Felt is a non-woven cloth that is usually made of animal fibres. Cultures around the world have been making felt throughout history. Felt is used to create clothing, accessories, yurts, and even as a building material. Some craft artists make felt at home so that they may design patterns in the colours they desire.
Animal fibres such as wool, fur and silk are used to make felt. Sometimes synthetic materials are incorporated to lower costs. In wet felting, animal fibres are agitated with soapy water, causing them to bind together. Binding takes place when kinks and scales on the animal fibres interlock. In needle felting, a dry process, needles poke the fibres, locking them together. The needle method is most effective for fine detail or 3-dimensional work.
Wet felting at home requires wool roving, hot water, washing powder, a bamboo mat, and a flat surface. In this process, artists arrange the wool roving in thin, overlapping layers on the mat. Then they sprinkle it with washing powder, roll up the mat, immerse the roll in very hot water, agitate the roll, remove, unroll and rotate the newly felted material. They repeat this process several times before unrolling and allowing the felt material to dry.
For hundreds of years, people around the world have been making felt material. Archeological records indicate that felt making was probably discovered before spinning or weaving cloth. Until the mid-20th century, mercury was used to treat animal fibres in factories that manufactured felt hats, but this resulted in mercury poisoning among workers and was eventually banned. Today, artists make their own felt to create custom designs, sometimes incorporating beads or other small decorations into the material. Many craft lovers create accessories such as purses and wallets from their handmade felt.
Some artists learn to dye and spin their own fibres into roving to have more control over the final look of their felt. Magazines focusing on fibre arts often feature innovative contemporary designs and ideas for the home felt maker.
Wool roving in a variety of colours and weights is widely available at shops that carry craft supplies. Consult with books and magazines for directions on making felt for the specific project you have in mind. Be certain to purchase the appropriate weight of roving for your project.
Fabric and craft supply stores often carry felt that is partially synthetic because it is less expensive. If you prefer natural fibres, be certain to look at the label on your felt.