Learn everything you ever wanted to know about wet felting. I go over the best wet felting supplies and techniques. Also learn how to wet felt wool with an easy to follow step by step tutorial.
I have gotten pretty heavy into fiber arts and especially felting wool as a craft project. My first time felting was when I was a teenager and I got a needle felting kit. I don’t do as much of it now, especially since I discovered wet felting. Once you learn the basics of wet felting, you’ll be able to create all sorts of felt projects as wool can essentially be “sculpted” into whatever you want. Crafting with wool is extremely versatile and using different wet felting techniques you can get different effects.
Table of Contents
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How I Discovered Wet Felting
My discovery of wet felting began when I went to a Diagon Alley craft fair. Naturally as a Harry Potter fan I was pretty excited to go to Diagon Alley, thinking I would be able to get all sorts of themed crafts and goodies. There was decent theming at the entrance and of course people dressed up in Hogwarts robes. I saw that one person in particular had a beautiful dark green witch hat. Just by looking at it, I knew the hat was made of wool and got very excited thinking she had purchased it at the event.
I searched all around but after visiting every booth, I didn’t find a single store selling witch hats! (Nor robes for that matter). Aside from some ridiculously good butter beer fudge, I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of directly themed Harry Potter crafts being sold. I did, however, come away with a super cute leather bow.
Therefore that night I went home and scoured Etsy for felted wool witch hats and was shocked again to see there were very few options. And the ones that did exist were over $200. It’s moments like this I have the snarky crafter’s thought of “I’ll just make it myself.” So I did.
After some searching, I found a witch hat tutorial made by Kate of Felt Wicked, purchased a hat shaper, wool, felting soap, and some mesh. And then panicked for several months, made a bunch of other wet felted projects and felt hats using Living Felt tutorials, but THEN enter the first wet felted witch hat I made:
What is Felting?
Felting is the process which causes wool fibers to interlock, unable to separate, creating a compact version. If you’ve ever played with a piece of hair and rolled it into a ball, what you’re doing is felting it! You’re removing the air between it and forcing it to interlock with itself, condensing it into a little ball.
If you look at hair under a microscope, you’ll see there are little barbs all along it. When these barbs are forced together, they get stuck and cause felt. This doesn’t happen immediately when a fiber simply touches another fiber, but things such as heat, moisture, and friction help the felting process go faster.
This is precisely why your wool sweater shrank in the wash – it was felted! Surprise, you’ve likely already felted wool without even realizing.
Wet Felting vs Nuno Felting vs Needle Felting
There are a few different kinds of felting, but there are differences in the processes and techniques. The most common of these are wet felting, nuno felting, and needle felting.
Wet Felting: Wet felting is when you use water and typically soap to help felt the fibers together. In this process the fibers migrate together in all directions, blending them. When wet felting, you’re typically creating a piece of handmade felt fabric. This can either be a standalone piece of felt used for a later project (like this masquerade mask) or you can sculpt the fabric into different shapes, such as hats, slippers, scarves, or this Venetian mask.
Nuno Felting: Nuno felting specifically refers to felting fabric to fibers. Typically this is done via wet felting. For my felted coin purse, for example, I actually nuno felted it in addition to wet felting. This is because I used sari silk scraps and nuno felted them into the wool.
Needle Felting: Needle felting uses felting needles to push the fibers together. This uses friction to compress the fibers and felt them. It is a dry felting process. Because needle felting is typically done by puncturing from the outside of the project, the felting happens in one direction. Therefore the fibers on top migrate to the fibers underneath. However, the fibers underneath do not migrate to the top (though the spiral felting needle will give this effect). If you’re interested in needle felting, I highly recommend my tutorial to make a felted Peep and catnip toy.
You can make all sorts of crafts and DIYs by using different felting methods. Often times you will combine different felting techniques together to get varied effects. For example, you may wet felt a piece so the colors blend together, but then you may want to needle felt a detailed design on top.
Felting and Fulling - Stages of the Felting Process
Often times the word “felting” is used when we actually mean fulling (insert me and this whole post an example). In fact, there are actually separate stages to the process of felting wool.
