Felt Fabric Designs - Felting Fridays Book Review

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Since I want to start experimenting with some wet felting techniques in my felt journal, for today's Felting Friday post, I wanted to share a book that I've found to be the most extensive (of the ones I've read) on wet felting. 

If you've ever experimented with wet felting, you know that it's a rather simple concept. You get some wool, some hot water, some soap, then rub, roll, slam, and beat the living crap out of it until it's shrunken and all stuck together and won't felt any more. And then you go online and someone who's obviously been doing it for ages shares these intricate designs and fancy edges and cool textures, and you're thinking "what am I missing?" (Maybe you don't. I do.)

So that's why I picked up Felt Fabric Designs - A Recipe Book for Textile Artists by Sheila Smith (ISBN: 978-1-84994-044-3). OK, that's not actually why I picked it up. I had no idea it only dealt with wet felting, but I could not pass over the eye catching cover (I absolutely will judge a book by its cover). Besides, it's published by Batsford, the same company that published my beloved Stitch & Structure. Different author though. And, as with the other Batsford book that I own, I love the nice soft texture of the book covers. They are so fun to hold! Anyway, I noticed that there are really two types of "felting books." There are the books that cater more towards the crafts side of felting, like making cute/fun little animals, and then there are the textile art books that don't have a single felt teddy bear in sight. I do personally feel more drawn to the artist-felting-books and want to add more of those to my library. Not that there's anything wrong with either one, they're just completely different and something you may want to take note of when obtaining books for your own personal library. Also, I am not saying that you can't do a gallery show of felt teddy bears because Stephanie Metz got that covered:

Ursulus parvulus evolvere by Stephanie Metz, and a few of her other works. Click through to check out her portfolio.

Ursulus parvulus evolvere by Stephanie Metz, and a few of her other works. Click through to check out her portfolio.

Back to the book, I did learn quite a few things that are very useful about wet felting. For example, it has a recipe to make a soap jelly which you can then use to make a soap solution for your wet felting project. I have not tried it yet, but I may try shaving off some of the olive oil soap that I use (which I purchased from Living Felt) and making said solution. The second, more surprising thing I learned is that the author uses cool water. Not hot. Do you know why? If you're nuno felting or laminating felt, you don't want the fibers to kink up before they get a chance to enmesh with the fabric or other felt. Hot water causes the fibers to scrunch up rather quickly, which is fine if you're doing a one-time felting process and don't plan on wet felting that item again. Not if you want the fibers to work through the weave of the fabric. Also, you definitely want to use a fine wool (like merino or cormo) when nuno felting. Even with her heavy duty projects, any of the nuno felted pieces she added to it were first prefelted with merino before felting them onto the coarse wool. Another great tip I learned is that if you plan on nuno felting something that is already felted (for example when making laminated felt), you need to stretch it to loosen the fibers. She gives details on how to stretch it so it's done evenly.

I like that Sheila also outlined the difference between pre-felt and felt, and where to stop in the felting process if you just want prefelt to use later in a separate project. You will need prefelt for most of the projects in the books, or use commercial needle felt. I'm not sure that's something easily obtained here, because I could not find any. Maybe it's something more widely available in UK/Australia. The only 100% wool commercial felt I have found here comes in a natural ivory color, and is fairly thick in comparison to the wool blends. Still, I'll give it a try and see if the stuff I can get here works with nuno felting, unless it's too coarse. I would like to add a quick note in here that all of the projects in the book result in flat textiles, which you can then sew into things like purses or a waistcoat, but it's really more about the techniques to achieve various textures and not so much the projects itself. 

Some of the materials you will want to pick up if you plan on experimenting include silk chiffon (a lot of silk chiffon) and other matte materials with a gauzy open weave to it. She even used bandage cloth in one of her samples. This is now the second time I've read about the use of scrim in textile projects, which I'd never heard of prior to this past year. After doing some searching, I realized that it's essentially another name for gauze. I realized later that both of the Batsford books I own are authored by UK authors, so now it makes total sense (still, could have included something about "also known as gauze" in the glossary in the back). Anyway, scrim, or gauze, is also apparently used in the theater for lighting effects, so you might be able to find it cheap in some sources? You can definitely obtain linen and cotton at Dharma Trading Co. for a decent price. It is also probably the cheapest source of silk that I've found, since you can get it there for between $5-10/yard, while other places charge at least $20/yard. I believe you can use synthetic fibers for small areas, but the wool will not bond with it the way it would with a natural or coarse fiber.

I like how the book is laid out from the most delicate fabrics, to lattice work, to laminated, to textiles used for clothing and then heavy duty functional felt. She clears up the myth about how lightweight felts are the least felted, that the opposite is actually true, you just use the minimum amount of wool that you can get away with in order to create the material. The only complaint I have with the book is that there are very few photos of the entire project, even when the entire project is referenced in the write-up. It's primarily close-up macro photos to see how the fibers are interconnected, though I would've loved to see the finished pieces in their entirety as well.