Felting with 100% Angora
By Susan Wiley
Nothing can compare with the luxurious softness, warmth and attractive halo of angora yarn. But can these lovely attributes translate into the medium of felt? After several disastrous trials, where a beautiful fluffy angora batt becomes a hard, thick, ugly piece of felt barely fit for boot soles, many give up in disgust. It may seem easier and more predictable just to spin, knit, crochet and weave with your wonderful fiber, rather than risk wrecking it all in a felting experiment. But don’t give up! There are good reasons to felt with angora, and with a few tricks, you can end up with a product worthy of this valuable fiber.
FELTING IS FAST! Whereas the process of spinning and then knitting (or crocheting, or weaving) a finished item may take days to accomplish, a finished felted piece can be produced in a couple of hours. True, it can take some very hard work to produce that felted item, but the short amount of time this procedure takes really appeals to the impatient soul. And for those of us who are running a fiber business, time is money. I can afford to sell a pair of felted mittens for less than a knitted pair, since I have much less time invested in the felt.
FELTING CAN MAKE USE OF SECOND GRADE FIBER! I’m sure you can find plenty of uses for your first grade angora (over 2-1/2 inches in length), but how about those bags of 1-2 inch fiber? Yes, you can blend shorter angora with sheep’s wool and come out with some soft batts that will make great yarn, but if you want something special, and pure angora, felt is a good use for this fiber. Just one caveat: that old saying “Junk in, junk out” applies just as well to felting as it does to spinning. If you use a mass of matts and very short fibers in felting, you will end up with a bumpy, shedding piece of felt.
FELTING IS FUN! I have enjoyed felting with women’s groups and various children’s groups, including Girl Scout troops and homeschool associations. It doesn’t take special tools or any great skill to make a piece of felt, just elbow grease and some imagination. So turn on your favorite music station or CD, and get ready to rumble!
ANGORA FELT CAN BE BEAUTIFUL! If you understand the properties of the fiber you are using, both its strengths and weaknesses, and use them to your advantage, you can end up with a lovely, useful finished item. Silky soft, dense and warm, angora mittens, hats, slippers, etc., feel good against the skin and are unique in appearance. There are always delighted “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s” at my sales booth, as customers slip on a pair of angora felt mittens for the first time. They feel so soft and warm!
FELTING PROPERTIES OF ANGORA
Angora wool fiber is like sheep’s wool, in that it has crimp, and is covered with tiny scales which produce friction when they are pushed and rubbed against each other. It is friction which holds felt together. Angora wool felts easily and quickly, almost as soon as you press down on the batt. However, angora guard hair does not felt well at all. It is the wool fiber that holds the guard hair in the felt. So a fleece with a high percentage of guard hair, and little or very short wool fibers (such as many French Angora fleeces) will not felt well, adn the felt it does produce will tend to be weak and fall apart. On the other hand, an English Angora fleece, with little guard hair and mostly wool, will felt easily and produce a strong felt. But you must weigh this property against others: texture and shine. A felt made of only wool fibers will lack luster, and will feel cottony to the touch. Guard hair will add some shine, and a silky feel to the felt. So you must weigh these attributes against each other to decide what kind of fleece you need to produce the kind of felt you desire. German Angora fleeces seem to be just right for my felting needs. They have enough wool to produce a strong felt, and yet enough guard hair to give it shine and silkiness to the touch. If I want a very hairy, lustrous felt, I will even add a thin layer of guard hair to the top of my batt to accentuate these attributes.
Another variable to consider is the thickness of the felt. A thicker angora felt is usually stronger than a thinner felt. The end use of the felt will dictate to some extent how thick you want it to be. Angora has little elasticity, but a lot of drape. A thick felt will not drape as well, and be heavy, so you wouldn’t want a thick felt for clothing. But mittens and slippers can have quite a bit of thickness. For a 21″ x 15″ layered batt of angora, I usually use about 7 – 8 ounces of angora to make a medium thick felt, suitable for felted mittens.
Another variable to consider is the “hardness” of the felt. The longer you work a piece of felt, the stronger and “harder” it becomes. A very soft piece of felt feels very nice, but it lacks strength and may fall apart. The most common question during a felting class will be, “how do I know when my felt is done?” Well, it is finished when it is strong enough for its intended use, but still soft enough to be pleasing to the touch. There is an art to finding this happy medium.