Felting: The is the first stage that refers simply to the fibers interlocking. It’s enough to make it difficult to pull the fibers apart. Sometimes referred to as a “prefelt,” and can be determined by the pinch test. No actual shrinkage of the fabric has occurred. In this stage you can also add more fibers or add the felt to something else.
Fulling: This is the next stage when the shrinkage happens. You move from the prefelt stage and really start to agitate the wool and cause it shrink down. Fulling is what creates durability to your handmade felt and the final felted project. Once in the fulling stage it is difficult to add additional fibers to the projects as it is too far felted (fulled) for additions to stay and felt in.
Understanding Wool Shrinkage
An important question to ask is how much will my wool shrink when wet felting? In general, you can expect the wool to shrink between 20-50% from each side. The precise amount, however, varies based on the wool, fiber, and number of layers used.
There is a maximum amount any fiber can shrink after it has been completely felted and fulled. This makes for the most durable felt because you have already agitated it as much as possible. Therefore no amount of wear will affect it. However you might not always want something felted as far as possible since it might be more stiff than you’d like. Therefore you need to balance what you want your piece to feel like with its durability.
How to Calculate How Much Your Wool Will Shrink When Wet Felting
If you want your end result to be a certain size, it’s best to first felt a sample. Follow the instructions on how to make a piece of felt fabric with the wool, embellishments, and number of layers you intend to use.
Lay out a 10in by 10in square of wool and follow the steps to felt it as far as it can go. Then measure the sides of the new square. Subtract the new length from 10 and multiply by 10 to get your shrinkage percentage.
For example, if the sides are now 7 inches, subtract 7 from 10 to get 3. Multiply 3 by 10 to get 30. This means the wool shrinkage percentage is 30%.
How to Calculate How Big Your Piece Should Be Prior to Felting
Now that you have how much your wool will shrink, you need to know how big to make your fiber layout or resist so that when it felts, it’s the correct size you want. The calculation for this is: Target Size / (1- Shrinkage Rate)
For example, if you want your final object to be 12 inches long and your shrinkage rate is 30%, (1-30%)=70% or 0.7. Then 12/0.7=17. Therefore I need to lay out my fiber to 17 inches long so that when fully felted, it ends up 12 inches long.
Using the Calculator Instead
If math isn’t your thing, I created this calculator that does the felting shrinkage calculation for you. Simply use the shrinkage rate and target size and the wet felting shrinkage calculator will calculate how big you need to make the original piece or resist in order for it to be the size you want when felted.
By default, it uses a 30% shrinkage percentage as it’s a reasonable shrinkage rate for most wool. However, to be precise I definitely recommend making a felt sample to learn your wool’s actual shrinkage rate.
Wet Felting Shrinkage Calculator
Calculate how big your wool layout or resist should be based on the size you would like it to be after felting. Input one size at a time (e.g. length/width)
Printable Wool Shrinkage Cheat Sheet
Print this wool shrinkage cheat sheet with common measurements and shrinkage rates from 20-50%. This way you can keep it with your wet felting supplies and always have it as a reference.
Download the Felting Shrinkage Rate Cheat Sheet
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How to Wet Felt - The Basics of Wet Felting
These are the wet felting supplies and instructions to make a piece of handmade felt fabric in various colors with some embellishments. This is sometimes referred to as “artful felt” since you’re making the piece of felt for the art of it. You can then use these artful felt pieces in other projects. For example, I used the one I make below to make a masquerade mask.
Once you master the basics you can then apply them to any felting project. To keep it even more simple you can leave out the embellishment fibers and multiple colors and just felt wool of a single color.
Wet Felting Supplies and Materials
- Wool Fiber: Wool often comes as a roving, sliver, or top. You can get it pre-dyed or you can dye the wool yourself. There are various types of wool, but the most common are merino and corriedale. You can also felt animal fibers that aren’t sheep, including alpaca, camel, rabbit, and even dog and cat hair. The only real rule is you do not want to get superwash wool – this is wool that has been treated so that it doesn’t shrink.
