Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wet Felting Alpaca and other Fibres

This is a first anniversary for Wool Tribulations. Old posts are now project records that I can find without storming about the place, turning out drawers.  Publishing them has exceeded my hopes, connecting me with the crafting world.  I gave up on becoming a writer decades ago, after one too many magazine rejection slips. To my pleasure, over 30,000 page views tell me that, if not exactly an author, I have readers.  On the blog, I feel in good company.  At home, they still think I am out of my tree.   
It has been a good year, uneven handspinning and the dreaded beige dyes included.  Part of the reward of working with wool and plant dyes is meditative. At another level, it provides interconnectedness with the women of prehistory and the present life of my patch of the earth. Renate Hiller expresses beautifully deeper thoughts I struggle towards.     

So, here I am, glad to be writing about such a magnificent obsession. To mark the occasion, I return to the subject of my first ever blog, making a wet felted bag. Same as last March, I have some fleece left over from a big project.  This time, it is alpaca.  Have a look at this video on felting from raw fleece.  How encouraging is that? 

Cheryl says dirt and vegetable matter will come out during the felting process.  Her alpaca is brown and looks fluffy.  Mine only looks fawn because of the dust and some tips are welded together.  Much as I like her cheerful confidence, I'm not so sanguine this would end up clean or layer out evenly.  I am going to apply a lesson learned first time round, when a tide of filthy water squashed out as I rolled raw wool.  
First, 50g of alpaca fleece had a soak in warm water with a squirt of washing up liquid, to get the worst of the dust out and soften the grubby tips.  Once it had dried, I flicked open the locks with a stiff dog brush.  Pile of fluff, water spray and soap and bubble wrap - with the bubbles facing up. All I need now is BG.
Despite me extolling the virtues of wool work, while I can contentedly comb, card and spin for hours, rolling wet felt does not float my boat.  When we made a felt hat together, designing it was a laugh and taking turns made felting tolerable.  Here are BG's hands feeling for thin spots in our two layers of alpaca, laid out just like the video.  Once they were wetted, soaped and flattened, we added a variety of fibres dyed with woad, plus a bit of white silk.
Although Cheryl didn't fret about this for her loose design, we wanted our swirls to stay in place. Putting a piece of net over the fibres and rubbing in little circles ought to fix the pattern before rolling.  How we rolled.  And rolled.  And had a cup of tea, and rolled.

It is quite true that alpaca felts much faster than wool.  Cheryl did say her wool decorations would felt differently, adding interest.  I can now add that as you would expect, the woad dyed alpaca felts on readily, as does Polwarth fleece. Silk binds on pretty well. Dorset Poll fleece tends to stay as a fuzz on top and the Gotland curls, though they look so dramatic, are a total pain.

After nearly an hour of rubbing and rolling, we gave the fabric a hot soak and a cold rinse or two.  Lots of dirt came out, so Cheryl is probably right about not bothering to wash raw alpaca first.  Half an hour for tea and a fag break gave the fabric a chance to dry on the radiator.  Then we sat it on a foam pillow and used felting needles to stab the loose bits in better, using extra dry fibres to fasten down stray bits of Gotland and patch up some thin, weak areas.  

Not a bad evening's work, looks pretty, but the base alpaca fabric did not feel strong. Watching the video again, Cheryl actually says she would use four to six layers for a bag.  Will I ever pay proper attention to the instructions?

BG had a roll of iron on fabric bond in the cupboard.  I had a piece of cambric cotton dyed in the remnant of a woad vat a couple of years ago.  Our felt was substantial enough to make a bag once glued to this as backing. Another useful stash item was this ball of Gotland and silk blend handspinning, partially dipped in a woad vat last summer.  

I made the bag up today, tomorrow I will take its photo in natural light.  In a strip of double crochet five stitches wide on a 4mm needle, the yarn was just long enough to make sides and a handle for the bag.  I left the long edges of the felt unbonded, so as to be able to sew the crochet strip through felt and backing without jamming the needle.  Yes, I have done that before.  

Last year's felt bag was named Troglodyte, for looking like something that lived in a cave. This year's bag is more of a river creature, so I shall name it Cyane, after the nymph legend says dissolved in her own tears. The Troglodyte still lurks at home, but Cyane is off to be a twentieth birthday present.  

Happy Anniversary!


  1. Happy Anniversary!! The bag is beautiful.

  2. This is really beautiful - happy anniversary!

  3. lovely :)

    happy blogiversary

  4. This is really making me want to experiment with wet felting... I've wanted to for a while anyway, but suspect I'll be unable to do it without drenching myself - so see it as more of a summertime craft...