It never fails--the year-end holidays come and go, the bright and festive decorations are put away, and the house feels dull and lifeless. Attempts to inject color into our environment seem artificial and glaring. As a result, I've come to embrace January and February as months of introspection, renewal and calm, and, I think, so does Mother Nature.
Gray, brown and winter white--these are the colors of the coldest months for us in the northern hemisphere and the colors that dominate the landscape as I now gaze out the window to the backyard. But they need not be somber tones. With the right setting they feel...well, right. Cozy and comforting like a cup of warm milky tea, don't you think?
This project has been a long time in the making. I first stumbled upon the Alpaca Fiber Studio in Chagrin Falls, Ohio about 2 years ago. I purchased some wool roving to play around with this specific project in mind. But it wasn't until I conceived of our new blog series, Winter Wolle that I knew the time had come.
On the left in the picture below is 2 oz of cream roving--looks like a big marshmallow, eh? It is especially light and fluffy, but I doubt it tastes any good.
Roving, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is what they call the wool after its been meticulously cleaned and carded, but before it has been spun into yarn or felted. The roving comes together in a loose strip which is lightly wound into a skein. The wool I used is alpaca, which has comparable qualities to sheep's wool in terms of its felting-ability.
The process I used to make the felted balls was relatively easy:
Pull off a generous handful of marshmallow fluff (the middle object in the picture below).
Dip the ball carefully in a bowl of hot tap water mixed with dish detergent (such as Dawn)--I say "carefully" because you don't want to totally submerge the ball in the water--you want to get it wet all the way through, but not soggy.
Begin to roll the ball gently in the palm of your hands. Apply only enough pressure to start shaping the ball. It should slowly start to become denser and denser. If not, add the tiniest drop of soap and a bit more water. As it becomes denser, add more pressure with your hands. The idea is to reduce the ball to appoximately 1" in diameter (depending on the amount of roving you started with). I found that you can speed up the process some by rinsing the ball in cool, clear water, then back in the host soapy water. (This rinsing causes the fibers to sieze up.)
You'll know the ball is completely felted when it no longer has any "loose" roving and it feels firm and dense. At this point, thoroughly rinse it in a bowl of cold tap water and roll it around on a towel to remove any extra water and to ensure it is really round. I like to leave mine on the radiator for a day or two to get them extra dry, but plain old air drying will suffice.
Generally speaking, each felted ball was 45-60 seconds in the making, once I got the hang of it. Each 2 oz skein yielded approximately 20 1" balls and the 12" wreath featured here required about 175 balls to get full coverage on three sides. Yes, I spent a LOT of time felting. Luckily, Etsy will provide you with many sources for roving in every shade imaginable (search for "roving") AND finished felted balls.
I found the cream roving took longer to felt than the other colors and was more prone to leave pronounced cracks in the sides (look closely at the cream balls above and you'll probably see what I mean). I don't think the difference had anything to do with the color, per se, but was probably more attributable to the differences in the fibers of the roving.
You can't really get rid of the cracks once they are formed, so take care to avoid them from the start. Easier said then done, however! I never found a really reliably way to prevent them with the cream except to use lots of soap, really hot water and slowing down the addition of pressure until I was sure there were no cracks. In the end, I accepted the cracks figuring only half of each ball would be showing on the final wreath and I would just have to be careful when I attached them to place them "crack side down".
For the wreath, I started with a 12" styrofoam wreath form, which I hid by covering it first with strips of various coordinating fabrics from my stash. Look carefully below and you'll see a mixture of unbleached muslin, duchess silk, dupioni silk and twill from a pair of khakis.
Attaching the felted balls was not as easy I planned. I thought sewing them to the underlying fabric would be a kinder, gentler approach than my crash hot glue gun approach used previously. I think I only exponentially added to the process. No matter, I am quite happy with how it turned out.
Happy crafting! ~Erin