The craft of felting has got to be one of the oldest uses of wool. Pretty soon after (or maybe even before) early humans had begun to keep animals for meat and milk, they discovered the warmth of fleece. Early blankets required no manipulation to create – they were just matted, shed hairs of sheep, goats and what-have-you.
We can use of the propensity of wool to felt and make whatever we want. Today I want to make some felt balls to give to my granddaughter for Christmas. She is now walking and very interested in chasing objects across the floor. I read about felting balls in a library book – sorry I don’t remember which one, or I would reference it. The designer started with a jingle bell. I went to the dollar store and bought a bag of cat toys for a dollar. I had some fleece left over from teaching fiber arts.
The tools for this project are readily available in most homes: a plastic placemat, some bubble wrap, a large bowl with a fitted lid and a squeeze of dish soap. Merino wool bats are available from craft stores for a few dollars each. I used four colors of fleece for my balls.
First, separate the fleece into thin strips, then pull the strips apart gently every four inches or so. You want to expose the loose ends of the fibers. Begin wrapping the fleece strips around the ball, overlapping and pressing the fibers down on each other. Continue until the ball is covered with about a one inch layer. Gently roll the covered ball around in your palms, loosely, until the fibers seem to be clinging. When the wool has begun to matt, it will look something like this:
Make a few more balls to this point before moving on to the next step.
Add about an inch of soapy water to the bowl. Dip the felt balls into the water, then pick up each and roll it on the bubble wrap until all the fibers are pretty well mashed together. They will look something like this:
Okay, here is the fun part. Put on some lively music. Place balls in bowl with a little soapy water, snap on the lid, pick up bowl and start shaking it around like crazy. The goal is to bounce them together and keep them rolling. This process is called fulling the wool. It will take ten to fifteen minutes.
The next step is called shocking. The soapy water is rinsed off, then balls are immersed under hot water for about a minute. After the hot water is squeezed out, the balls are immersed in cold water. A few repetitions of this step will shrink and harden the wool. Set balls aside to dry.
You can also put them in the dryer for 15 minutes on medium heat.
Here are my felt balls, ready to be wrapped up for giving:
I was delighted that the felting worked just fine over the plastic cat toys. These balls are now child-safe and ready to roll.