Fiber art techniques are knitting, rug hooking, felting, braiding or plaiting, macrame, lace making, flocking and more. Traditions Hand Craft Gallery carries a number of fiber artists working in felting.
Felt is a non-woven textile that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool or synthetic fibers such as acrylic. There are many different types of felts for industrial, technical, designer and craft applications. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials. Felt can vary in terms of fiber content, color, size, thickness, density and more factors depending on the use of the felt. Two of the most common methods used to create felted pieces are wet felting and needle felting
In wet felting, warm soapy water is applied to layers of animal hairs placed at 90 degree angles to one another. Repeated agitation and compression causes the fibers to hook together into a single piece of fabric. After the wet felting process is complete, the felted material may be finished by fulling.
Only certain types of fiber can be felted successfully. Most types of animal fleece, such as those taken from the alpaca or the Merino sheep, can be put through the wet felting process. These types of fiber are covered in tiny scales, similar to the scales found on a strand of human hair. Wetting and soaping the fleece causes the scales to open, while agitating them causes them to latch onto each other, creating felt. Plant fibers and synthetic fibers will not felt.
Needle felting creates felt without the use of water. Special needles that are used in industrial felting machines are used by the artist as a sculpting tool. While erroneously referred to as “barbed” needles, they in fact have notches along the shaft of the needle that grab the top layer of fibers and tangle them with the inner layers of fibers as the needle enters the wool. Since these notches face down towards the tip of the needle, they do not pull the fibers out as the needle exits the wool. Once tangled and compressed using the needle, the felt can be strong and used for creating jewelry or sculpture. Finer details can be achieved with this method using a hand-held tool with either a single needle or a small group of needles (2-5), so it is popular technique for producing 2D and 3D felted work.