TESTING FLEECE FOR IT'S FELTING ABILITY
Pat Spark © 1996
Not all wool fleece will felt well. It is quite discouraging to buy a bag of fleece for felting and to then find out that it has a high amount of wool from Down breeds in it, or that it is a superwash Merino. (Superwash is a process that wool is put through to make it so that it can't felt.) It is not always possible to buy just 1/2 ounce (15 grams) of fiber from a supplier in order to do a standard felt sample. However, you can usually ask for a small bit to test to find out if it is worth buying a larger amount.
When I actually want to find out shrinkage, hand, etc. I make a full sized felt sample. I do 10 inches square and 15 grams in weight. I keep track of the number of layers, and how long it took to make the felt through the final fulling stages. After it is dry, I measure the square of felt to find out how much it has shrunk. This type of sample lets me know a lot more about the fleece. The test sample method I describe below just lets me know if the fleece will felt or not, which has saved me a lot of money from buying unfeltable fleeces.
Fleece Test Sample
1. Prepare the felting water by swishing a bar of soap through one cup of hot water a few times. (The water should turn milky.) The little bit of soap in the water helps the water to penetrate the fiber more quickly, so less water can be used to get rid of the air from the fiber mass.
2. Put the wet bar of soap on a dish, lay a hand towel on the working surface.
3. Pull off a little bit (piece) of fiber from the rest of the fiber. This bit is as long as the staple is long, and about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm.) wide. When demonstrating this, I have batts of merino for the people to take their fiber bits from. When testing a fleece to see if it will felt well, I pull a piece of staple out from the bag of fleece.
4. Pull off a second bit of fiber.
5. Lay the first bit in the palm of the weak hand (usually the left hand). Lay the second bit on top of the first, at right angles to it.
6. Drip a little of the felting solution over the fiber. Let the towel on the felting surface absorb any water that runs out of the palm.
7. Press down to remove any air in the fiber. Add more water if the air will not go away.
8. When the fiber is all wet and the air is gone, rub the strong hand (usually the right hand) over the bar of soap to get it slippery.
9. Press some soap into the fiber. I fold the edges of the wet fiber up towards the center so that the fiber looks like a rectangular patch.
10. Begin to massage the fiber patch gently. Rotating the fingers of the strong hand around and around on the fiber held in the palm of the other hand.
11. Turn the patch over and massage that side as well.
12. When (or if) the fiber begins to hold together to form a fabric, the first stage of felting is done. (This is called the felting stage, and shouldn't take more than 5 minutes or so.) (When making a test, instead of just teaching about felt, I can tell a lot about the fiber at this point. If the fiber will not form a fabric in this time, it is either a non-felting or a very slow felting fiber and I probably wouldn't want to use it.)
13. When the fabric is holding together well, it is time for the fulling stage. Rub both hands vigorously back and forth with the felt patch between them. The patch may roll up and need to be opened up and stretched out to maintain its flatness. Turn the patch and rub it from a different direction. Do this until the patch has shrunk so much that it will not stretch when you pull on it. With the merino, this happens very quickly, within a minute or so. (Some types of fleece pass through the first stage of felting pretty well, they do make a fabric. But when they are vigorously fulled, they fall apart. I wouldn't choose this type of fleece for my felt.)
14. Rinse the sample well and staple it to the bag of fleece. Then you have a test sample of the felt that fleece will make.
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Last Updated: January 30, 1999