I just recently made myself two pairs of felted wool mittens. These are my first pairs ever as well as my first time felting wool. Here is how I made them. I hope that this helps you dive into the awesome world of felting and please do share ideas and comments about projects such as this one.
By the way, although felting is really a lot of fun and the list of stuff that you can make with this process is pretty much endless, it does take time and patience. Plan ahead and block a weekend just for felting. Invite some felting eager friends and get to it. Make, create and enjoy!
Note: For this instructable, I have used photos that I took while making both pairs of mittens. Please do not be confused by the different colours. I made both pairs using the same process which I share with you here.
Step 1: The Materials That You Will Need
After looking through several books and videos, I realized that I pretty much used the minimum number of materials and tools necessary for felting wool. Here is the list:
1. two pieces of cardboard large enough to trace the silouette of your hand to about a third down your forearm
4. batts/carded wool (the finer the wool, the better)
5. water (preferably, yet not necessarily warm)
6. soap (i used sunlight original)
7. tea kettle or another container for warming up water
8. large metal mixing bowl
10. work table
1. laptop and dvds
2. snacky poos
Step 2: Get Things Ready
Measure and cut cardboard pieces to make outlines of your hands and top of your forearms. Make sure that the outline includes about two centimetres all around your hand which serve as shrinkage allowance.
Get the water warm and mix it with some soap in the bowl. You will be using this water through out the project. If it gets too cold for your hands, just add more warm water. It does not have to be boiling... no need to burn your hands.
Select the batts that you will be using. A batt of wool is basically a bundle of carded/brushed wool. Find more information about wool processing in this blog post by Meandering Design: http://meanderingdesign.indiemade.com/blog/learning-adventures-razorwinged-sheep-yarn
Start the DVD player (I watched a miniseries and several movies while making the two pairs of mittens.) and eat some of the snacky poos. (Make sure that you clean/wash your hands afterwards so not to stain the mittens.)
Step 3: Laying the First Two Layers of Wool
Stretch a piece of wool so it is a bit larger than one of the cardboard stencils. You want it a bit larger so you can drape the edges over the stencil and onto the other side of the stencil. Make sure to pull off (do not cut off pieces of the wool! just gently pull off the excess fibre) some of the wool that will go between the thumb and the other fingers. Other wise, you will end up with a lot of bulk in that spot.
NOTE: If you want to use wool of different colours, combine fibres by layering them thinly as to make one solid layer with all of the colours.
Wet the layer of wool with some soapy water and place one of the stencils over it. Drape the edges of the wool over stencil. Do it tightly yet be careful not pull the wool fibres apart. Make sure to get the whole piece of wool wet.
Get another piece of wool of about the same size of the first one, wet it and flip over the stencil over it. Make sure to wet the edges and to drape them over the edges of the stencil so to cover the edges of the mitts neatly.
NOTE: At this point I was wondering if I was doing the layering right because the wet wool feels quite loose. Do not despair! Once you add the other layers and start felting, you will notice that the wool starts to shrink and to gather into a tighter shape. Be patient and have another bit of your snacky poos stash.
Step 4: The Long Layer
Lay a long piece of wool with the fibres in the opposite direction than you used for the first two layers. The piece should be long enough to wrap around both sides of the stencil. Remember to wet the wool as you layer it with the soapy water. Wrap the layer carefully and neatly over the whole stencil.
So far you should have two layers of wool on each of the two sides of the stencil. Continue by putting one more layer on each side just as you did with the first two layers. Check that all of the wool is wet and that the layers as set smoothly against each other.
Step 5: Start Felting!
Now the felting action really starts! Get your hand wet and place it flat on top of the layers of wool. Press down on the wool and with out picking up your hand, start to move your hand. The direction does not matter at this point, just firmly yet gently move your hand around.
NOTE: Yes, the fibres of wool will separate a bit and will stick to your hand at this point. No biggie, just keep on gently moving your hand while pressing down on the wool. What is happening is that the fibres are clinging to each other. The more they rub against each other, the more they attach, and as the felting process progresses, the fibres will join so tight that the whole piece will shrink. That is why you made the stencil a bit bigger than the outline of your hand; to allow for the shrinkage.
Turn the stack of layers over and start the rubbing on that side. Take turns rubbing each side every two to three minutes. Work the whole surface of each side. Make sure to separate the layers at the bottom of the mitten (i.e., by the opening for the hand to go into the mitten) every once in a while so you do not felt the opening shut. If it happens that it does felt shut, you could always get the scissors out and cut it open; but let's just keep that as a last resort.
Step 6: Get That Stencil Out!
After about an hour of rubbing the wool in this manner, you will notice that the cardboard, now soaked with soapy water is not contributing much to the shape of the mitten. Put one of your hands inside of the mitten and pull out all of the cardboard.
Time to wear the mitten! Keep your hand inside the mitten and rub it against the table the same way as before. Remember to wet the wool every once in while and add some more soap to make the surface more slippery for the felting. Rub the wool between your hand and the table, shape it, felt it.
Step 7: Covering Weak Spots
If you notice any spots on the mittens that are not thick enough (it happened to me on the tip of the thumb of one of the mittens) take some spare fibre, stretch it a bit, wet it and set it over the spot(s). Continue to rub the mitten with soapy water yet remember to do it gently but firmly so to get the new small layer affixed to the rest.
By now you will probably be done watching at least one movie so put in another dvd, eat some more snacky poos and get back to felting.
Step 8: Are You Done Yet?
So how to know when you are done felting? Pull on the wool fibres. If they separate and look like they will rip off, you gots to keep on rubbing/felting. However, if when you pull on the fibres, they feel tight and it feels like you are pulling on the whole mitten, you are done!
Rinse the mitten with clean water and then with a mix of water and a little bit of vinegar to do a second rinse. The idea behind doing so is to get rid of all of the soap because eventually soap could damage the wool.
Since you are working on a pair of mittens, repeat all of the steps for the second one. You can always start the second mitten at any time and finish felting both mittens at the same time. One cool thing about shaping felt is that it will keep the shape that you give it so in the case of mittens, you can shape each so you end up with a left hand mitten and a right hand mitten.
Step 9: That's It!
There you have it! That is how you can make a simple pair of felted wool mittens.
If you want to learn more about felting, I suggest Felt by Robyn Steel-Stickland. This small and neat book is a great source of information, technique and inspiration. Plus you can check out many other instructables on the subject.
I invite you to experiment, create and share what you learn and make. Have fun and let your imagination take over. From my part, I am planning on making a pair of felted slippers next... I'll keep you posted.