Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Building a Felted Painting Part 4 - Wet Felting

After all the machine needle felting is finished, I like to wet felt a piece.  Why wet felt after so much machine needle felting?  It makes a big difference in the finished look of the piece.
  1. All the needle holes disappear
  2. The surface layer of fibers form a smooth webbed mat instead of loose ends sticking up off the surface.
  3. The under layers of colored fibers  that were built up but submerged under the top layers of color become visible as washes of color mixed in with the color on the surface.  How can that NOT be much more interesting than just the top layer of one flat color visible to the viewer?
  4. The underlayers form a webbed mat with themselves as well as the surface layers.  This creates one uniform textile with a lovely pattern. 
  5. The bottle color transitions appear smooth with rounded forms rather than clumps of different colors of wool stuck on the surface of the flannel.
  6. What I have just described may not be visible in these photos but if you look closely at the shadows of the bottles, you may see the smooth, united web of color layers.
It really is worth the trouble to do it, even though, at this point you want to be finished with the project and jump into the next one (if you haven't already).

In this photo, you will see the following supplies:
  • 3 feet of rubber stair tread on a table
  • several sheets of bubble wrap - enough to surround your piece top and bottom
  • bowl of warm, soapy water - I use olive oil soap
  • turkey baster
  • knee high hose
  • rubber gloves
  • swimming pool noodle
  • electric sander (that's right - an electric sander - read on)
CAUTION:  Hot soapy water and power tools are a good recipe for a disaster such as electrocution!!  ONLY use an electric sander if it is plugged into a GFI (ground fault interuptor) outlet or socket adaptor.  This ensures that if any moisture is detected by the GFI  it will shut off the power immediately to the tool.  Keep a neat, dry table when using the electric sander with lots of towels nearby.  Do not allow the floor to get wet, if it does, dry it immediately.
Instead of using sandpaper, I fitted my sander with a sheet of tablecloth plastic (to cover the air intake holes), covered with non-slip shelf rubber, cut to fit the sandpaper size.  This ensures that no water can get into the sander when in use.  I bought my own sander that is off limits to my husband.
The electric sander creates vibration all over the surface of the piece.  The bubble wrap is like dozens of tiny fingers messaging the surface, creating the movement needed for the fibers to unite together.  You are NOT sanding the suface, you are messaging it.  This is much easier on the arms and body and cuts the felting time down considerabley than regular wet felting.                                                          

  1. Place your project face down on top of the stair tread (uneven surface for rolling), which has been covered with bubble wrap, bubble side up.  You are weaving the fibers on the back side together first so that they stabilize the fibers of the front side. 
  2. Use the turkey baster to gently squirt the warm, soapy water all over the surface until saturated
  3. Cover the project with bubble wrap, bubble side down.
  4. Beginning from one corner, lay the electric sander on the surface, without any hand pressure, and move it slowly across the piece from one side to the other, being sure to move it over the entire surface once or twice.  Turn the bubble wrapped project right side up, smooth out  and pass the sander over that a couple of times also.
  5. If you are in the mood for more exercise after using the sander, roll the project, bubble wrap and all, around a pool noodle.  My project was too large so I used a plastic corrugated drainage pipe from Home Depot  to roll it around. 
  6. Secure the whole lot with knee high hose and roll back and forth on the stair tread 100 times. 
  7. Undo the layers of  bubble wrap/project/bubble wrap and reroll in the other direction and tie. 
  8. Roll on the stair tread another 100 times.
  9. Check to see that the fibers on the surface are holding together in a web, not pulling apart in separate hairs.  Whenever you see this at whatever point in your wet felting, you are finished.  You may or may not need to do all these steps to get the surface to form a "skin" but you will need to keep doing any of the above over again until it does form a completely uniform felted textile, and not pull off in chunks.  This is hard to explain. 
  10. I rinse out the project in a washing machine full of clean warm water, then spin out the excess water.  DO NOT ALLOW THE MACHINE TO AGITATE AT ANY TIME.  If it does, I have no idea what kind of distorted mess you will end up with. 
  11. Lay out the project on a flat surface, preferably one that you can pin into.  I use felt covered insulation board from Home Depot to block and dry my work.  This is when you can block the piece, pull and push the textile to dry straight and flat.  I needed to correct the postition of the white bottle as it had tilted from the machine felting and I needed to get it upright again.  I used pins to hold in place whatever had skewed from the felting and let it dry in front of a fan.
Stay tuned for the finishing of this project. 

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