First of all, the wool. I used some of a Grafton Fibers Corriedale batt I hadn't gotten around to for my first hat, the bluey green one, because the exquisite evenness of prep helps in the evenness of the final felt. I took my cue from Linda herself because she had some gorgeous felted vessels with her on the show circuit last spring. For today's hat, I tried some rather junky Romney I bought before I knew anything about buying a fleece. It suffered from weather burned tips, second cuts, and a short staple. A misery if I wanted to spin it, but what kind of felt would it make? The purple (it is purple) is from another bunch of Romney fleece that I crockpot dyed last winter, but didn't care for in the spinning either. I used about 3 ounces of wool for today's hat. Also note that you can stop at any part of this and put the thing away while you go back to your life: just don't let it dry out while you shelve it.
The hat shape I cut out of heavy gauge plastic, from a recycled mattress wrapping. See my note in the previous post about the kind of plastic you need. I calculated the dimensions from my head measurements, adding an inch and half all around the outside of a bell shape I sketched thinking it looked like what a hat should look like. (note my italics:my idea of a hat. You are free to play your own way here) It's about 40 cm tall and 42 cm across (not counting the flare for the brim). I was careful in this version to not make the top of the hat too curved because the last one was a bit pointy. It looks enormous at this point, but shrinkage is what makes the felt strong, so leave room for lots.
I put the form on a couple of sheets of Saran wrap. The book I read about this suggested an old netted curtain, but I haven't managed to collect any of those yet. Saran works just fine. It does take a little teasing apart from the wool before the felt really gets going, but if you peel back carefully, it works just fine.
I gently pulled small tufts of fiber out of the batt and evened it out, checking for neps and vm, and laid it out side by side shingle style on the form. I laid the fibers over the edges because that's important later. The arrow on the picture shows the direction of the fibers.
Once that was done, I laid out a second layer of fiber crosswise to the first layer, careful to keep the distribution of the wool as even as possible, because in my last hat, I had quite a few thin spots. Okay, forget what I said about eveness of prep. It's thickness of fiber, but evenly prepped fiber makes this part a little easier.
Then I saturated the wool with water that had a little dish soap in it. I didn't soak it so much as give it enough moisture so that it hung together well, but with enough loft left in it so it would stick to the next layer, when I got to it. If you drench it at this point, the layers to come don't adhere well to each other later, and slippage bewteen layers means wrinkles.
Then I flipped the whole thing over, and smoothed the frills of the wool over the edges, using maybe a squirt or two of soapy water to help it stay that way. I then repeated the whole process on the other side and flipped it again.
This time, for my third layer, I put on a different colour. Two layers of this would have been better, but I didn't have enough for that on both sides. Then the whole thing got another healthy dose of water, and I wrapped it in Saran, paying careful attention to the edges and the smoothness of the wool wrapped around there. Then I popped the whole thing in the microwave for 45 seconds. A special note about wool in the microwave: remember that Claudia dries her socks in one. Alpaca Kathy nearly set her kitchen on fire roasting a dye pot in hers. Make sure that the felt is wet when it goes in there. You don't want to be a modern day Old Lady Leary.
Remember that felt happens under a combination of conditions: heat, moisture, ph, and agitation. This is where the vibrator comes in. I have this body massager I bought at Brookstone about 15 years ago and it has a nice smooth head and it could shake a bear out of a tree. It is not a subtle instrument. So it's perfect for the polishing phase of felt making. I used a plastic grocery bag between the machine and the saran to avoid snagging, and rubbed the hat form all over in slow circles for about twenty minutes, popping it back in the microwave whenever it cooled off. I went to a felting party last winter, and without the vibrator, we were at this part of the process for a couple of hours. I highly recommend a bear shaking vibrator for felting. And you can quote me on that.
Once I thought the wool was sticking to itself enough to get a little more active, I rolled it up in a stick blind and gave it a good kneading. Small cell bubble wrap or pool insulating wrap also works well for this. You can roll the whole thing around a rolling pin or a tube of pipe insulation, or you can do it without: it's worked for me both ways. This is the workout part. I did this for another twenty minutes, again, microwaving, changing the direction of the hat, kneading away. You can see that I didn't do a very good job of rinsing my crockpot dye out from the stains on the blind. There were pink suds oozing out all over. But my mother will be proud to know that my kitchen counters are really clean now.
I gave it the pinch test to see if it was ready for the real abuse part. It's ready when the pinched wool seems to take the surrounding fabric with it, instead of floating free of the layer below. Then I cut the form out.
If the felt is hanging together well enough, you shouldn't be afraid of this part. When you take out the form, work the folded edge out. If you wrapped well, the edge should just disappear when you rub it a little. If the wrapped wool slipped a bit and made a crease like it did with mine, you just turn the whole thing inside out and use the good side without the crease as your outside. I soaked it again, heated it up, and started flinging it into the sink.
You almost had to be there to believe this. It is a cathartic kind of thing. I just wadded the thing up and threw it into the sink as hard as I could. Again and again. It toughens up almost instantly. I added more soap, soaked and heated it up, and whacked it like a bad donkey. Really. There were pink soap suds everywhere. It was great. I felt like a Herb Alpert album cover. You can use a washboard at this point, but I really like the flinging. I just think of kids from my years in high school and let 'er rip.
In spite of all that, in spite of wadding the hat up like little Ms Valentino's face, the thing survived beautifully, and indeed did emerge recognizable as a hat. I tried it on, tugged it into shape a bit more, and blocked it on a Gertie ball.
When it was dry, I trimmed the edges using a melamine plate as a guide, but anything lightweight and circular will serve. No paper plates around here at the moment, but I bet you have some. More trying on, a little more trimming, and voila.
Merchant Ivory fantasies fulfilled. Decorate as you please. Make more.