- Embellishment Fibers: There all sorts of fun luxury fibers and embellishments you can add while wet felting. It can be anything from yarn, silks, angelina fiber, viscose, and wool nepps. All of these serve the purpose of adding a different design or element. This could be in the form of texture, shine, or simply color.
- Bubble Wrap: Bubble wrap is used as a work surface and to help in the felting process as the bubbles work as soft agitators. I personally recycle the plastic Amazon packaging and use duct tape to tape them together if I need a bigger piece.
- Tulle or Mesh Fabric: Mesh fabric is used to cover the fiber, hold it in place, and protect it while wet felting
- Olive Oil Soap: Soap is incredibly important in wet felting as it helps expand the fibers. In theory, any soap will help. However, olive oil soap in particular is a great felting soap because it doesn’t create large bubbles. When wet felting, you want to get rid of air so the fibers can intertwine. Having lots of bubbles counteracts this so having a soap that doesn’t produce many bubbles is advantageous.
- Ball Brause or Sponge: A ball brause is simply a syringe that sprays water instead of a single stream. This allows you to soak the fibers more easily, but a sponge works just as well.
- Hot Water: Hot water is important as it helps the fibers expand, allowing them to interlock more easily.
- Pool Noodle: You’ll wrap your felted project around this and use it as a soft agitator.
- Towel: It’s called wet felting for a reason and you’ll definitely want at least one towel around. It’s also helpful to wrap your project in it throughout the process to get a better grip.
- Vinegar: Fun fact, wool is naturally slightly acidic. However, when soap is added it brings down the acidity. Therefore by adding vinegar back to the wool after you’ve made your project you can bring the wool back to it’s more natural pH. This makes your finished felted project more durable and can even make the wool more vibrant and shiny.
Wet Felting Wool Fabric Step by Step
Laying out the Fiber
Start by separating your wool roving in half. This way you can work with less fiber at a time and have more control over it.
Hold the roving in one hand and with the other, lightly grab some of the wisps on the end of the fiber. Pull away so that you pull out some of the fiber.
Tip: If it’s difficult to pull, bring the hand holding the fiber further away from the end and try again. The fiber length (staple length) is probably longer than the distance between your hands. Therefore by widening that distance you’ll be able to more easily pull off fibers.
Lay the fibers in even rows on top of a sheet of bubble wrap. They should all be facing the same direction. When starting a new row, overlap the fibers slightly to ensure an even coverage.
Tip: It’s better to use small sections of fiber at a time. You can always add more, but having large clumps can make it difficult for the wool to felt properly. This means you’ll have to do unnecessary extra work in the fulling stage to get the wool to shrink evenly.
Once you have your fiber laid out in one direction, add another layer of fiber on top, facing the opposite direction.
In this case I was using multiple green tones so when laying the next layer, I matched the colors to roughly the same area. If you’re using a single color of wool, simply cover the whole layer with that color.
As long as you have one layer of fiber and each direction you can begin the felting process. However, I tend to work in layers of 4 to ensure solid coverage. It ultimately depends how thick you want your handmade felt to be. Keep in mind, the more layers you add, the less the wool will shrink.
Tip: Make sure the layers are consistent in thickness so that your finished piece is even. Place your hands on top of the wool and lightly press across it to feel for uneven areas. Add more wool where necessary.
Once you have your layers of wool, add the embellishments on top.
Starting the Wet Felting Process
To start the felting process you need soapy water. Mix together hot water and the olive oil felting soap. I like to do this by pouring water into a bucket and tossing in the bar of soap and swishing it around with the ball brause. Once the water is soapy, I take out the soap and set it on a scrap piece of bubble wrap.
Tip: The water should be as hot as you can comfortably handle.
Cover the fibers with the mesh fabric and spray it with the soapy water. If you don’t have a ball brause you can use a sponge and either squeeze out the water or gently press it into the fibers.
Get your hands soapy and gently press the water into the fibers. Your goal is to get the soap and water in and the air out.
Once the fibers are thoroughly wet, rub the palms of your hands very gently across the top of the fibers. Your goal is to create a “skin” on the top of the fibers. What you don’t want to do is rub too aggressively that you start to felt the mesh to the wool. Remember, the mesh is a barrier between your hands and the wool to keep your project and design in place.
