Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to: Felted Soap

Felted soaps have been one of my best selling items, probably due to a combination of several facts- they're fun, extremely functional, make great gift, unusual, and less expensive than anything else in my store.

For a while I've been planning on putting together a tutorial on how to make them so that you can all give it a try! I will try to explain everything in a way that someone who has never felted before can understand. Also, if there is anything you don't understand please ask me questions and I would be happy to add that information in.

First off for those of you who are thinking "ok, that's nice, but what on earth is felted soap??" here's the basic description that I include in my etsy listings-
"Felted soap functions as a built in washcloth and gently exfoliates while creating a lovley lather. Just wet, rub a little to get sudzy and use! As the soap is used up the felt casing will shrink with it until it gets very small allowing you to use every last bit as well extending the life of your soap. Once the soap is gone you will be left with a small, great smelling, felt pouch that can be cut open and used to put something special in, or kept as a shower scrubby to use with the other fabulous handmade soaps from etsy."

The basic idea behind wet felting is that agitation, hot water, and soap cause the wool fibers to tangle more and more tightly together and eventually become a solid piece of felt. Felted soap is a great introduction to wet felting because the soap is already part of it, and it is a small project so it goes relatively quickly and you can get the feel for felting before going on to bigger projects.

I would recommend starting out making only one at a time, until you get the hang of it. I usually do 3 or 4 in a sitting but then my hands get so soaplogged (you know how your fingers get all shriveled up and waterlogged when you've been swimming for too long? it's like that but you have soap in your fingers) that I can't stand it any more and need to take a break. The funny part about that is the next time you go to wash your hands they're already soapy.

Let's get started!

You will need:
-a towel
-wool (I use merino because it is the softest and also wet felts more quickly than other types)
-a bar of soap
-hot water (in a bowl, or a squirt bottle)
-(optional) a piece of rubber or plastic mat

Lay the plastic mat on top of the towel (if you don't have a rubber mat
I would reccommend doing this on a plastic table top or some
other surface that won't be damaged by water.

Step 1: (skip if you only have one color of wool)
lay out little wispy bits of wool in the pattern and color that you want, if you would like a really specific design lightly needle felt it together first but only enough that it stays put. I like to play with color in more abstract designs and see what happens.

Step 2:
Begin drafting out THIN strips of wool vertically (I usually use all one color at this point, but you can certainly keep using as many colors as you want) make an even layer in a square about 4 or 5 inches on each side for a normal bar of soap, if it's smaller or larger compensate for that size difference by making the area that you are laying wool out a bit bigger or smaller.

Step 3-5:

Lay out wool in the same manner going horizontally, then diagonally one way and then diagonally the other way. Pat it, it should have an even thickness and not show through to the mat/table in any places, it should be a bit poofy, but not super thick. Then put an extra horizontal piece and vertical piece in the center. The reason for going all different directions is it gives the wool more places to tangle, the barbs on the individual strands of wool all go the same direction so if you lay them against each other facing opposite ways they will snag on eachother more readily.

Step 6:
Ok, now plop your soap diagonally in the middle.

And start to fold in the corners one at a time

Wrap it up like a nice little present.

If there is a color that you like that's being covered up, just pull it out from underneath and lay it lightly over the top wherever you want it.

Now flip your nice little package over so that the weight of the soap holds the folded pieces in place. Check to make sure there are no thin spots where the soap shows through, if there are, unwrap it and fill in those places with more wool.

Now you're ready to start felting!

Step 7 (I think, yeah, we'll just call it 7):
Get your bowl of HOT water. Not so hot that you burn yourself,
but close.

Drip water onto the top of the soap, if you have a squirt bottle you can just squirt a little out.

Pat gently.

Using your other hand to cup the side, drip water on each side, patting gently afterward.

What you are trying to do right now is to get all of the
wool just a little bit wet.

Once you have wet the top and sides flip the soap over, the water should have pooled enough to wet the underside. Pat gently. If there is a lot of water pooled around the soap, dump some back into the bowl.

