Thursday, February 7, 2013


Carolyn taught me how to make long felted beads (which can be cut into shorter beads).  The tools are simple:  four wooden pencils (the kind that have six sides), rubber bands, a rattan place mat, hot soapy water (Ivory dish soap), and merino wool roving.  This long bead was embellished with shiny threads and seed beads, then strung onto a necklace made of twisted yarn cording.  Easy.  (You can make all the photos larger by right clicking on the photo and opening it in a new window.)

Please note:  Carolyn checked my instructions, and here are her notes on the process, involving the temperature of the water.  Although I like to use very hot water (as in my instructions) it is important, when working with children, that the water should not be extra hot.  "Hi there, good directions and pics! I only have one thing to add -- you really do not need to use very hot water. I start with hot water (not too hot for your hands) and put it in bowls on the tables when I teach this, and the water gets pretty luke-warm and then cold, and still works. It's probably better to replace it with more hot, but it really doesn't need to be very hot." 

For this bead, below, I chose rovings in colors to match some beads & fibers I had on hand.

A white (filler) roving was used first.  Spread it thin and wind it around the four pencils, which are held together at each end with rubber bands.  (Please note:  I am holding down the roving with the container of spoons to show how to stretch it out thinly.  I had the camera in my other hand!  You don't need to use any weighted objects in this project.  I almost dropped my camera in the sink at one point!)

Wind the roving back & forth, from side to side a couple times.

Until it is about this thick:

Next the main color of roving is used.

Wind it back & forth, from side to side, a couple times.  Keep the roving off the rubber bands!  If you don't, you won't be able to get those pencils out later.  (If you want to make a shorter bead, bring the rubber bands in.

Contrasting, thin pieces of roving are wound around for decoration.

Back & forth, from side to side, but always winding in the same direction.  (I go over the top and behind.)

Get your water quite hot (as hot as you can comfortably stand; rubber gloves are a must for children - or simply make it extra warm as per Carolyn above).  It should also be really soapy.

Dip in the hot, soapy water, and squeeze out the water, several times.  Roll lightly on mat in forward direction only. (If you roll up and down at this point, the fibers will want to unwind off the roll.)

Please understand that your finished bead will not look exactly like the contrasting fibers you laid down so carefully.  That's the fun part of felt bead making!  Roll it lightly to keep the fibers intact as much as possible.

Re-dip in the hot, soapy water (add drops of soap directly on the bead if necessary) and squeeze out the soapy water.  Lightly roll.  Do this several times, checking it, re-dipping, squeezing, and rolling lightly on top of the mat. 

When you can see that it is starting to felt, you can roll harder, on top of or inside the rattan place mat, back and forth, roll roll roll!

When it starts to really felt and shrink, take the rubber bands off and remove one of the pencils.

Re-dip, add drops of soap directly if necessary, squeeze out excess.

Roll hard, re-dip, squeeze, roll some more.  Repeat.  Take out another pencil, re-dip, squeeze, roll hard!

Repeat this process of re-dipping, squeezing, and rolling hard, until you are down to one pencil and the felted roving is very tight around the last pencil.  See how soapy my hand is?  Lot's of soap was used!

Here is the bead on the last pencil.  When fully felted, rinse it very well in hot water, to get all the soap out.

Remove excess water with towel.

Remove pencil, and thread yarn through the bead with a bodkin.

Tie bead around a mason jar or other round object that suits the shape you want your bead to take.

Put in sunny spot to dry thoroughly.

A few days later I made more beads.  This time after the fourth pencil was removed, I inserted plastic tubing from the hardware store, a little smaller than the pencil diameter.  I continued to felt it and let the felt dry over the tubing.  I then cut the long bead into four shorter beads.  The plastic tubing gives the beads a firmness, and your yarn can be threaded through the tubing.  (See picture above, under Fiber Camp post)

NEXT -- a Felted Headband and Round Beads

Felted Headband

I thought I would give a felted headband a try, but didn't think it would work.  You can't agitate it by rolling back & forth in the rattan placemat.  Here I used a fabric covered plastic headband (a package of five found in the Dollar Store).

I covered the band in the same way the pencils were covered, starting with white roving as a filler, which I  wrapped back & forth two times.

I then covered the band with the main color of roving (pink), then the accent colors in thin strips, then more of the pink in thin strips.

The wrapped headband was dipped in very hot, very soapy water, then squeezed out all along the headband.  I repeated this step several times, adding additional drops of the liquid soap to make it very sudsy.   

Occasionally I would rinse the band in very hot water, to shock it into felting. 

When the felting started, I got more agressive with the band.  Lots of hot water and soap directly on the band, making it slippery enough to slide the finger tips back & forth on the outside and inside of the band.  This seemed to provide enough agitation to continue the felting process.  I repeated this step several times,  sometimes rinsing the soap out with hot water in between.  As you can see from the photo, it actually felted! 

When it was fully felted, rinse in hot water, pat dry with a towel.....

And put in the sun to dry.  A bracelet could possibly be done in the same way, but I ran out of energy.  Some of the roving came off the end of the headband, but I will simply cut the excess off and close with a few stitches.

Felted Bead (Round)

I got this crazy idea to maybe try using my old tea strainer to aid in making a perfectly round felted bead.  Here it is with a small pile of mixed roving colors.

Roll up the roving like you would pack something fragile in paper - roll it up, then roll the sides in, roll some more, roll the sides in, etc., until you have a nice compact ball of roving.

Put the ball gently in the tea strainer.

In very hot, very soapy water, swish the tea strainer fast in a circular motion.

Shock it by running under very hot water.  With children, just make the water a temperature that is comfortable for them.  Alternatively, use rubber gloves.

Add a drop of soap directly to the ball of roving in the tea strainer, close, and

swish around, very fast, in a circular motion.    I repeated this step a couple times.

When I removed the ball from the tea strainer it was beautifully spherical.  But not felted.  I very gently rolled the ball between my palms until it started to felt.

I shocked it with hot water.....

and repeated the process several times of dipping in the soapy water and rolling around between the palms, rolling it harder the more it felted, sometimes adding a drop of soap directly to the ball.

Voila! A nice, spherical, hard felted bead.

Oops, I guess I should have measured the roving more carefully, to make the beads the same size. 
Measuring the roving is best done by weighing it on a fine scale, which I don't have.  But lacking a scale, the best way to make beads the same size would be to lay out your roving for the number of beads you want to make, each having its own pile of roving.  You can then eye-ball the piles of roving to make them each the same size as the next.  Hopefully, your beads will be very nearly, if not exactly!, the same size.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Blog Burnout

Is it winter malaise?  Running out of ideas?  No, not that, I have several posts in draft I can't seem to get around to finishing.

When I was visiting my brother, Lee, last October, we chased a bus around G.P. that had public art on it by his friend, James.  Later Lee sent me a portrait of him that James had painted.  It's an exact replication of him!  I love all the somewhat hidden nature references.