After a minute or so, carefully peel away the mesh to ensure it’s not sticking. If you see anything sticking, remove them from the mesh. This means you’re applying to much pressure so ease up and continue gently rubbing.
Tip: During this stage it’s also a good time to check for any spots that feel as though they don’t have as much wool and add some.
Once all of the wool and embellishments are staying in place and not sticking to the mesh you can begin the rolling process.
Take the pool noodle and place it on one side of the project. Lift the bubble wrap up from underneath and wrap it around the pool noodle.
Wrap the towel around the pool noodle.
Tip: Tuck the end of the towel back under the noodle at the beginning and then roll the rest of the towel around it. This essentially locks the towel in so that it doesn’t slide around.
Using the palms of your hands, roll the “log.”
I like to work in sets of 25 and groups of 100. This means, start rolling it 25 times, just the length of my hands. Then give the log a quarter turn and roll another 25 times. Do this two more times so that it’s been rolled 100 times in total and evenly all around.
Then unroll it and check the mesh for sticking. Again, if there’s sticking that means you’re felting too aggressively for this stage.
Next place the pool noodle perpendicular to the side you were just working on and roll from this side.
Continue this process of rolling 100 times from each side, checking the mesh in between. Then flip the wool felt over and repeat the rolling from each side again.
The Pinch Test
At this point you’ve likely created a solid prefelt. You can check by conducting the pinch test.
This is when you pinch the wool felt and feel whether it’s still just fibers or the fibers are coming up as a single piece of felt. If when you try to pinch it you pull up fibers, it’s not quite ready for the fulling stage so keep with the light felting stage until your felt passes the pinch test.
Fulling the Wool Felt
Now that you’ve past the pinch test, you’re ready to move past the felting stage and into the fulling stage. This is where you can be more aggressive as your goal is to get the fibers to shrink down. However, you still want to move into gradually more aggressive forms of fulling.
To start, you can remove the exterior bubble wrap and just use the pool noodle. Just as before when rolling the log, roll in groups of 25 and from all sides and flipping it over.
Tip: Keep the mesh in between the felt initially just in case it wants to felt to itself. Once it starts to shrink down, you can remove it.
You can then use any of the agitators and felting tools or simply continue using your hands.
Rinse the Wool Felt
After the wool has shrunk to the size you would like, rinse it out. I like to rinse it under hot and cold water, shocking the fibers to get any last bit of shrinkage in. Rinse it out until the water runs clear and it doesn’t feel as though there is any more soap in it.
After the soap is washed out, a good last step is to let it soak in some water that has been mixed with a bit of vinegar. I just add a splash to make the water slightly acidic.
The last step is to then squeeze out your newly felted wool fabric, leaving the vinegar in it. Don’t worry, the smell of vinegar will quickly disappear. Then simply leave the handmade felt to dry.
You can then use your finished artful felt in another project such as a masquerade mask, which is what I used this one for.
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Wet Felting Techniques and Tools - Fulling Felt
Once the wool felt starts to shrink, you can use a wooden dowel and other agitators and wet felting techniques.
A simple wooden dowel is a great agitator and felting tool. Instead of using a pool noodle, roll the wool fabric around the dowel. Because it’s firm, it helps compress the wool as you roll.
Palming is when you take the wet felt between your hands and rubbing either side. Make sure your hands are very soapy for this so that the fabric slides easily between your hands. The goal of palming felt is to compress the fibers making the fabric thinner, but more durable.
If it feel as though the layers of fiber are sliding across each other, you definitely want to do some palming to ensure they felt together.
Muscle Roller / Massage Stick
Pinch and Roll
The pinch and roll felting technique is one of my favorite, but it’s pretty aggressive. If I want something felted quickly, I’ll typically jump to this.
You first want to roll the wool fabric from one side, pinching it in as you roll.
Then as you unroll it, shake it from side to side so it agitates it. Make sure to do this again from all sides and flipping it over.
If you have a large piece, you can fold it in half or as many times as necessary to make it more manageable to work with. Just make sure to keep an eye on how evenly it’s being felted.
