Felting is lots of good, clean fiber fun

Art form involves wool, soap, water, elbow grease and creativity
By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal features editor
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If you’ve got wool and water, you’re well on your way to creating some wonderful works of art. There’s nothing particularly new about felting, the process of turning raw fibers into fabric through a process of agitation, but this particular form of fiber art has been gaining in popularity in recent years. “Felting is an endlessly creative process,” said Emma Farrell of The Tin Thimble in Loomis. “You can create rugs, clothing, sculptures, wall art, purses, shoes, hats. Learning how to felt is fun and simple and all you really need is some wool, some water, some soap and your hands.” Farrell said most of The Tin Thimble’s introductory felting classes take four hours and yield a complete project. Wool, alpaca and yak are the three primary felting fibers, Farrell said, but it’s also fun to incorporate silk, cotton, nylon, angora, cashmere, mohair and other fibers into felting projects. Wet felting is one of three techniques — the other two are nuno felting and needle felting — and it’s the oldest documented fabric-making process out there, said Farrell. Merridee Joan Smith, an artist in residence at Auburn’s Old Library Art Studio, started felting six years ago and has really focused on it the past couple years. “It’s a very simple process,” Smith said of wet felting. “Wool has scales on it and when you get it warm and wet and soapy they open up and start to hook and interlace.” In other words, you start out with something light and fluffy, and the more you rub and agitate it, the more it shrinks, the denser it becomes. Remember that sweater you mistakenly tossed into the washing machine with jeans? Consider the doll-sized result an example of accidental wet felting. With needle felting, you’re using a barbed needle to force fibers together. Nuno felting involves bonding wool fibers onto another fabric to create a lightweight fabric. “We use this technique in the shop to create scarves and garments,” Ferrell said.   Smith will be teaching a felting lesson for families Sunday at the Placer Nature Center, and visitors will get a chance to try felting. “It’s something that’s simple enough for a child to do but at the other end, it’s becoming quite the art form,” Smith said. Smith said wet-felting beginners should get their hands on some merino wool because it’s soft and felts quickly. Water is necessary, as well as soap — Smith likes bar soap. Felting does take up space, and it can make a bit of a mess, since you’re working with water and soap, so plan your workspace accordingly, Smith said. There are many reasons why Smith enjoys wet felting, including its history. “One of the things is this connecting with millennia of people,” she said. “You’re continuing this thing — it’s history moving on.” Smith also likes the hands-on approach. “It’s so tactile,” she said. “I imagine people who do clay feel similarly.” __________ What: Meet the Bighorn Sheep and Felt for Your Valentine When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday Where: Placer Nature Center, 3700 Christian Valley Road Cost: $3 general admission; free for members Info: (530) 878-6053