Continue to work your way around the bar patting all sides DO NOT RUB! Rubbing at this point could cause bits to stick up and become "dread locks" or pull the wool away from parts causing holes where the soap sticks out.

Keep patting... spend at least 10 minutes patting your first time, eventually you will learn to recognize when you're ready for the next step and it may take less time. This step is the felting part, you are making all the different layers of wool stick together.

After a while it will change, you'll know what I mean, see how different the texture looks in the picture? It will also have shrunk a bit around the soap so that it is more fitted to the shape of the bar.

Step 8: Fulling, I couldn't get any good pictures of this because I was using both hands and they were covered in soap suds so hopefully I can explain well enough.
Fulling is the final step to felting where you agitate the wool and it shrinks and becomes more solid. Before this step you can still pull off the fiber without too much trouble if you wanted to, after it you would need scissors or a lot of patience to rip it open.

I usually do this part near a sink because it can get kind of messy and you have the hot and cold right there. Otherwise, get a bowl/bottle of really hot water and one of cold water. The temperature change helps make the fulling process go faster because it opens and closes the scales of the wool. Also, rinsing in cold water at the end helps get the suds out of the wool casing.

Begin by wetting with hot water and rub very gently someone once told me to rub it like it was a baby bunny, I think that's a good motivation for just how gently you should rub at first if you rub hard you could still pull it apart or create dreads. Use a circular motion and try to rub equally on all sides. As it gets soapy rinse it off in alternating hot and cold water, you should feel it start to tighten up after a few minutes, as it does you can rub harder, rotating it around in your hands. If you have a washboard or something textured you can rub it against that for extra agitation.

When you think it's done, keep going, just a bit longer.

Final rinse in cold water, squeeze dry in a towel and place in a well drained place to dry, I use a dish drying rack.

TA DA! Felted soap!

Have fun and I'd love to see pictures of what you make :)


Dana said...

Very nicely described and photographed! Although I've tried felting my soap have some interesting techniques I will try next time!

Dana @ Soap Sense

ZAJA Natural said...

This a great! I have been a little intimidated with the thought of felting, but you make it look so simple!

Carol said...

Nice! I will save as a future project.

Sara at Soap Rehab said...

Great instruction! This looks like the kind of project that would be fun to do when my sister and I get an opportunity to get together and get crafty :)

Smiss said...

i have always thought this sounded like a fun thing to make

lizzyoos said...

Thanks so much for this. I make Hemp oil soap and this will be perfect. Thanks! Lizzy

Sweetland Retreat said...

Wow! What a process!!! I admire it alot!

HandMade Goods said...

your felted soap looks lovely! great tutorial too =D

moondogfarm said...

great tutorial!!!! saw the link on the maineteam chat on etsy. perfect timing since my friends and i are getting together in a few days to try this out! thank you!

germandolls said...

Great! I have always wondered how it was done! Very informative post!

Kellianne said...

Beckyrose, thank you so very much for sharing your technique! After struggling for years to get my soap felted properly, last night I made 3 perfectly felted bars thanks to you! It was much easier than the old method with the stocking and the hard rubbing. it was fast, too.
For the hot water, I kept an electric tea kettle at hand, with water just under boiling. It really did a great job shrinking the wool.
I just wrote an article (pics included) for my blog...Do you mind if I include a link to you?
Thanks again!

Kate/Massachusetts said...

Love the tutorial! Have you had any problems with the dye leaching out of the felt? I made a bunch of these last year for Christmas gifts but was told that several of the felted soaps left dye on their recipient's skin. Any suggestions? Thanks, Kate

dfuller55 at verizon dot net

Beverly said...

This is a wonderful tutorial. I think it would be wonderful to try with kids. Thank you for posting it!

Bonnie said...

Thank you SO much for the tutorial! It's answered a lot of wet felting questions for me :)

13moons said...

That's so cool. The soap looks great. I just saw your post in the etsy forums, and yes, I did think, What the heck is felted soap.


Unique Candles Plus said...

I tried this project with excitement only to be discouraged that the felt came completely off in the first shower. Any suggestions?