Back in October I taught a felted soap class at the studio at Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, WI.
I brought along books about fiber and quite a bunch of examples of items that I had felted. Not only soaps, but also knitted and felted items such as handbags, a cup cozy and mittens.
“Felting” wool is basically what happens when you put a sweater through the hot cycle in your washer and discover with chagrin that you have created doll clothes accidentally.
This explanation for how felting happens comes from BioTechnology Learning Hub: “The exposed edges of the cuticle cells point towards the tip of the fibre, creating a jagged edge. This allows fibres to slip over one another easily in one direction but not the other, giving wool the ability to felt.
Felt is created when wool fibres are agitated in water – they slip over one another and the scales interlock, preventing the fibre from returning to its original shape. The process can be controlled to create very dense fabrics such as felt and wool blanket and jacket fabric, but can also be caused unintentionally during laundering and ruin a garment.”
Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ESEM_color_wool.jpg
Using wool’s ability to felt to our advantage, we wrapped my handcrafted herbal soaps in colorful rolags made by blending colors using hand carders. As part of the class, I taught each of the students how to properly use hand carders to prepare the fiber. I also explained how color blending can be used to make infinite new and dynamic colors using a few batts of dyed wool. We soaked the wrapped soaps with warm water and agitated the wool by rubbing it in circles on each surface until the wool had just begun to felt together, then we rinsed them, pressed them dry in a towel and set them out to dry and be admired.
Soap that has been wrapped in wool has become a popular gift item. It brightens any decor. Felted soaps are like having a wash cloth built right in and they work great to scrub a gardener’s hands clean. The wool continues to shrink so that it is always tight against the soap. The wool wrapper helps the soap to last longer as long as the soap isn’t allowed to sit in water, which would cause the wool to wick and soften the soap.
UPDATE: Last spring I had the opportunity to teach this workshop again in an abbreviated fashion for a couple of groups of 4-H youth at UWEX Price County Project Fun Day. The activity was well received and a couple of kids held off on using their soaps so that they could submit them for exhibit at the Price County Fair.
Each child selected their own colors and learned to use the hand cards to create a rolag for wrapping around their bar of soap. I also gave a short talk about how soap is made and the characteristics of wool that allows it to felt.