Charles Hecht
Felting Old into New

My Webster’s Dictionary defines felt as "a cloth made of wool…through the action of heat, moisture, chemicals and pressure." Does this refer to a complex scientific process involving specialized equipment and toxic ingredients? Bah humbug! Felt is easy to make, especially the Starving Artist’s way.

There exists an easy-to-use, easy-to-access machine for felt-making right at our fingertips, which by its very nature engages the actions of "heat, moisture, chemicals and pressure." That machine would be the ordinary household washing machine. If you put wool in a washer and turn it on (thereby adding a little "heat" and "moisture") add some laundry detergent ("chemicals") and let it do its centrifugal thing ("pressure") you will end up with felt. Especially if you put the wool in the dryer afterward. The fibers will mat, shrink and lock together and you’ll get the dense, soft fabric commonly known as "felt". Voila.

You’ll need:
an old wool sweater
a washing machine, a dryer and some detergent

Now here comes the genius part: Stop by your local thrift store and buy up any old sweaters made of wool. Run them through a hot wash cycle and a dryer and the sweaters will get dramatically smaller and turn into felt. Once the sweaters have felted, you’ll be able to cut the felt into squares. Unlike knitting, the felting process tightens the fibers in such a way that they will not unravel when cut. Note that some sweaters may need a second cycle to fully felt through: you be the judge.
All you need is two squares of the same size to make a cute felt pillow or bag. Cut out a flower or butterfly shape of a different color and stitch it on the bag for the utmost in 60’s pop groovyness. If you have the architectural bug and a whole lot of time and ambition, you could make a groovy felt yurt like Bucky Fuller would do. Whatever you make, just throw your leftover scraps in the corner and it will feel like you have an original Robert Morris in your home.

Yurt: A Mongolian circular domed tent, used by nomads. Yurts are constructed of a collapsible lattice frame and foldable felt walls. Useful if you move around a lot.

R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller: American architect and philosopher (1895-1983) and inventor of the Geodesic Dome, Synergetics and the World Game. As famous for his failures and far out schemes as for his achievements, Bucky also wrote several books including the amazingly titled Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard, the father of Scientology.

Robert Morris: American Conceptual and Environmental artist (b. 1939). Morris has had a broad-ranging career that includes examining the effects of "gravity and stress" on heaps of felt, as well as creating blindfolded drawings and various projects examining the relationship between observer and observed and other contemporary ideas.
© 2004-2007 Nava Lubelski, All Rights Reserved.