Spot fulling is used when you want just a specific part of the wool to shrink. For example, corners on a piece of fabric are notorious for needing spot fulling.
Remember, wool shrinks in the direction you’re working it. So for corners that are sticking out, use the pinch and roll method to roll it at a diagonal.
Then unroll it at a diagonal, agitating it as you unroll.
Even with just one or two times of this, you’ll see the corner shrink and come in.
Wadding is the perfect felting technique for when you need to take out your frustration. The concept is simple – wad the felt into a ball in your hands and then throw it at the table.
Something to keep in mind with this wadding method, however, is the shrinkage will likely be uneven. So if you need something evenly felted, I do not recommend wadding or at least not as the sole method of fulling.
Shocking the Wool
Another method of fulling the fiber is by shocking the wool. This is not done by hiding under the table and jumping out in front of it, unfortunately. All you need to do to shock the wool is to run it under hot and cold water, alternating the temperatures. This is said to sometimes help full the fibers. I typically do this while rinsing just make sure any last bit of fibers have felted.
Felting 3D Objects with a Resist - Resist Felting
A resist is a piece of material that is used to prevent layers of wool from being felted together. It also doubles as a template and is used to make 3D objects and design elements such as pockets.
Ideally a felting resist should be made of non-porous material so that it is not destroyed when wet. This way you can use it multiple times. However you can use material such as cardboard if you don’t mind not being able to use it again. It should also be flexible so that it can be easily removed. I personally like to use the plastic Amazon packaging for my wet felting resists.
I use a resist when making projects such as felted purses and hats. Using the felted coin purse as an example, you can see the wool is placed on and around the resist. Then once the wool is felted enough to not felt to itself, you remove the resist and continue the felting process.
Wet Felting a Knitted Item
Instead of using wool fiber, you can also wet felt a knit or crocheted item. Remember, just like your knit sweater in the wash, anything made of wool can be felted. In fact, when you washed your wool sweater and it shrank, you felted a knitted item.
I personally prefer to use wool fiber to make wet felted items, but another option is to make a knit piece and then wet felt it. This is especially useful if you want to remove any space between stitches. I have most often seen this technique used in purses, mittens, and hats. The knit design will also typically show through to give the finished piece a unique texture.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wet Felting
Why hasn’t my wool shrunk as far as expected?
You likely haven’t felted and fulled the wool enough. Depending on the project side and how much pressure you’re applying during the fulling stage, it can take 30min to hours to fully felt wool. Keep rolling and working it, it can probably be felted down further than you think. If you created a sample and calculated the shrinkage, the wool can shrink down that amount again. Download the wool shrinkage percentage cheat sheet for reference.
Why won’t my wool shrink or felt at all?
If your wool hasn’t shrunk or felted at all while wet felting, this means it is likely superwash wool or not wool at all. Superwash wool is wool that has been treated specifically so that it doesn’t shrink. This is great for when you don’t want your favorite sweater to become tiny in the wash, but not great when trying to make a felting project. It’s also possible that what you thought was wool isn’t wool at all, but another fiber that resembles wool.
Why does my felting project have holes?
Holes are created when there isn’t enough wool in a certain spot. When laying out the fiber, make sure you have even coverage. During the felting stage you can always add more in case you see a possible hole forming. You can also hold it up to the light to check for any weak spots.
Can I stop and continue felting on another day?
Yes! Thankfully you don’t need to start and finish a wet felting project all in the same day. This is especially helpful for the larger projects that can take hours to complete, such as the large felt witch hats. Some leave the wool wet since wool is naturally anti-microbial, but I have had trouble with dyes bleeding and messing up the embellishments. Therefore I personally like to squeeze all of the water out before stopping for the day. Then when I start again I simply make new hot soapy water and rehydrate the wool.
Can I felt in the washing machine instead of by hand?
Yes! You can absolutely use the washing machine to felt and full the wool. A washing machine provides the agitation, hot water, and soap needed to help the felting process.
Simply place your item in along with some towels or other items. These additional items will help protect your project from getting too roughed up. Then add soap as usual and run it on an agitation cycle with hot water.
