Friday, November 16, 2012

the nitty gritty on felting lanterns

I wrote about  making lanterns with felted wool a year ago, and as I am making some this year (as opposed to helping children make them)  I thought I would give an update on the process, and see if I left any glaring holes in my non-instructions.  (For the real deal, please see the archived Living Crafts magazine; I'm sure there are some stunning photos as well to encourage you as you wrangle your wool.)

First, I will say that there is a learning curve here.  I asked Eliza to join me in my endeavors today and she said, "Mom.  I thought that project was, well...a little tedious."  There you have it.  I have reached the zen of the art of felting wool lanterns, but the path was trying and maybe a little tedious.

First I did  a lot of things wrong and made a lumpy bumpy holey squiggly lantern.  To avoid this particular problem, I would first suggest assembling all of your materials from the start, so that you don't find yourself with water running down your forearms and dripping off your elbows as you scramble for another length of wool.  Or hollering for one of your daughters to come help you with the scissors 'cause you're afraid to let go of your precariously wooled balloon.

Ah, here we go - materials.  You will need:

  • a balloon - I am enjoying using balloons that are approximately between 4 and 8 inches in diameter, but you could go bigger.  The lantern will shrink some while you felt it.
  • a spray bottle with cold water
  • access to hot-ish water and dish soap (I used the grungy tub below, with a couple drops of soap and kept the bottle on hand for some additional dosing of the wool)
  • lengths of wool roving that has been carded, gently teased out to a couple inches wide.  Depending on the size of the balloon, you will need 3 - 6 or so of these.
  • 3 yards (not, um, 3 feet, as I mistakenly used for my first attempt) of WOOL yarn (not, um, acrylic, as I mistakenly used for my first attempt)
  • a towel or two to clean up from all the drips.

the fancy studio space
Based on my weak memory and the notes I had, this is what I did:

Blow up your balloon.  Make awful face at the taste of the thing but press on.  Spray lightly with the cold water.  Holding the tie of the balloon, wrap each length of wool around the balloon, being sure to cross pieces and covering as many holes as possible.  Spray as needed to encourage the wool to stay in place, but don't get it so wet that it droops off like a soggy diaper. Please trust me on this.  While holding your balloon carefully aloft in such a way that nothing falls off of it, wrap the piece of wool yarn you thankfully cut ahead of time around and around the balloon, again trying to criss-cross as much as possible.  The idea here is to hold the wool in place and it does a marvelous job, thank goodness.

Now you begin the very precise method of water felting called the "dribble pat pat".  Taking fingersful of hot, lightly-soaped water from your tub, dribble and pat your way around your balloon.  Don't smear or push or rub just yet.  I developed a technique I call "drumming the fingers", and I do just that, lightly, all around the balloon.  And then I cheat and add some drops of soap directly onto the wool itself - just a little, mind you, but enough to make the stuff start sticking like it's supposed to. Dribble pat pat. Drum drum drum.  Coax the wool over any bald spots.  What's happening here is the fibers are starting to mesh together and the material is starting to resemble something like felt, or the promise of felt.  Then I start getting a little crazy, once I'm pretty certain nothing is going to really move in any disastrous way, and I drum with my whole hands, bouncing the balloon between them, clapping both sides of the balloon.  Then you can start rubbing it between your hands, or against some bubblewrap if you have some handy (better have gotten it when your hands were free, or you'll have to make do).

Ah, here's a picture of the lumpy bumpy - still, not bad for not really remembering clearly how to do this, but my major mistakes here were a) too much dribble - made for soggy wool that kind of clumped instead of meshing and b) I used a beautiful red acrylic yarn, and only one yard of it, which wasn't enough to help hold on the wool and didn't shrink along with the wool as it is supposed to.  The final result is endearing and the loose yarn makes some lovely squiggles, but it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to, you see.  It looks more like a retired hat or something.

Once your wool all looks like it's of a piece - like it's felt, and there are no wisps left and it is going to stay together if you let go - then you can pop your balloon.  You'll have something like what you see below.  Now gently squash it, top to bottom, and gently rub.  And rub.  And fold and rub.  And massage.  And the longer you do it the more vigorous you can get.  You are further felting.  I would just suggest that you check it once in a while to make sure that you are not doing such an awesome job that you've felted the top right onto the bottom - I had a bit of a scare on that one.  Roll it into a sausage and massage.  Fold it in thirds and massage. Watch some TV and massage it, though that might go against everything you thought you knew about felting.  What can I say, Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts with her "jabberbabywocky", I was drawn.  

When you are really quite done with the whole thing it is time to rinse in as hot a hot water as you can manage.  Here you are further shrinking your piece and rinsing out the soap you used earlier.  (There must be a reason to not use too much soap - it makes the job SO much easier, but I think maybe you don't want to wash out all the lanolin? Perhaps that's what makes wool burn so slowly? This is just a guess on my part - I can't find anything about it on the interwebs.  But even so...use as little soap and as much patience as possible, that might be the way to go.)

You're almost done! Now you can put another balloon in the shell to give it some shape as it dries, or stuff it with bubblewrap, towels, or rags.  I set mine on our floor vents with balloons in them, and they dried quickly.

pre-drying - looks like a verrrry small beret.
It is all still very much worth the effort.  So warming, and so beautiful...


sarah in the woods said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I saw these on another blog and was wondering how to do it. Very pretty

slim pickins said...

you're welcome! i'm having so much fun making them that i think the girls are almost on board to try again!!

merry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alissa said...

so you know I'm not going to attempt this, as wool felting is a bit beyond me. and yet, your instructions are so lovely and entertaining that I read them all. that's cause you are an awesome writer.

Stephanie said...

Warm and lovely is right!
The only thing I've done with wool is dye it and spin it into yarn for other arts with the children. I don't even knit or crochet! [Shakes head for the shame] :)

slim pickins said...

now, see i haven't done any dying or spinning - i'd love to! this is actually ridiculously easy and satisfying once you get the hang of it...having adult-sized hands is a big help, i have discovered.

Tutt said...

Thank you for a very entertaining ( and useful! ) tutorial. My girls and I had so much fun while we made "lockdown lights"