After a few years of Instagram stalking and quilt shop investigating, I’ve decided that wool felt is the redheaded step-textile of the fabric world. It gets a bad rap — you say “felt” and people think of the rough sandpaper at JoAnn’s and Walmart that’s called “craft felt” and made from a combination of polyester and, I’d imagine, fingernail clippings.
But no. If you’ve had the chance to feel 100% wool felt, you know that it’s an entirely different material. Wool felt comes in a variety of thicknesses, and merino felt is the highest quality. A medium-weight merino wool felt will be soft and almost drapey, a far cry from the stiff material you might otherwise be used to. Thicker wool felts with more structure are also available for crafting purposes. Whatever you do, make sure the fiber content is 100% wool.
Felt itself is different from felted fabric: the first is made from raw sheep’s wool, which is then sprayed with water, pounded, and rolled to a specific thickness. There is no weaving of fibers involved. Felted fabric is wool woven fabric that is then treated by adding hot water, which causes the fibers to lock and fuse together. Some of the original woven texture still remains.
Though projects involving felt (punch needle embroidery, needle felting, penny rugs and other forms of wool appliqué) still primarily fall in the “traditional” camp, here are some modern quilters and fiber artists who are doing amazing things with wool felt. And I think we should take note: with the beautiful stuff they’re making, it’s bound to be the next big thing.
Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts is an appliqué queen, and her use of wool felt adds a fresh texture to the process. She incorporates really fresh designs, and does needleturn appliqué rather than whipstitch to secure her felt pieces to her background fabric. This makes them stand out on their own and lends a more updated, polished aesthetic to the piece, rather than giving it too much of a “crafty” vibe. Check out Mandy’s article on wool applique in the Winter 2016 issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited, and here’s a free pattern from that same issue.
Anyone who is not following Betz White on Instagram is missing out. She designs sewing and felt craft patterns, and her newest felt, fabric, and embroidery project is absolutely amazing. I love the cutouts that show the fabric print underneath, and her multilayered techniques remind me of Sue Spargo‘s work or the Mola appliquéd textiles from Panama. (Betz says she is working on a pattern and instructions for release very soon!)
I also really love the work of Catherine Redford, who is a fiber artist working in African embroidery, wool applique, and modern quilting. She often adapts the work of other designers like Sue Spargo to fit her unique aesthetic, and it’s fun to see these differing techniques come together into ornate works of art.
If you’re looking to go beyond handwork, I also really like the approach to using wool felt in lieu of leather in laptop bags and purses. Though not as weather resistant as leather, felt is super chic and is fun way to play with color in bags. Here’s a fun tutorial for a DIY laptop sleeve made with felt and fleece, and here’s another with two layers of felt.