Introduction: Wet Felted Slippers

About: I'm a maker, a mother and a midwife.

Custom fitted slippers for the whole family

Felted wool is an amazing medium to work in. It's fluffy and squishy and very forgiving, unlike fabric.

This method is called resist felting because we're putting wool around something the wool resists sticking to, creating an empty space inside. We can change the shape of the final product by changing the shape of the resist, as well as stretching or shrinking the felt in specific places later.

The design I'm showing you is a very very simple clog style slipper. With just a few changes to the resist, the final shape can be changed dramatically. The slippers can be embellished with needle felting, sewing, knitting or crochet. You could try glue or paint but I'm not sure how well that would hold up. I'm adding spray on non-slip soles, but you could easily add other types of soles.

Step 1: Prepare Your Shoe Last

This step isn't totally necessary, but it does make the process easier. See my Duct tape shoe last tutorial for directions. If you don't want to do this step, you'll mold them directly on the feet they're for, so substitute "feet" for "lasts" when I mention it again.

Step 2: Prepare Your Resist

The slippers will be formed around a resist, essentially making a bag that will then be shrunk to for your foot.

materials for this step:
a sheet of sturdy, flexible material at least 50% larger than both feet together
three pencils taped together

So the first step here is to take a piece of sturdy material like non-corrugated cardboard, semi rigid plastic, small bubble bubble wrap, old yoga mat type foam or something similar. You want it to be at least kind of flexible, and you want something that won't instantly disintegrate when you get it wet.

Lay out your resist material and trace around your feet, leaving at least two inches between them.

Tape three pencils together and trace around the foot outline. The new line needs to make the tracing at least 30% bigger, but when in doubt, go bigger still. Your slippers will just wind up a little thicker in the end.

Cut out the new larger outline and mark which one is left and which one is right. Most people don't have exactly symmetrical feet, so for most it's just a matter of keeping track of which is larger.

Step 3: Materials

Materials for this step:
Wool roving or batts (at least 200 grams for an adult)
plastic mat or large baking sheet or both to protect your work surface from water
a towel
nylon netting (tutu tulle, sheer curtain material, cut up athletic clothing, etc)
bubble wrap
hot soapy water (don't scald yourself, but the hotter the better)

Lay down your waterproofing, then your towel on a table our counter you'll be comfortable working at for an extended period. I also chose to put my project on a large baking sheet to help keep the water contained. Next, lay out your bubble wrap, and your resists.

Step 4: Start Layering Your Wool

Begin laying a thin sheet of wool lengthwise on one side of the resist.

When the resist is covered evenly, lay another layer width-wise across the resist.

Gently lay your netting over the top of your wool, being careful not to disturb the material.

Step 5: Wet Your Wool

Get your wool wet. Some like to pour a little water at a time from a bowl, others like to use a spray bottle. Gently press the wool down from the center out to make sure it's uniformly wet.

Put some soap on your hands and continue to pat down your wool. It should become quite flat and pretty well saturated. My white wool has gained some translucency, but this would not happen with thicker layers or colored wool.

Step 6: Layer the Other Side

Flip your whole project over and very carefully smooth the edges of the wool over the edges of the resist. You want the wool to be snug, but don't pull or distort it.

*If the wool refuses to lay smooth against the resist, make sure your wool is wet. If it is, but it's still fluffing up and sticking to your fingers and generally being cranky, add some soap. Your hands are already wet, so just rub your fingers on a bar of soap and then try again.

Once the edges are smoothed over, layer on some wool, first lengthwise and then width-wise like last time. Cover with your netting, wet down and pat into place just like you did with the other side.

Step 7: Flip, Layer, Lather, Repeat

Flip your project over again, smooth the edges and layer some more wool. Again, lengthwise and then width-wise. Wet, pat, flip and smooth, then layer, wet, and pat again.

Repeat a couple more times until you've got 4-8 of these lengthwise + width-wise layers on each side of the resist.

Feel free to play with colors in this process. The first layers you put down will be the inside of the shoe, and the other layers will be seen when you cut the opening for the foot to go into. Some very striking and beautiful slippers have been made simply by varying the colors of the wool laid out. You can also dye the finished product like I did with my daughter's slippers.

