Tutorial – Seamless Felt Handbag
It’s quite a simple strapless bag but a nice shape and a good bag to begin with. I’ve used a natural grey Merino fibre but you can choose any fibre to use.
I usually begin seamless felted items with a resist, so called because it resists the layers felting together. To get the right size I decide what size I want the finished item to be and add 40% to allow for shrinkage if working with Merino fibres. Different fibres will give different shrinkage rates e.g. Herdwick gives 30% shrinkage. Don’t forget to round off any sharp corners so they don’t poke through your fibres.
2. Laying out the background
Don’t have your hands too close together so the fibres will separate easily. Begin by laying a fringe half on, half off the resist and then fill in the centre. Your next layer of fibre needs to be at right angles to the first layer.
Put your net on the fibres and wet out with soapy water. use your hand to press all the water down through the fibres until it goes flat and give a very light rub with a bag. Take off the net and turn the resist over to fold in your fringe. Repeat as above on this side. Add a third layer to each side or, if you pull finely, add two more layers in the same way as before.
3. Adding a pattern
The resist should be completely covered by fibres and now it’s time to add any final decorations or patterning. I’ve added a few simple strips of black fabric. Bear in mind which end is the top of your bag and that you will be cutting in a handle later.
Then it’s back on with the net, wet it out and rub until the pattern is set and do the pinch test above on each side of the resist. If the fibres stay together then you’re ready to roll. If the fibres start to separate you need to rub for longer.
4.Ready to roll
I use a piece of pipe insulation for rolling but you can use a broom handle. Wrap the whole thing up in the bubble wrap and roll 100 times. Unroll, the package, turn 90 degrees and roll for another 100. Unwrap, turn it over and repeat.
When the resist begins to buckle it’s time to remove the felt. Cut the resist open and rub the cut edges with soapy fingers to harden before removing the resist. Remove the resist then work around the edges with soapy hands to make sure ridges don’t form down the sides of your bag. I put it over my hand to do this. To full (harden) the felt you can continue to roll or throw it onto the table. The impact of the throwing shocks the felt into hardening and gives a more textured finish.
When rolling you need to change direction often to keep your felt shrinking in proportion and also to lay the bag with the sides uppermost as shown above to prevent ridges forming on the sides. You can also rub again with your hands. To form the bottom, fold the felt to form an eye shape and rub well. The felt will remember this shaping if you repeat the process periodically whilst felting.
Remember to keep checking the bag until you’ve shrunk it down to the desired size. You can roll in a mat to harden but I often use a towel as it also increases friction and aids felting. When you’ve achieved the correct size, cut a slit in the centre top (about 1.5 inches down) to form a handle. If you don’t like the obvious cut edges just rub them with soapy hands until they soften off. . Whilst the felt is wet it can be shaped, so stretch it and pull it back into shape if you need to before leaving to dry.