The second most frequently asked question during a felting workshop is, “How wet do I get my batt?” The function of the water and soap is to help bring the fibers into contact with each other and lubricate them to some extent, so that they slide against each other. The water, heat and soap also facilitate the felting by helping the wool scales to open and in a small way, break down the fibers. (You will notice that dyed angora felts more easily than raw angora. This is because the dyeing process has broken down the fibers somewhat, and thus provided more rough surface area.) But too much water in the batt, and the fibers will float off, never contact each other, and never felt. So how much water? Wet but not swimming. Again, there is an art to it. I use almost 1/2 gallon of water to wet down a 21″ x 15″ batt which is about 4 inches thick.
STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRODUCING A FLAT PIECE OF 100% ANGORA FELT
1) Cut a clear lightweight plastic bag into 2 equal pieces. 22″ x 16″ will be large enough to make about 2 pair of felted mittens. Lay one piece of plastic on a kitchen counter or felting table.
2) Lay out your angora batt on top of this plastic. The angora batt can be commercially carded, or you may hand card multiple layers of angora using hand cards or a drum carder. It is much easier to get even layers without ridges when you use a drum carder. If you are hand carding, lay each successive layer of fiber in the opposite direction as the previous layer. It is better to make more thin layers than just a few thick ones. You can get an idea of how thick your finished felt will be by pressing down on the batt.
3) Wet the batt down with hot, soapy water. I like to use a garden sprayer with a 1-2 gallon capacity. A couple of squirts of Ivory Liquid into the water in the sprayer works well, depending on the hardness of the water. The harder the water, the more soap will be needed. You will notice that angora resists getting wet. It is a hydrophobic fiber! Use about 1/4 gallon on one side of the batt, spraying the water on gently. Cover the batt with the second sheet of plastic and press down gently all over. Do not rub at this point. Turn the plastic covered batt over and carefully remove the piece of plastic. Wet this side down with the hot soapy water, as you did the other side. Cover with the piece of plastic. Gently press down all over.
4) Now let the wet batt sit for about 1/2 hour. This is a crucial step in angora felting. It takes this long for water to penetrate the batt. After 1/2 hour, check the batt. It should be evenly wet. Press out any air pockets. Remove plastic and spray water on any dry spots.
5) Spray the surface of the top sheet of plastic with soapy water. Begin a gentle rubbing, back and forth across the surface. Be sure to rub both up and down and across, to keep the felting action even. After a few minutes, flip the plastic covered batt over, spray with hot soapy water, and continue the rubbing process.
6) Continue the steps in # 5 for about 15-20 minutes, until the soft felt stage is reached. That is, when the surface of the felt is pinched, the top fibers rise up, but do not detach.
7) Next comes the “hardening” stage. Begin by laying your plastic covered batt on top of a non-terry dish towel, or piece of muslin as large as the batt. Roll the batt in the muslin into a “log,” gently squeezing some of the water out. It is a good idea to keep the plastic around your angora batt for now, to keep those very fine fibers from migrating into the muslin material. Now roll your felt “log” back and forth gently, with your finger tips. Do not knead it like a loaf of bread. After about 5 minutes, unroll and re-roll in the opposite direction, and continue the rolling. Continue to re-roll in other directions, then flip the piece over and continue to roll and re-roll as before, gradually squeezing out more and more of the water.
8) When the felt starts to harden, you may remove the plastic and continue with the towel alone. When are you done? When the felt is strong enough for your intended purpose. For mittens, I like to see the felt puckered up like alligator skin.
9) Rinse your felt out in warm, then cool water. Spin dry in the washing machine on the “Spin” cycle. Iron flat on the “Wool” setting, if desired. Let dry.
You can use this piece of flat felt to make clothing, mittens, slippers, etc. The felt is cut into pattern pieces and sewn together, using either a sewing machine to create seams, or yarn with decorative stitching techniques. At this point, there are many embellishment techniques that may be employed to decorate your felt. But that is a whole other article!!!
NOTE: For some interesting felt patterns, there are many felting books available, including one published by Louet. See your local Louet dealer for a copy.
Reprinted from IAGARB News, Summer 2003