Felt – definition
Felt is a non-woven somewhat thick and dense fabric made by compressing and felting different types of fibers, using techniques that involve heat, moisture and pressure. Layers of fibers are kept together to achieve the wanted thickness and then they are matted/entangled/interlocked to make the fabric you call ‘felt’.
It may be soft and supple or tough and coarse according to its purpose and the way it is made – through artisanal techniques or industrial ones.
Common Felt Facts
1. What is felt made of?
Cotton, rayon, fur, acrylic, wool fibers are used for felting, though what you call the ‘true felt’ is made of wool fibers.
The craft felt that you get for crafts is usually a blend of fibers or acrylic. This felt is a little stiff and somewhat weak.
Felting, the process of making felt, has been practiced for centuries. In fact, it is one of the oldest methods of making fabrics, like net fabrics. Wool fibers were felted in China/Central Asia tens of thousands of years ago and made into soft and supple fabric.
Felting is the process of pressing together and matting ﬁbers so that they interlock. Felting is done with special machines or with felting needles.
2. Main types of Felt
Wool felt is made by layering carded and combed wool fibers at 90 degrees in thick layers and heat, soap and friction (agitation) are used to interlock and entangle the scales of these fibers. A mechanical action is used in industrial setups and artists felt by pricking with specialized needles.
The resultant wool felt fabric is very soft and air permeable. Wool felt is supple (can be shaped). It is the most durable, and thicker because of its make and fibers. It also doesnot pill like the other felts. It is usually treated with lanolin to make it water resistant and slightly antibacterial. But the downside is that it is expensive and also because it is thicker can be a little difficult to sew.
Acrylic felt is very inexpensive and easily available (in most craft shops) in vivid colorfast colors. It does not shrink after washing. But there are downsides too, many more than wool felt. Not as supple as wool felt and not as durable or strong. Nor as environment friendly because it is after all plastic. The final verdict is that it is not the best for making long-lasting things but when you do not have a choice they are good enough
Wool blend felt
This felt is usually a blend of rayon and wool. There are other blended felt which are speciality felt made by blending wool with synthetic fibers. Thermoformable felt is made from wool blended with synthetic fibres – this felt can be shaped under heat into permanent folds which is very useful in accessory and trim making.
This is made from animal fur hair – some of the fur felts made from hair of rabbits or beaver are very soft and much superior to wool felt. Other than the soft feel this felt is also very durable hence it is favourite of hat makers.
Then there are Bamboo felt (made of rayon fibers)
3. What are the uses of felt?
Felt is used to make garments and accessories though it is mostly used for industrial purposes. Padding, soundproofing, insulation, filtering, polishing and wicking are some of the uses of felt.
It is used for decorations and to embellish accessories like hats, sandals. A lot of people are thrilled to wear cute jewelry made with felt. Brooches are embroidered and beaded with a felt background. Some use felt as a backing for fabric projects like coasters because of its coarse texture
4. How to cut and sew with felt?
Cutting felt is fairly easy with sharp scissors. If you want to cut out letters for decorating you can do it using freezer paper.
Wool felt is easy to sew than acrylic felt. Basically, felt is as easy to sew as any other fabric. You can sew felt with a sewing machine or easily hand stitch.
The main advantage in sewing with felt is felt does not fray at the edges. This makes it easy to sew because you can just make overcast stitches or blanket stitches along the edges. This can be done to the outside for a decorative finish. And no need of any extra finishing of cut edges on the inside.
Check out this post on the easy hand stitches you can use to sew felt.
Felt has no grain ( no warp or weft) so you do not have to be careful of the grainline when cutting pattern pieces from felt
The disadvantage of making clothes with felt is that it is not as flexible or has the elasticity of a fabric made of woven or knitted yarns. It is not as pliable as say a cotton fabric, so if you want drape, choose another. The fabric is slightly stiff, so you will have to choose patterns suitable for this.
Do not use very thick needles with felt as you may leave holes in this almost delicate fabric.
Craft felt stretches at the seams but wool felt not so much.
When embroidering on felt fabric the first dilemma I faced was how to transfer the design. Because I was not planning to wash the felt article I wanted a method that will not be visible at all after the work was done. The method described here seems perfect. This is the same method I use to embroider letters.
Transfer your design on to butter paper and then keep it on top of the felt; now embroider them together. ie you will be embroidering through the butter paper on to the felt. After you are done simply peel off the butter paper carefully
Felt fabric can be manipulated and stretched after it is steamed – that is how hat makers make felt hats – they steam and stretch felt over hat molds.
5. How to wash and maintain felt?
Felt doesn’t have the strength of woven or knitted fabrics. The stretch recovery of felt is also poor ie once you stretch it out of shape it stays like that forever.
Shrinkage is another big problem. In short you have to be very careful when you wash felt ; the best thing is to get it drycleaned. If that is not ok, hand wash in cold wash. No hot wash or tumble wash in the washing machine or heat drying in the dryer. Heat is the weakness of felt – it is super vulnerable when heat or hot steam is applied.
Do not use the dryer – the heat in the dryer will damage felt. Air/line dry flat and iron in low heat settings. Learn how to clean hats made of felt here.