When I brush my dog or my neighbours cat, or find myself with a small amount of hair or fur from any animal at all, I try making a felted ball with the fur. I have had good success with dog, cat, muskox, caribou, rabbit and, of course sheep! It's a pretty simple process, and very satisfying.
Step 1: Materials and Equipment:
- a nice big handful of fur from the animal of your choice (or chance).
- brush (if gathering yourself)
- second brush (for carding, if your fibre is very dirty or matted)
- access to hot and cold water (sink, pot or bowl)
- small amount of liquid soap (dish soap or hand soap)
- your bare hands
Step 2: Gathering Your Fibre:
Living with a dog that has medium length fur, I have a good supply of feltable fibre on hand at all times. When Mocha sheds, she pretty much explodes with excess fur. It is mostly fine underfur, that can actually be removed by the handful or gathered from the piles that accumulate in the corners of the rooms...
My neighbours cat Oliver, who likes to be brushed multiple times a day will provide enough fur for a small felted ball, every other day (first hand knowledge gained from cat sitting experiences).
Depending on what time of the year it is, each animal will have different amounts of loose fur available (selective breeding of sheep means that most common breeds do not moult and need to be sheered), and there can be more or less guard hairs or soft undercoat fibres in the mix, that will create different qualities and even colours in the felted balls.
Step 3: Preparing Your Fur
Pick out any obvious bits of stuff that are not fur, and don't worry if the fur is not clean clean, as it will be, by the time you are finished felting.
If you are using fur that is very dirty or matted, you can use a couple of dog brushes to card the fur first. Place a handful of fur in between the two brush heads, and then brush the fur in opposite directions. This is will loosen the mats, align the fibres, and help you to remove any bits of sticks and straw etc.
Step 4: Wetting It Down
Fill your sink, pot or bowl, with hot water, deep enough that you can completely submerse the fur when you dip it in and out of the water.
Grab a handful of dry fur in one hand and gently shape it into a loose round ball. Sprinkle some hot water over the top, turn it, sprinkle some more water, turn it again, sprinkle more water. Do this a few times, until it seems to loosely hold itself together, and then gently dip it in and back out of the hot water.
Continue to gently turn it over in your hands, cupping them around the fur to form a loose ball. It will be a bit sticky and awkward at first.
Step 5: Felting Your Fur
Continue to move the ball around between your hands, and begin using gentle pressure in a circular motion to shape the fur (photo). Keep moving the ball around in a circular motion until you feel it begin to hold together as a unit - the inside will still be very soft.
Add a couple of drops of soap, and continue rolling the loose ball around. Dip it into the hot water and back out again, adding another drop of soap when you need it and continue rolling. Regularly dip the ball into the hot water, whenever you feel it cooling off, it helps the scales on the fibres relax, catch and interlock with other fibres. The soap helps you to move the fibre around and shape the ball.
Keep the surface moving as a whole, gradually increasing the pressure between your hands, as the ball shapes up. If you apply too much pressure too quickly, it can create lumps and folds in the surface of your ball. You want to gradually transition from a loose round pile of fur, to a solid felted ball by evenly shrinking (felting) the ball in on itself using heat, pressure, and soap. It will take you a bit of time to 'massage' the loose fur into a tight felted ball.
If you feel a fold or lump starting, try gently pulling the fur in that area back into shape, and then try to massage the fibres back into a smooth surface using some soap (if that doesn't work, you can try adding a bit of extra fur to fill out the area, this can be tricky to do if the ball is already well felted).
Continue rolling the ball around between your hands, using just enough pressure to felt it while still maintaining its round shape. You will see and feel the outside surface, and then the inside of the ball hold together more solidly and firm up as you go.
Step 6: Shocking the Wool
When you have a good solid feeling ball, you can stop, or you can try shocking the wool with cold water, to push it to felt into an even tighter ball.
To do this, dip your warm felted ball into cold water and roll it evenly between your hands using very firm pressure. Depending on what you are aiming for, you can continue to alternate between hot and cold using a bit of soap, until you are happy with the firmness of your felted ball.
Step 7: Dry Your Fur Ball
When you are finished felting your fur balls, roll them up in a towel, and move them around in the towel leaning on them to squeeze out the water. They may still be a bit damp, but this gets them pretty dry.
Step 8: Felted Balls
Once you've made a few felted fur balls you, will get to know around how much wool you need to use to get a certain size ball and how much pressure to apply and when, to end up with a nice round ball.
I have a rusted container that I found in the woods that I have filled up with my most recent, or favourite felted balls, including memory balls made from my old dog's fur that just sits on my desk... You can add felted balls to lots of things! Add them to zipper pulls, add tiny balls to earrings, make a bunch that are the same size and string them into a bracelet, or attach a large felted ball to your keys so they cannot be missed.