Palm Washboards

A Palm Washboard is a felting tool designed and produced by Robbin and Harry Firth of Heartfelt Silks. As you’ll see from the images below the bottom of the tool somewhat resembles a meat tenderiser and has a very comfortable handle. I first came across it when one of my workshop participants, who’d been on a trip to the states, brought it in with her and kindly allowed everyone to try it out. Some months ago Adelaide Walkerrbegan stocking the tool and this week we received a new shipment which also included some EDGE tools and Rounded Palm Washboards. I thought the time had come to write a review of the tools plus it was my excuse to give the new ones a go!


I’ve used the standard Palm Washboard quite a bit and anyone who’s been to a workshop recently has been able to try it out. It’s great for replacing my use of a carrier bag during the wet and set stage and it does keep your hands out of the water for longer. However, I’m a heavy handed felter and with wood between you and your work rather than a slim piece of plastic it’s harder to feel what you’re doing to the felt. The main problem for me, is that unless I’m gentle I will move fibres around and I’ve noticed this with people in the workshops too. So, be gentle and it’ll do its job very well.

I feel I should also mention at this stage that when I use the washboard with my usual vigour that it produced more lather from the soap than normal so don’t overdo the soap. If you replace rolling with use of the washboard throughout then I’ve also noticed that you’ll see a slightly smaller shrinkage rate. None of these are negatives, just things to be aware of that may affect how you normally make your felt. It’s noticeable at workshops that anyone with arthritic hands has really found this a useful tool and we’ve all loved working with it.

Fibres will still find their way up through the net so you will have to stop and remove it occasionally but my observation is that there’s fewer fibres coming through than when I use a plastic bag to rub.


The photo above shows that it’s not just for rubbing with but also for rubbing against. Wanting to play with the smaller tools I decided on making a small vessel so I could try them out. Again, be gentle during the wet and set stage, change the angle of your washboard as you use it round the edges and use a scooping movement that brings the fibres towards the centre each time.


I’ve tried to show you the angle in the photo above. If you use a pushing action you have a high chance of pushing the wool fibres off the resist. After trying this I tried the Rounded Palm Washboard at this stage and noticed immediately that I could feel the pressure I was putting on my work far more. Once the felt was off the resist I began using it to shape. It is important that you use a net between you and the felt at this stage (especially if, like me, you’re heavy handed) or you will cause some of the fibres and decoration to roll and it may ruin your finish and your pattern.


I didn’t want a large hole in the vessel and so couldn’t fit the rounded tool into the opening initially so I tried using the EDGE Washboard.


It’s like holding a nailbrush and it was quite effective at firming the felt. I could see how I might use it inside handbags and any 3D work which was a little narrower and you couldn’t use the rounded tool. But you know me, I couldn’t not use the rounded tool on this so I enlarged the hole.


It was still a bit of a squeeze getting the tool in there but it was brilliant at shaping and firming the felt. I didn’t do any rolling on the vessel and it has shrunk as normal.


The EDGE Washboard was developed by Robbin for doing edges, detailed work and ruffles. My previous work didn’t feel as though it had  given  it a chance to shine so I decided to make a fingerless mitten with a frill.


It was easy to use on firming the frill but do use a net between the tool and your felt or you will roll in the edge and make it thicker than you might like as well as the chance of rolling the surface fibres.


You can see why it’s called the EDGE can’t you? Unlike the other tools this does give you a longer edge to work with and allows you to get to both sides of the frill. I’ll admit this is the tool I was least sure of initially but I can see its uses, it has grown on me and if I was a frilly person I’d be using this a lot. I think it may be the least used of my tools given how I work and what I make but there’s definitely a place for it in my toolbox.


So to summarise, for large flat areas you can’t beat the standard tool and indeed, I have two of them so use one, in each hand when working larger projects. It doesn’t replace rolling for me as that allows me to work the whole area at once and I find it physically relaxing switching between the two methods. It’s very good at fulling.

The Rounded Palm Washboard is a great tool when working 3D or smaller 2D pieces. I think it’ll be very popular at workshops. The EDGE tool can be used on 3D work and on the edges it was designed for. My gut feel is that people won’t be quite so keen on this at first but you know it’ll be just the thing in the right situation.

I still have spaces on the picture workshop next month so come along and try these tools for yourself. If you have a washboard  I’d be interested to hear your experiences and tips for using them. As I use these more my observations and likes may very well change so I will review them again.


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