Step 8: Felting

So you've got your layers stacked on the resist, and you've flipped it one last time and smoothed the edges of the fiber down and everything's all wet.

By this time, your hot water probably isn't very hot any more, so you can throw that in the microwave or heat up some more. I like to throw the whole wool/resist/netting shebang in the microwave too, just to get it all heated up again.

When everything's all hot again, soap up your palms and start gently patting and rubbing the wool on one side. Don't forget to rub the edges. If your hands aren't sliding smoothly over the top of the nylon netting, add a little more soapy water to the wool and re-soap your hands. Some people say that too much soap makes the felting process go slower, but I've seen the opposite to be true. If it's going slow, reheat and add more soap.

Repeat on the other side until the felt can be pinched between the fingers gently, and it pinches as a mass rather than individual fibers. Also try not to let the netting get felted INTO your project. It's a pain in the butt.

Step 9: Cutting

Now that your felt is a solid wooly mass, it's time to make it into something you could actually get a foot into. This means cutting a hole, but don't get scared. Felt is forgiving.

Start be placing your last on top of the felt and finding the center of the ankle. This will be the back of the hole. Using a pair of sharp scissors, pinch the felt and cut all the way down to the resist. Pointy scissors like embroidery or manicure scissors will work better than rounded fabric scissors as I discovered.

It's ok if the hole is a little ragged, it's very thick and will get felted more in a bit.

Once you've cut all the way down to the resist, you want to cut an oval that extends to the middle of the shoe. I used the point of entry as a guide for how wide the oval should be, so the remaining felt was the same width everywhere but at the front of the hole. When in doubt, cut smaller. It's easier to enlarge the hole than make it smaller.

Step 10: Felting the Edges of the Hole

Ok, so you've cut your hole, but the edges are ragged and weirdly layered. It's time to fix that. Take the resist out and make your felt hot again. Put hot water over it, microwave it, whatever.

Now soap up your hands and felt the cut edges. Rub it till it holds together, then cram your last into the hole. Stretch the hole if you need to, and then remove and felt it some more.

Keep doing this til you feel like it's stable and a good size.

Step 11: Fulling the Felt

Sorry for the change in photo subject, I forgot to document the rest of my daughter's slippers, so the rest are mine.

So you've got a couple felt bags that loosely fit your feet, but they're baggy and ugly as sin. Let's fix that.

Lay your shoe bags on the bubble wrap and roll it up. Roll that into a towel or bamboo mat. Now roll it 25 times, pressing down gently. Open it back up, turn 90 degrees and roll 25 more times. Unroll, turn and roll twice more.

Now cram those lasts back in to make sure you're not closing up the hole you so painstakingly cut and that they'll still fit.

Reheat and repeat the process, gradually increasing the pressure until they either fit snugly or you decide to take a shortcut. If you want, you can cram the lasts into the shoes, tie netting around them and throw them into the dryer for a while (obviously this part won't work if you've skipped the lasts). The biggest problem with this is you can very easily overdo it and wind up with shoes too small. The finish also isn't quite as nice. If you opt for this route, check them frequently to make sure they're not too small and aren't drying out too much.

Step 12: Finishing Up

Now that the shoes are the right size, rinse out all the soap with first hot water, then cold. We're opening up all the scales on the felt fibers, then closing them quickly to lock them in place, minimizing further felting.

Once your shoes are clean, you can dye them by in a dye bath.

If you're done dyeing them, or don't want to, it's time to dry them. I like to put the lasts in them and pop them back in the dryer for a time and then pull out while still a little damp. Now you can finger mold the shoes as you like, for instance, making the bottoms flatter or flaring the openings more, or what have you.

Once they're shaped, you can leave them in the lasts for a few days our your can remove the lasts, do some minor shape correcting and let them dry empty. They dry quicker, but it's hard to remove the lasts without deforming them some.

When they're dry, you can needle felt stuff onto the shoes, sew them, or whatever. I like to add some soles by putting spray rubber on the bottom. Mask of what you don't want sprayed, then go to town with a few layers of rubber. You can also crochet soles, rubberize them and sew them on, or put hot glue patterns on the felt before rubberizing the bottom for some textured tread.

After allowing the rubber to cure 24 hours, you're ready to wear your awesome felt shoes!

I just found another tutorial, but this one's for felt boots! Check it out.

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