wool fiber through a fine base weave we could make a felted fabric with characteristics quite different from traditional felt. Nuno felt is lightweight with drape and flexibility.’
So, in theory, nuno felting is actually very simple. You apply similar techniques to the traditional wet felting, and add fabric. And the only limit is your imagination.
But it takes time to perfectly get the wool fibers to penetrate the fabric, and this means you need patience. So, my advice is to start by making small samples to gain experience. This way you can avoid spending a lot of money on silk and a lot of time on your project, just to end up feeling frustrated. This is also how I started, since I knew I wouldn’t get it right straight away.
One of the fundamental things to get good results in nuno felting is your choice of fabrics and wool. So, here are a couple of factors to take into account:
- Choose a loose weave fabric – The tighter the fabric is woven, the harder it’ll be to get the wool fibers to penetrate it. So, go for a loose woven one to start.
- Choose natural fibers – Wool attaches better to other natural fibers like silk, hemp, cotton or wool. But don’t take my word for it. Try nuno felting a couple of samples with both natural and synthetic fabrics and see for yourself what works best.
- Avoid (even natural) fabrics with a glossy surface – I once bought a gauze like that, thinking it would lose this gloss after washing. But it didn’t happen and I had a hard time getting the wool fibers to attach. Apparently, there was some kind of synthetic layer on the fabric.
- Choose an extra-fine merino wool – The finer your wool fibers are, the easier they’ll penetrate the fabric. Trust me on this, generally speaking, if you work with a coarse wool, it’ll be both a waste of time and a waste of money.
Here are the types of fabric I recommend for your experiments:
- Cheese cloth & cotton gauze – They’re really easy to work with and cheap, so this might be the place to start.
- Chiffon silk – This is my absolute favorite fabric for nuno felting. It’s a sheer fabric with a beautiful drape.
- Pongee silk – While it’s a bit more difficult to work with than chiffon, pongee has that beautiful shine, characteristic of silk.
Nuno felted scarves with chiffon silk
Nuno felted scarves with cheese cloth and pongee silk
Other reasons why it’s a good idea to make samples:
- Some fabrics will become more ruffled than others, depending also on the amount of wool fiber you apply.
- It’ll help you estimate the final size of the piece, which may or may not be important, depending on what you plan on felting.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips. Next week I’ll bring you a couple of ideas for samples I made before I ventured into bigger nuno felted pieces, along with the materials I used, what worked and what didn’t.
So, stay tuned, and I’ll 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.