Keep in mind, felting with a washing machine means you have less control over the way your project shrinks. But it’s a great option if you don’t mind the finished shape not being perfect. You can also open the machine and check on it throughout the process.
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Wet Felting Wool Fabric - How to Wet Felt
- Wool Make sure whatever wool you use is NOT labelled as “SuperWash” – this is treated so that it doesn’t felt
- Embellishment Fibers Optional
- Bubble Wrap
- Mesh Fabric
- Olive Oil Soap
- Ball Brause or Sponge
- Pool Noodle
Lay out the Fiber
- Start by separating your wool roving in half. This way you can work with less fiber at a time and have more control over it.
- Hold the roving in one hand and with the other, lightly grab some of the wisps on the end of the fiber. Pull away so that you pull out some of the fiber.
- Lay the fibers in even rows on top of a sheet of bubble wrap. They should all be facing the same direction. When starting a new row, overlap the fibers slightly to ensure an even coverage.
- Once you have your fiber laid out in one direction, add another layer of fiber on top, facing the opposite direction.
- Add additional layers of wool, alternating the directions of the wool. I tend to work in layers of 4 to ensure solid coverage. Keep in mind, the more layers you add, the less the wool will shrink.
Start the Wet Felting Process
- To start the felting process you need soapy water. Mix together hot water and the olive oil felting soap. I like to do this by pouring water into a bucket and tossing in the bar of soap and swishing it around.
- Cover the fibers with the mesh fabric and spray it with the soapy water. If you don’t have a ball brause you can use a sponge and either squeeze out the water or gently press it into the fibers.
- Get your hands soapy and gently press the water into the fibers. Your goal is to get the soap and water in and the air out.
- Once the fibers are thoroughly wet, rub the palms of your hands very gently across the top of the fibers. Your goal is to create a “skin” on the top of the fibers. What you don’t want to do is rub too aggressively that you start to felt the mesh to the wool.
- After a minute or so, carefully peel away the mesh to ensure it’s not sticking. If you see anything sticking, remove them from the mesh. This means you’re applying to much pressure so ease up and continue gently rubbing.
Roll the Project
- Take the pool noodle and place it on one side of the project. Lift the bubble wrap up from underneath and wrap it around the pool noodle.
- Wrap the towel around the pool noodle.
- Using the palms of your hands, roll the “log.”Work in sets of 25 and groups of 100. This means, start rolling it 25 times, just the length of my hands. Then give the log a quarter turn and roll another 25 times. Do this two more times so that it’s been rolled 100 times in total and evenly all around.
- Then unroll it and check the mesh for sticking. Again, if there’s sticking that means you’re felting too aggressively for this stage.Next place the pool noodle perpendicular to the side you were just working on and roll from this side.Continue this process of rolling 100 times from each side, checking the mesh in between. Then flip the wool felt over and repeat the rolling from each side again.
- At this point you’ve likely created a solid prefelt. You can check by conducting the pinch test.This is when you pinch the wool felt and feel whether it’s still just fibers or the fibers are coming up as a single piece of felt. If when you try to pinch it you pull up fibers, it’s not quite ready for the fulling stage so keep with the light felting stage until your felt passes the pinch test.
Fulling the Felt
- Now that you’ve past the pinch test, you’re ready to move past the felting stage and into the fulling stage. This is where you can be more aggressive as your goal is to get the fibers to shrink down. However, you still want to move into gradually more aggressive forms of fulling.To start, you can remove the exterior bubble wrap and just use the pool noodle. Just as before when rolling the log, roll in groups of 25 and from all sides and flipping it over.
- Use any of the agitators and felting tools or simply continue using your hands.
- After the wool has shrunk to the size you would like, rinse it out. I like to rinse it under hot and cold water, shocking the fibers to get any last bit of shrinkage in. Rinse it out until the water runs clear and it doesn’t feel as though there is any more soap in it.
- After the soap is washed out, a good last step is to let it soak in some water that has been mixed with a bit of vinegar. I just add a splash to make the water slightly acidic.
- The last step is to then squeeze out your newly felted wool fabric, leaving the vinegar in it. Don’t worry, the smell of vinegar will quickly disappear. Then simply leave the handmade felt to dry.