Natural wool has the ability to "felt," meaning that its fibres connect and bond under pressure, agitation and heat. Felted wool can be shaped into a thick mat and patterns of colour can be worked into the surface. Make your own place mats or coasters by knitting a rectangular shape with untreated wool yarn and running your mat in a laundry bag through a hot wash until the fibres felt, or felt the mats without stitches.
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Things you need
- Pure wool roving or batting; wool can be dyed, but should not be treated
- Non-detergent soap
- Straw mat, washboard or broiling pan
- Needle and embroidery yarn (optional)
- Seam binding or hemmed fabric strips (optional)
- Fabric or non-slip material for backing (optional)
Select wool and pull into lengths or tufts. Never cut your wool. Merino wool felts best, but any untreated wool roving or batting will work. Lay the fibres horizontally, close together, roughly in the shape of your mat. Remember that felted wool shrinks quite a bit, so make your mat at least half again the size you want the final product to be.
Lay a second layer of fibres vertically across the top of the first layer. Repeat the layering, alternating direction, until you have four or five layers. The last layer should contain the pattern you'd like to see on the mat.
"Full" the wool with pressure and rubbing against the rough surface; a washboard or straw mat works well. The heat and rubbing binds the fibres together. Remove cold water and add hot as necessary. This is a time-intensive step. When the fibres no longer move to the touch and the mat is thick and feels like one piece, your mat is felted.
An alternative method of fulling is to roll your layered wool into a straw mat and rock it in the hot water to agitate. Open the straw mat periodically and turn the wool piece a quarter turn, reroll the straw and rock again. Repeat until the wool is completely felted.
Rinse with cold water and press dry on a thick towel. Do not wring your felted mat. Allow to air dry.
You can give your mat a more finished look and more durability by stitching the edges. Try a blanket stitch with embroidery floss for a pretty touch. Seam edging or a hemmed strip of fabric can be used around the place mat or a backing can be sewn on.
Tips and warnings
- Try backing your mat with non-slip drawer liner.
- For a quicker mat, buy pre-made felt squares and weave strips together, securing with washable glue.
- When sewing fabric onto wool, pre-wash your material so that varying rates of shrinkage on drying won't tug at your seams or distort the shape of your mat if it gets wet. Spot clean when possible, hand wash and lay flat to dry when not.
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