How to Make Felted Soap

by: EJ on 12/05/2017

Today's excerpt comes from Deborah Niemann's second edition of Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-reliant Living.

Felt is the oldest known fabric made by humans, and there is evidence that it has existed for thousands of years. St. Clement is given credit for accidentally discovering felt when he wrapped wool around his feet and later discovered that the wool had become a solid piece of fabric. Felt has been used through- out history to make everything from socks to tents, and once you know the process, it is easy to understand why it was — and still is — so widely used. To make felt, you only need wool, water, and soap, or wool and felting needles.

 
The original method of felting was wet felting, but most modern industrial felt is made using needles. Although it is not absolutely necessary to use roving (wool that has been run through a mill on a carding machine)for felting, it will create a more uniform piece of fabric if you are making a purse, hat, or jacket. If you are planning to make a felt sculpture, such as a bear, you could simply use a washed fleece for the core of the sculpture. Many professional mills have machines that can turn a fleece into a batt, which can be used for felting, as well as for quilt batting.

Wet Felting
To use the wet felting process, wrap several layers of roving or batting around a template or form, wet it with soapy water, and start to gently rub it. You can buy templates and forms from felting supply companies, or you can make your own. You could repurpose a piece of foam that was used as packing material, cutting it to the size and shape you want. For example, a rectangular piece of foam could be used as a template for a purse. If you have one of those wig heads sitting around, you could use it as a template for a hat. If you happen to have a bowl that fits your head or a ball that is the right size, you could also use that as a hat form.

 

Felted Soap

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Felted soap is a good beginner project for quickly learning the basics of wet felting.  It is a wool-wrapped bar of soap that provides gentle exfoliation when washing your hands, face, or body. It also makes a nice gift when you use a bar of your own hand- made soap.

To  make felted soap you will need a bar of soap, a quarter ounce of roving, and   a pair of rubber gloves. If you use too much wool, it will be harder to felt and the   bar will not dry out sufficiently between uses. You’ll want to work over a sink or tub because you will need water and a place for the suds to dribble.

1. Wrap the roving around the bar of soap several times. It is best to pull the roving apart to make it thin so that you can evenly distribute the wool. It would be easy to wrap a quarter ounce of roving around a bar of soap in a single pass, but it won’t felt as evenly as when the roving is thinner.

2. After wrapping two or three rounds in one direction, turn the bar 90 degrees and wrap a few times perpendicular to the first wraps of roving.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

4. I don’t like my fingers to feel like prunes, so I put on rubber gloves before starting the wet felting. Some rubber kitchen gloves have a rough surface on the palms and fingertips, and this actually helps the felting process.

5. Completely saturate the wool with water and start to roll the bar over and over and over in your hands as if you are washing them. You probably won’t need to add water, but you can if the felt starts to dry out and stops producing suds.

felted-soap-wet-felting

6. Continue felting until the wool no longer pulls away from the bar of soap. This  will take about 15 minutes. If it takes much longer, you probably used too much wool. Attempting to remove wool at this point is futile because it has felted enough that it will be coming off in chunks, and it will probably be impossible to evenly distribute the remaining wool. You can stop at any time, and your soap will still be perfectly usable, so don’t get stressed if your first couple attempts are not perfect.

7. Put the soap on a wire shelf or rack to dry for two or three days.

 

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