My early experiments with nuno felt included lace, which wasn’t very successful. Now I know why.
On Wednesday I started a piece of nuno using net as the fabric base. My tutor explained that, although the net has a very open weave, there are no fabric fibres for the wool to cling to, unlike with cotton or silk. So you have to apply the merino on both sides to allow the wool fibres to matt together through the net – this is what holds them on. When I tried to felt the lace, I laid the wool out on only one side – no wonder it didn’t work very well.
So I laid out the wool on both sides of a piece of burgundy net and rubbed and rolled it until it held together (pictures below).
In a couple of weeks, after half term, I’m going to tie it up, wrap it around a pole and steam it, to produce a pleated effect. My tutor calls this ‘cooked shibori’, applying it to felt rather than dye. Should be an interesting result.
Last night in class we used carders to combine different colours of merino into rolags (rolls of multicoloured wool). Carding adds greater subtlety as well as giving access to a wider range of colours.
Then we used the rolags to make nuno felt. Rather than just using wool on its own, nuno felts wool into fabric. As the wool shrinks but the fabric doesn’t during felting, you get some interesting textures as the fabric crinkles.
We made two samples each, using cotton muslin. For the first one we added small amounts of wool in regular patterns, leaving most of the muslin uncovered. This shows the crinkling effect very clearly. The method we used was the same as last week, except that we laid the damp fabric on the bubble wrap first before arranging the wool on top. After folding the other layer of bubble wrap on top, we also massaged the wool gently through the bubble wrap so that it wasn’t displaced too much when we started rolling.
Once the wool was reasonably firmly fixed (the muslin started to crinkle and fibres had started to work through to the underside of the fabric), we used an old-fashioned washboard to help speed up the final fulling. To do this, we put the washboard in a bowl at an angle away from us, and rubbed the fabric vertically down. The extra friction from the board makes felting much quicker. You can also shape the fabric in this way, by rubbing certain areas to make them shrink more.
For the second go, we covered much more of the muslin with wool. We also had the option of adding other extras, like yarn, glittery sprinkles, or scraps of other fabric like hessian or silk.
I discovered that, although my experiments with felting yarn on its own had been quite successful, it’s trickier to get it to felt to muslin on its own. It’s better to lay it on top of or beneath a thin layer of merino to help it bond.
Next week we’re going to make a scarf or other complete item, using cotton muslin or another fabric of our choice that we provide. So this morning I thought I’d experiment with a piece of black lace to see how easily it felts.
The answer is: it depends. The triangular areas of merino in the corners of the fabric above have felted reasonably well, but the circles still lift quite easily. Maybe I need to felt it for longer – but it is quite hard work! I don’t have a washboard at home, but I have found that wrapping the bubble-wrap bundle around a rolling pin makes rolling a bit easier.
Finally, I went back to using yarn, this time mostly attached with a layer of merino. This worked better, so I think I’ll use this as the basis for my scarf next week.