Friday, 2 February 2018

Felting Wool and Silk and a Rope onto Soap

"It's been chaos in here for weeks, Beaut." My companion, Elinor Gotland, picked her way between heaps of boxes, only to trip over the flex of the hoover.
"I am checking over my stash, changing the moth papers and clearing out the attic." Determined not to be interrupted again, I thought fortune had smiled on us both when Elinor noseplanted unharmed into a pile of batts of wool. I never imagined that her fall would plunge me down yet another crafting rabbithole. 

Getting back up, Elinor opened her mouth to complain, changed her mind and repeated her spectacular bounce onto one of the batts.
"Ooo, this pink is squooshy. Must be merino wool, can't be one of your native sheep breeds all covered in mouldy beige plant dyes."
"No, that batt is not my own work, as you so tactfully point out. Don't know where I bought it, didn't even know I had it. Which is exactly the point of having a sort out."
"Don't ram it back in the bag, let's do something with it. Something romantic for Valentine's Day."
I took no more notice of her romping about making skittish pink merino suggestions, just carried on digging out forgotten bags of raw fleece which I really ought to wash and process. It's a terrible thing when such a prospect becomes disheartening. At least there was no sign of moths. A large bar of lavender soap had been perfuming the air with its own natural moth deterrent ever since the unspeakable moth affliction of last May. It still had a faint lavender scent, though its surface looked a bit dried out. 
"Dust it off and put it by the sink, Beaut, it'll be fine. Better still, why don't you felt some of this merino round it?" 

My stern resolve and my deep reservations about wet felting all dissolved in the froth of Elinor's enthusiasm for this video tutorial. The edges of our soap bar were rounded off with a vegetable peeler and the whole thing was swaddled in a section of the pink merino batt.
I put it into the toe of some nylon tights before wetting it, as the wool was inclined to unwrap itself. Once wetted and squeezed to flatten the fibres against the soap, the covering seemed to be holding together after just a few minutes brisk rubbing between my hands. Couldn't resist taking it out to see.

Amazing. My past experience of wet felting has been hours of struggle for dodgy results. Though the lady on the video says it takes half an hour, another ten minutes of soapy massage, interspersed with plunges from the hot tap into a bowl of cold water, felted the merino firmly and tightly onto the soap. Great fun, I wanted to make another one straight away. Unfortunately, our shower contained only a bottle of shower gel and our sinks have those pump dispensers for handwash.

"Well, Beaut, I was going to give you this nice little tin of lavender soap, planning for your future moth protection."
"Ooo, great tin, just right for keeping stitch markers in. Give us the soap."
I had it wrapped up in a section from another batt, tucked into the nylon tights and under the tap before Elinor could ask to have a go at felting. The fresh soap lathered up richly.
Although the wool fibres in this batt seemed like merino, they initially formed a looser jacket which wrinkled around the soap. It didn't take much more than ten minutes to felt tightly, yet by the time I was satisfied, the bar of soap had diminished considerably in size. Both felted soaps dried out after a couple of hours on the radiator.

The lady in the video tutorial warns you to take care when needlefelting wool designs onto the soap as the needles snap easily and she is not wrong. I probably should have sat up to the table and concentrated, rather than stabbing at soap on my lap while watching telly and chatting.
"These woolly bars feel so nice. Why ever did I stop using soap?"
"Convenience, Beaut. Bars of soap are much cheaper as well as more ecofriendly, but you and the rest of the Western world would rather buy endless plastic bottles of gel than scrub out a slimey soap dish."

Next day, I toured half a dozen supermarkets and pound shops and everywhere I found half a dozen shelves of bottles of gel to every one displaying soap bars. All the retail outlets carried much the same big brands, most 100g bars cost less than 50p each. I found one organic soap made in the UK for £3.30 and the fancy shop in town with all the scented candles had Mother Earth chamomile soap at £2.95.  Even the man himself got involved and very sweetly bought me three 200g bars of luxury jasmine soap in Sainsburys. That evening, I spun singles from the two merino batts and also some lovely merino/silk roving, then I Navajo three plied them into chunky yarn.

"You can't knit anything worth having out of those little lengths of wool."
"I've had a fresh idea, Elinor, all sparkling and hygienic. Abolish the slimey dish issue by hanging up the soap on a rope."
"It's been done before, you know, Beaut. Hate to piss on your firework, but the soap always slides off the rope long before it gets used up. Anyway, your drill bits aren't nearly long enough to go through a bar of soap from end to end." 
"No drilling needed, my sceptical friend. I'll show you what I mean tomorrow."

