The Happy Side of Felting
I first experienced wet felting at age 6 or 7, when an Aran sweater handknitted by my aunt accidentally went through the laundry. I had thrown it in the laundry pile, having never heard of felt, and I remember that my poor mother was upset with me (and, really, with herself for not having noticed it among the other clothes). But I mostly remember being enchanted at the perfect little Aran-in-miniature that emerged from the washing machine. My first lesson in felting was that, however intriguing, this was a process to be avoided at all costs.
It took nearly thirty years before I learned the happy side of felting. I had learned to spin, and I found a pattern for felted boots embellished with long, wooly Lincoln locks in an old Black Sheep Newsletter. (They looked like something Karen Allen would have worn during the Himalayan drinking contest scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The process looked a bit intimidating, but I was re-intrigued. At our Northwest Regional Spinners conference, a local teacher always offered a felted hat class, and at the Saturday night show-and-tell, while most of the classes paraded a few sample skeins or proto-shawls still on our knitting needles, the felting class strutted their stuff in beautiful finished chapeaux. The year I signed up for felting, the class was about making central Asian felted rugs. It took us two whole days of sometimes aerobic work to lay out the patterns and felt our rugs—unlike the Mongols, we couldn't roll them up and felt by dragging them across the steppes behind our galloping horses—but we had a blast, we were the hit of the fashion show, and that felted rug still brightens my office.
I think felting should be in every fiber person's repertoire. It's a creative, fun, quick way to make gifts and use bits of pretty fiber, and, provided you're not set on making a whole rug, it's easy. In her new video, Wet Felting, master felter Sharon Costello shows how to make accessories such as purses and those great-looking hats that I've admired for years. She whips up those beauties in no time, creating three-dimensional shapes and layers of color and embellishing with silk and other fibers, and she never even breaks a sweat. I'll be giving this video to my daughter soon, in hopes we can have a felting fest and get ahead on our holiday gift-making. And who knows, maybe I'll finally get around to those wooly boots one of these days.