I'm a pathalogical do-it-your-selfer. I don't just like to create...I have to create! I'm just not happy unless I'm tripping over a dozen half-finished projects to get to my latest creative obsession. When I fall in love with something new, I just want to learn how to make it myself!
This fall, I traveled to Utah to pick up my son from college at BYU for Thanksgiving break. When I realized my trip would coincide with Bijou Market, an amazing vintage & handmade event held in Provo, I applied to participate in the show and was accepted. Yay!
Bijou was so incredibly amazing! Just being there was electric. I was surrounded by artists who were just like me.....driven to create. I didn't want the weekend to end!
Because I had to travel so far, my budget for the weekend was pretty limited. I came home with only a few special treasures that I just couldn't resist. One of those treasures was a small bag of felted wool beads from Aubry of hellomaypole.com
Several weeks ago, I pulled out the bag of felted beads for a project I was creating to submit to Jewelry Affaire magazine and it renewed my interest in trying to figure out how to make them. I've been on a felted wool quest ever since!
There are lots of tutorials available that show how to felt the beads entirely by hand, but it's pretty labor-intensive work....especially since I wanted to felt 40 or 50 beads to make a garland. So I began to experiment with felting the beads in my washing machine. After some trial and error, here's what seemed to work for me:
Start with wool roving. I purchased most of the roving I've been experimenting with from my local wool shop, Willows & Wools, but I also ordered some from Knit Picks (an online source for very nice, yet affordable, yarns and roving) which might be a good source if you don't have a yarn or wool shop close to you.
The key to creating uniform-sized beads is using the same amount of roving for each one. I cut my roving into 12" long sections and then divided each section into 4 equal parts. Working with one section at a time, I pulled the fibers apart and then wound them into a ball.
I knew that if I just threw the balls into the washing machine at this stage that it was likely they would just come apart as the water agitated. But I knew that if I could get the balls to hold their shape through the initial felting stage, that the fibers would naturally begin to draw together.
I used a felting needle to give my roving balls some shape and stablility. Be careful! The barbed needles are really sharp! Your felted beads won't be very attractive if you bleed all over them!
The final step I took to prepare the beads for felting in the washing machine was to start the felting process by hand-rolling each one in hot, soapy water for about 30-45 seconds. To felt a bead entirely by hand, it can take up to about 10 min. of rolling and dunking the roving ball in hot water....a whole lot of elbow grease for a garland of 50 beads! You can see from the picture above that even a small amount of handfelting really seems to give the beads some shape.
Start by running hot tap water into your sink and adding some dish soap. The water doesn't have to be uncomfortably hot in order to facilitate the felting. The soap and agitation of the water and your hands against the fibers are more important that having scalding hot water. Soak the roving balls in the hot water while working with one ball at a time. Gently roll each ball between your palms, applying VERY little pressure at first. As the fibers begin to felt and the ball becomes more firm, you can increase the pressure. Continue to roll the ball, dunking it in the hot water a few times, for about 30-45 sec. or until the fibers begin to draw together and the ball begins to feel fairly solid.
After a little handfelting, you can put the beads in your washing machine. Set your washer to the lowest water level and for the hottest water setting and add a small amount of detergent. If you have a "heavy duty" cycle, use it. Most traditional washers will agitate but not drain with the lid open, allowing you to re-set the agitation cycle again and again without losing your water. Continue agitating the felt beads until the fibers have drawn together to form a tight bead. While the felting time may vary depending on your washing machine, my beads took about 45 min. of agitating. To check the felting process, fish a bead out of the washing machine and roll it between your palms, squeezing out the water to see if the fibers have felted enough. Once I was satisfied with the felting of my beads, I closed my washer lid and let the wash cycle finish in order to rinse the beads and remove most of the water. I then threw my beads in a warm dryer for about 15 min.
As I've been making these beads, I've found all sorts of fun uses for them.....cherries on top of my cupcake pincushions, funky colorful necklaces and bracelets, and (pictured here) a festive green garland for St. Patrick's Day.
To make the garland, I used a sharp large-eyed needle to thread the beads onto green & white bakers twine.