"Not really rope, though, is it? I'll admit the wool yarn you've tied round the soap ought to felt into the covering, but it's too skinny to be strong as rope."
"Ok, I shall just add a bit more twist by running the yarn back through the spinning wheel onto a bobbin, then navajo three ply it again."
I loved the look of my heavy, twice plied yarn, but Elinor wasn't convinced.
"Thick yarn will stick up and make big ridges under the felt cover."
"Oh, fuss, fuss, fuss. If I make a loop in the middle and tie a knot, I can unply the two loose ends of yarn back into four thin parts and tie the soap up in those. I'm going to felt the special organic soap in merino and silk roving."
"Silk won't felt. This will all go horribly wrong, Beaut."

It didn't go wrong, it went brilliantly right - the silk incorporated itself into the felted merino in textured lumps and ridges. Here are my organic British soap and the Mother Earth chamomile soap. I've been using a merino/silk felted Pears soap in the shower this week and the surface is lovely - gently exfoliating. I chose Pears because it is a hard soap and I thought I'd lose less of it during the felting. However, it does take a bit of rubbing to work up much of a lather when you actually want to wash. I think in future, I will choose softer, nicer  soaps and take them out of the packet to dry their surface off for a day or so before felting.

Though I'd rather have a gentler and softer soap in the shower, it is still quite handy to be able to hang the bar of Pears off the tap by the sink. No slimey soap dish there, either.

Spread the love in time for Valentine's day. I mind our local co-operative shop, Crafts by the Sea, on Fridays between 10.30am and 2pm. If you would like to make your own felted soap on a rope, leave a message here to let us know when you are coming and you can drop in and join me for an hour's informal workshop any Friday,  Cost £5, bring your own soap or better still, buy one of Julie's lovely organic honey soaps from the village shop.


  1. Beautiful felted soaps! I love especially the yellow fish in the blue water as well as the sun on a green background.
    And to hang a felted soap is very practical.

    1. Thanks Ladka. I was aiming for the look of a chamomile flower on the green covered chamomile soap. Needlefelting into soap proved challenging - better to keep it to small details like the fish :)

  2. still, a nice idea to add a few small motives on the soap! I think if you bought soap well in advance, leave it out to "mature", you'll loose less during felting. the older soap is the less it "shrinks" during use! my mother used to buy loads in advance and kept it on a shelf for a year or longer (wrapped up!)to keep down the wash-off... war generation, saving was so drilled into them that it applied to everything (probably only understandable to people who had to do without for a long time?)

    1. I had an aunt who left fresh bread out to get a little stale, so that she could slice it more thinly. In this time of plenty, I would rather eat fresh bread, but I do take pleasure in using things up, make do and mend. I suspect much of the current enthusiasm for upcycling and recycling taps into the satisfaction of thrift as much as environmental concern. Interesting, isn't it?

    2. yes, I agree - eating stale bread if it's there is ok. but making it go stale to save is taking it a bit too far for my taste:)
      and like you I like to re-use stuff that's been lying around. I am making a raincoat for our old jack russell - out of the rain cover of an old rucksack just now:) on the other hand artificially ageing things just to be retro - is a bit like ageing bread to me:)

    3. Or buying those jeans that already have tears in the knees - I am just naturally on trend with my ancient legwear.

    4. oh, my pet hate - and the more they are torn the more they cost:(

    5. ooo, pet hates - if you want expensive, shop vegan. Pay no attention to the idea that ethical clothes shopping is essentially, only buying the clothing you need which is of a quality that will last you for years and ultimately, will biodegrade completely. No, no, have a vegan spree paying out for this season's look in polyester, made of fibres that will be choking fish for centuries to come, or better still, viscose from pulped forests with processing byproducts that kill everything in the water. Am I ranting? It is the privilege of the old bag as well as passionate youth.

    6. pity that these blogs usually only reach the already converted:( I've kind of given up the ranting (old bag as well here:) because it takes so much time - and so few are willing to listen:( but I do agree with you on that as well!

    7. I suppose I am as guilty as everyone else of preferring to engage with what confirms my established point of view. I shouldn't rant, humour is a more effective tool.

  3. Lovely little post - really enjoyed this.

  4. Hi I just wanted to let you know my video has moved to here: