OVERVIEW OF VARIOUS FULLING METHODS
Pat Spark, copyright 1996, 2005, 2014
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Link to article: THOUGHTS ON FELTING VS. FULLING
The process of making felt from fiber is often thought of as being broken up into two stages. Called Felting, the first stage is when the fibers come together to form a cohesive cloth. Fulling, the second stage is when this cloth is shrunk down to create a firm, tight cloth. Fulling can be done in several ways. Here is an overview of the most common methods.
1. KNEADING/TOSSING. This is the most aggressive method of fulling. The textile will shrink very rapidly, but not necessarily evenly. It is more difficult to keep the cloth straight, with no bubbling or ruffled edges by this method alone.
Put the fabric on a waterproof surface. Pour on hot, soapy water and knead with your hands, much like you would knead bread. A variation of this is to roll up the fabric and knead the roll. Another variation is to bunch up the fabric and toss it down onto the table. The force of the fabric hitting the table helps the fibers to migrate.
If you have a very fragile fabric, fold it in a support cloth and drop the folded cloth gently onto the table. Turn the folded cloth over and drop again. Repeat about 4 times. Refold, putting the creases into another area. Drop again. Continue until the felt seems to firm enough to be bunched up or kneaded as above.
NOTE: Always check to make sure that the felt is not "hooking" onto itself. This can happen especially along the edges of the scarf.
2. RUBBING/WASHBOARDING. This is a great method for getting certain areas of the felted cloth to shrink in or for more controlled shrinkage than with tossing. However, if you are wanting to full down the entire cloth evenly, this method is harder to control because wherever you are placing the pressure to rub the cloth will shrink more than the areas where there is not pressure.
Put the fabric onto the washboard and pour hot, soapy water on it. Rub areas of the fabric back and forth until they shrink and harden. A variation is to roll the fabric and rub the roll on the washboard. Some people use other surfaces to rub on, such as rubber stair tread, a bamboo mat, etc. anything with a similar texture to a washboard. If I am using a washboard, I prefer a glass washboard because it doesn't seem to make the felt pill as much as a metal one does.
3. ROLLING. If you want to keep the felt cloth flat, without ripples or bubbles, this method has the most control of all the fulling methods. However, it is the slowest method and puts a lot of strain on the arms and back. People often roll the felt for both the felting stage and the fulling stage. The textile starts off as loose fiber and after much rolling, ends up as a firm, tight felt.
Roll the fabric, usually with some sort of support cloth such as canvas, bamboo mats or bubble-wrap. Put ties around it and roll it back and forth with your forearms, your hands, your feet, etc. I used to prefer to use a bamboo shade for my support because its stiffness seems to make a more even felt for me. Also, the texture aids in the fulling process. However, lately I have been using bubble-wrap and it works very well for rolling during the felting stage. Some people roll without a bar in the middle of the roll and some roll with it. I prefer to use a rolling bar (PVC pipe or wooden clothes closet pole) because it gives the center of the roll something to hit against which seems to help the center full more quickly. When using this method, people unroll after a time and roll the felt from the other end to help keep the fulling even. When you use a firm rolling bar, the inside fulls more than the outside of the roll. But when you don't use a bar, the outside fulls more than the inside of the roll. In either case, the fabric needs to be turned periodically.
If you roll the
felt up tightly with your hands and rotate sections of it quickly back and
forth, with pressure, you can "spot" full the felt in that area. This is a good way to tighten up edges,
especially those which have been cut.
"ROLL FOR PRETTY" ROLLING VARIATION. Central Asian feltmakers finish off their felt with a final rolling that the Georgians call the "Roll for Pretty". To do this, you roll up the felt without a rolling bar and gently rotate it back and forth. This tightens up the skin and makes a nice, firm felt. You can do this at any time after the felt is fulled, as long as the fabric is damp. I usually do it before the soap rinse and then after I have rinsed the felt from the vinegar soak. I wring out most of the water, and roll the damp felt.