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Monday, January 14, 2013

I Felt That

I Felt That!
I felt that! As a physician, those are words I hope not to hear when treating a patient. However, those words take on a much more positive implication when they apply to working with alpaca fiber. I have written about alpaca yarn, fabric, and even rugs, but have not yet mentioned one of the easiest and most artistic ways to work with alpaca fiber: felting!
Felting is the process of intentionally tangling the fiber to form a solid mat. There is “wet felting” usually done by hand by agitating the fiber in hot soapy water, then manually laying it out in a mat to dry. The other method, “dry felting”, uses barbed needles passed repeatedly through a blanket of fleece to inter-lock the individual fibers. Dry felting is less messy and involves no chemicals but it is labor intensive . . . unless you have a machine to do the work for you. Dry felting produces a more consistent roll of felt. There no need for the fleece to be spun, woven, or knitted so felt is easier to produce. It can be cut into all kinds of shapes, and is the primary fabric type used for some specific items, like western style hats.
We just took a vacation in northern Germany. We came across shops that had a fantastic array of all kinds of things made out of felt, ideas that I would never have considered. There were handbags, artwork, slippers, placemats, toys, key chains, table coasters . . . and more! Judging from what they were charging for these items, I can see where felting would have a significant profit margin, if one already owned the fleeces and a felting loom. Plus, felting looks like an outlet for artistic creativity even if you don’t have a clue about how to knit.
I have to confess there is some danger in me writing this article. My wife might see it! We have the fleeces, but she really wants to invest in a dry felting loom. It makes felting almost idiot-proof, which means that I would probably be the one assigned to do the felting on our ranch. Right now, I have college tuition to pay for, so the loom may need to wait awhile, but felting on an industrial scale looks like an easy way to turn fleece into cash without paying middle men. To quote my wife’s painfully bad pun, “Felt may be looming in our future”!