Learning how to make your own conductive material can be very useful when you want more control over the end product. This material can be as thick or as thin as you want and you will have control over the amount of conductivity. Plus, once you have the conductive fiber mixed, you can get very creative with how you use and design with the fiber. You can create simple digital and analog switches are more complex circuits.
Using hand carders to blend your wools together is a great a reliable way to ensure even distribution and control over the finished mixed grade.
I am experienced with three different ways to get your metallic wools mixed in with your fiber.
1) pulling and laying fibers, on top of one another, interchanging the metallic and pure wools to blend
2) using hand carders to blend
3) using a drum carder to blend
This tutorial goes over option 2) stay tuned for the other two!
Step 1: What You Need
* Fiber - combed top that is 100% sheep's wool is the easiest and most accessible to use, however you can use other blends, batts and so on... what does top, roving and batts mean? check out this article and photos for some clarification on the differences.
* Bronze metallic wool - find bronze and other metallic wools here: lustersheen.com
* Hand carders - you can use pet brushes if you do not have hand carders or are waiting for them to ship to you. Used in these steps are kitteh brushes.
* Upholstery foam - at least 1 inch thick, can be found at any craft store.
* Dry felting needles - used here are triangular size 38 needles, good for courser fibers. check out this article for recommendations on different sizes.
* Kitchen scale - this is really helpful, but could be considered optional, I like to know how much conductivity I am putting in my **rolag... what's a rolag? more terms! This article defines it and gives still more clarity to the whole roving, batts, and top definition.
Get a digital scale that does grams.
** technically a rolag is the carded fibers blended, then rolled off the carders, Since we are not spinning, I do not actually roll them up...
Step 2: Weighing Out Wools
From experimenting with different ratios, this is the one that is consistently successful for me. Please feel free to explore other ratios and if you do not have a scale, grab some sheep's wool and eyeball half of that to get the amount of your metallic wool. You should be fine by doing this, since that will leave with 1:2 ratio, giving you more than enough metallic wool compared to 2:5.
Step 3: Charge Carder
Lay one of your hand carders on your right (left if left handed) knee, handle facing inwards towards opposite leg. Take your sheep's wool in same hand and lay the fibers across the teeth of the carder.
Use one hand to hold the end of the fibers to the carder as the other one pulls out.
Do so evenly and make sure that you do not over fill it, it will depend on the size of your carder.
These are pretty small, so I split my top and charge my carder with 2.5 grams of the sheep's wool.
You want the teeth barely showing through after you are done.
Your technique will get better!... by looking at the vidz, you can see that even I don't do the *ideal charging sesh, but it still works. With time, you get a feel for what will and won't work throughout your technique style.
Step 4: Carding in Metallic Wool
Take the other carder in the right hand and start pulling the fibers from the bottom of the stationary, charged carder.
Do this lightly, grabbing the fibers without completely mashing the teeth from the two carders together.
Transfer about half of the sheep's wool from one carder to the next.
Once this is done, lay the carder back on the knee and charge it with your metallic wool, remember, I'm using half of the sheep's wool, so I split the bronze in half before I charge.
After this is done, transfer as many fibers as you can from one carder to the other one.
Pick up the rest of the fibers by laying your active carder across the stationary one, head to toe and toe to head, then pull up.
After this, the carders switch roles. The active becomes stationary, the stationary to active.
Transfer the fibers 5 -10 times. I transferred mine 7.
Afterwards, you will have a blend of metallic and sheep's wool.
Step 5: Removing Fiber From Carders
Do this by transferring about half of the fibers to the active carder.
After that, simply lift your fibers from the carders with your hands and you have made your conductive blend!
This also means that you are done with the first half of this instructable.
Now on to felting...
Step 6: Pulling Fibers to Prepare
Hold the fibers in your left hand, grasp the tips of the fibers between the four fingers and the base of your palm of your right hand and pull. You should be able to smoothly pull out some fibers, lay these down on the foam.
Pulling from a hand carded blend can be difficult, more difficult than pulling from combed top. While in the carding process, the fibers can get a bit tangled, which makes it so you can not pull your fibers smoothly.
That's alright, just evenly distribute the fiber as best as you can, placing one layer of fiber down, then laying another one on top perpendicularly to the first one.
You always want to lay your fiber in a criss-cross pattern in order to produce a strong textile in the end. It can be seen as the equivalent of the warp and weft of a woven without weaving.
Step 7: Needle Felting Your Fiber
I am using four needles in this tutorial, you could even use one, it would just take longer.
You can buy needle holders, I folded up a piece of foam and poked four needles through that to use as a holder. It works well and saves money!
How it works:
There are tiny barbs on the end the needles :: and they are very SHARP!::
The tiny barbs get pushed through the fibers, hook them and pull them up as you punch them through. This tangles the fibers, you can punch any which way and the more you concentrate in one area, the more they tangle up and become compact in that one area. This allows you to get sculptural, but for this tutorial, we want to make a flat piece, so we want to punch our needles evenly around the fibers.
GO SLOWLY AT FIRST AND PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!
I have punctured myself many times and it is easy to get carried away. Be careful where you put your fingers!
Once you punch the fibers all over on one side, pull up the piece and turn over. The fibers will be a little caught in the foam, so be careful while pulling it away to keep it all intact.
Now, punch the other side evenly all around. Pick up the piece and turn over. Repeat this until you have a solid enough piece.
As you needle felt your piece, you can fold in the edges to create sharp, straight lines, this of course is entirely optional and depends on what kind of object you are felting in the first place.
How do you know it's solid enough?
Generally you can test it by seeing if you can pull up any fiber from the top of the textile. If you can, it is too loose and you should keep felting. After that, it is really a matter a preference. Needle felting can take some time, so be patient and enjoy the process!
My finished piece of felt can definitely be tightened, so do not feel like you need to stop. This tutorial will give you the basics on how to, but keep going and experiment!
Step 8: Testing Conductivity - Final Step
But, we must test the conductivity and make sure the metallic wool was evenly distributed and that it will work for whatever project we have in mind and a soft, conductive material.
Take your multimeter and set it to the the continuity setting.
The symbol you are looking for will look kind of like a sound wave coming from a dot or the symbol in the pic that I uploaded.
It's a good idea to test the multimeter by touching the two tips together. If it beeps, that means that it is working properly and you are ready to test your conductivity.
Put the two leads anywhere on the textile and listen for the beep. It will beep if you have a good connection for electricity to flow through.
You are done!!
Remember, this is made to show you the basics. Felting can be very sculptural and expressive. Research what can be done with it and know that you can now make it conductive and create endless soft electronic projects!