Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, History

Making Ends Meet Tudor Style – Feltmaking

A selection of felt items created and designed by artist Vicki Hodgson.

Inspiration to write my article ‘Southampton’s Wool and Cloth Heritage’ came from a feltmaking workshop that I recently attended.  The workshop took place at Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre, Southampton,  was led by textile artist Vicki Hodgson and organised by Southampton-based Tudor Revels as part of their programme of educational activities.  The feltmaking workshop is the first in a series of craft/heritage events, under the umbrella title of ‘Making Ends Meet – Tudor Style’.  Forthcoming workshops will include: pottery; beekeeping; candle-making; pole lathe turning and woodcarving.  For more information on Tudor Revels, please see my article, ‘Tudor Revels Southampton’ (the full activity programme is at the end of the article) or go to ‘Events’ on the Tudor Revels’ website.

Felt trinket holder, designed and made by Vicki Hodgson.

Vicki’s workshop was great fun and wet felting is surprisingly easy to do, it just takes a bit of time, patience and practice.  The attractive felt sample produced can be fashioned into a wide range of objects.  Feltmaking is a centuries old craft and was a popular method of creating a versatile fabric in Tudor times.  Felt fabric would have been used to make a wide range of clothing items, including hats. In 1583, the feltmakers of London petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for their own charter but it was not granted until 1604, when King James I came to the throne and The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers of London established.  For more information on the history of feltmaking and The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers, CLICK HERE. On their website you will also find a fascinating article on the first century of the Livery Company’s existence, ‘Feltmakers 1604-1704’.  See also, The History of The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers 1604-2004, (2004) by Rosemary Weinstein and published by Phillimore & Co Ltd.

A selection of fibres Vicki uses in her feltmaking.

Vicki only uses natural fibres for feltmaking workshops and in her own design work.  Feltmaking is a very eco-friendly craft.  I was absolutely amazed at the variety of fibres that can be used.  Wool fibres are the traditional choice but there are a whole range of other fibres, including:  silk cap; bamboo tops; fine loose cotton; soya bean staple; Tussah silk tops and the one that astonished us all the most, recycled plastic bottles!  Vicki volunteers as a part-time workshop facilitator at Southampton Scrapstore so is really on-trend with her creative upcycling methods.

Wool I collected at Avebury, Wiltshire.

On a recent visit to Avebury in Wiltshire, whilst walking near the ancient stone circle, I collected a large amount of wool that had been shed by grazing sheep. The sheep had snagged their fleece on thistles and wire fences.  I managed to gather quite a bit and Vicki’s workshop gave me the idea of turning this wool into felt. The wool is now drying-out in the airing cupboard but once dried, I will remove all the organic matter, hand wash it, dry-it again, card/comb it to work-out the fibres and then have a go at felting it.

Here are the results of my first attempt at feltmaking in Vicki’s workshop and I can honestly say that felting is very easy:

Select your colour palette of fibres.
On a towel, place a fine layer of uncoloured, separated fibres horizontally and then the next layer vertically.
On top of base fibres, layer fine strands of separated, coloured fibres. Firstly, horizontally and then vertically. Repeat process a second time.
Place nylon net over the arranged fibres.
Use pure Oliva soap. It is very easy to get hold-of and inexpensive. Holland & Barrett Healthstore sell a 125g bar for £1.09.  According to H&B’s description of the product it is: ‘Made from pure unrefined olive oil…Oliva is not tested on animals, contains no artificial colours or perfumes, is completely vegetarian. 100% biodegradable.’ CLICK HERE for H&B on-line store.
Finely grate soap into a bowl.
Take an empty plastic drinking bottle with a flat-top lid. Make about 5 holes in the lid. Fill the bottle half full of warm, soapy water. Shake the soapy mixture over your net covered fibres. Rub hard over the wet surface with a small piece of Oliva soap. Repeat the process of wetting the surface with the soapy solution and rubbing soap over it. Repeat the action about 6 x.
Place the wet sample on a towel, cover with the piece of nylon net and roll the layers around a large (about twice the size of a rolling-pin) cylindrical object. Pressing hard, roll 100 x away from yourself and 100 x toward yourself (yes that is 200 x, a good workout!). This action is helping to matt the fibres and remove as much moisture from the sample as possible.
Carefully remove your sample.
To remove the last few drops of moisture, scrunch-up the sample and throw it onto a hard surface a number of times.
My finished felt sample.
The flower brooch that I made from my felt sample. I added beadwork and an ostrich feather to give it a touch of theatricality!
Felt sample by Vicki Hodgson.
Felt sample by Vicki Hodgson. The sample has purple silk thread running through it in an attractive diamond pattern formation.
One of the felt bumblebees from a delightful mobile created by Vicki.
More examples of Vicki’s work.


Social historian, based in the UK.

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