Learning and development: Art in the early years - felt-making

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A fun and fascinating way to extend young children's exploration of textiles is through felt-making. It needn't incur much cost and there's lots of online advice if you fancy having a go.

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IN PRACTICE

There are various ways to make felt, so first experiment with the techniques involved so that you can model them effectively to the children. A good starting point would be to watch some online videos on felt-making (see below). A really useful word of advice about felt-making comes from Annie and Lyn, who run the Rosie Pink website: ‘Making felt needs a simple equation: wool + soapy water + agitation = felt!’

  • Felt-making can involve small groups of children and be organised indoors or out.
  • Introduce the children first to basic felt-making, by making felt balls, before progressing to making smaller individual pieces of felt.
  • Felt-making will need adult supervision, and to make the activity engaging, describe the different processes and results and encourage the children to join in at different stages of the process as they desire. For example some children may enjoy laying out the wool lengths, others will enjoy spraying on the soapy water and most will relish in jumping up and down to flatten the felt (see below).

FELT-MAKING

Resources

To make felt balls and flat pieces of felt, you will need:
* Wool top of different kinds and colours * pieces of felt and coloured fleece * scraps of material, yarn and cotton * bubble-wrap * net curtain * spray bottle * soap or washing-up liquid * sponges * towels * a clean roller.

Felt balls

Felt is very simple to make. Ask the children to take a piece of wool top, wet it, add soap, then roll the wool between the palms of their hands. Very soon the wool will turn into a hard ball of felt. Rinse under a tap to remove the soap. The finished ball should bounce!

Flat piece of felt

To make a flat piece of felt:
  • place a piece of bubblewrap, bubble-side up, on a draining board, in a plastic tray or on a plastic table outside where water can drain away safely
  • lay a square of wool top on the bubblewrap, with the fibres running left to right. Then add a second square, with the fibres running top to bottom. Repeat the process for layers three and four
  • add coloured fleece, if you wish, to provide detail or to make a picture on the background square. (The alignment of the fibres doesn’t matter, but avoid using large lumps of wool which will not lie flat)
  • cover the fluffy square with a piece of net curtain then pour warm water over it   the warmer the water, the better. Alternatively, spray warm soapy water all over the wool using a water bottle
  • press down the layers until all of the wool is soaked thoroughly
  • rub the surface with a bar of soap or spray with soapy water. If the wool becomes too sloppy, use a sponge to soak up some of the water
  • rub the surface of the net with the palm of your hand, at first gently, then more vigorously once the wool starts to cohere. (Alternatively use a clean roller)
  • remove the net curtain
  • turn over the felt and repeat on the other side
  • screw up the felt, rinse and squeeze quite roughly in warm water
  • open up and stretch the felt occasionally to prevent it turning into a felt ball
  • rinse all the soap from the felt, then stretch it and lay it out flat to dry
  • glue beads or other embellishments to the felt if you wish after it has dried completely.

Group felt-making

  • Prepare plenty of wool top of equal length to create a large background square of felt.
  • Lay bubblewrap on a hard surface (indoors or out) or waterproof sheet.
  • Place lengths of wool top on the bubblewrap as above. Add more than four layers in this activity to produce a thicker piece of felt.
  • Place any patterns on the top layer using coloured or textured wool as required. Cover with net curtain or muslin then wet and soap as before (or simply add washing-up liquid to the water).
  • Encourage the children to shuffle, jump and stamp all over the surface to flatten the material.
  • Finally rinse, stretch and dry the felt flat.
(Adapted from Devon Woollies.)

MORE INFORMATION

  • www.winghamwoolwork.co.uk supplies wool and fibres and many more are listed on ebay, as are traders selling bags of fabric scraps.
  • Rosie Pink (www.rosiepink.typepad.co.uk) offers free online tutorials, with simple step-by-step instructions, including how to make a felt pod, felt-making tips and felt-making with children (using a sushi mat to roll the felt).
  • Woolly Jumper: The Story of Wool, by Meredith Hooper and Katherine McEwan (Walker Books)
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