The Gentle Roller - Fulling Drum

The Gentle Roller exclusive Fulling Drum

The production of felt can be considered a three-part process;

1. The laying of your materials, which is a discrete activity.  Historically, the basic raw material is woolen fibres or fleece.  Wool fibres have a barbed or scaled surface texture which make them ideal for felting.

Sheep fibres have the most barbs making it the easiest fibre to felt, but almost all animal fur or fleece can be successfully felted.  Alpaca, goat, rabbit, yak and camel are all popular fibres that can all be felted but with increasing levels of difficulty as the barbs become fewer or smaller.  

Your laying may also include the introduction of a carrier fabric (usually silk or cotton).  Here you need to get the fibres to migrate through the fabric in order to attach it and incorporate it in the 'felt'.  The use of a carrier fabric is known as Nuno felt.

Finally, your laying may include embellishments like silk strands, which do not felt, but whose fibres are captured by the wool (or other animal) fibre to become part of the finished item.


2.  Next comes the rolling of the materials to a pre-felt. 

During pre-felting, the goal is to open the barbs of the fibres, usually with a high pH soap solution, twist and tangle the fibres together by sliding them against each other with the aid of a felting solution and light agitation, embed them through the carrier fabric (if nuno felting), or entangle them in the embellishments.

The goal is not to shrink the materials but to ensure good meshing of the component parts.   

The Gentle Roller uses the rolling process to create the pre-felt. 

The Gentle Roller wet felt rolling machine

The material may shrink very marginally as the fibres start to become entangled and matted together into a cohesive piece of material, and in nuno felt, the fibres migrate through the carrier fabric. 

The more rolling you do, the more entangled and cohesive your pre-felt becomes.  Poor quality pre-felt will fall apart on drying while good quality pre-felt can be gently handled and cut into shapes for future felting.

Good quality pre-felt is the precursor to good quality felt.  


3.  To make the finished felt you then need to “full” your material. 

The Gentle Roller wet felting machine Fulling Drum

Fulling involves shrinking the pre-felt into a strong permanent new form which is “felt”.  The process requires a more vigorous agitation of the pre-felt and usually the addition of warm water.  During fulling the scales/barbs grab and collapse onto each other and the fibres shrink on themselves. This results in the noticeable shrinkage of the pre-felt material (sometimes by as much as 50% in length and width, or a 75% reduction in surface area) as the fibres mesh to create a denser, fully cohesive felt fabric.

Fulling is often performed by hand, agitating and kneading (sometimes throwing and bashing) the pre-felt.  As with rolling, this style of fulling can be labour intensive and hard work.  The fulling drum performs the fulling process by gently tumbling your pre-felt item for you thus saving you time and energy. 

Simply place your item in the fulling drum, if it is too dry then add a splash of warm, soapy water and set it on its cycle.   Check it regularly (every 150-200 cycles) to see how much shrinkage or fulling has occurred and to unravel the edges that have a tendency to curl inwards during the fulling process.

When you have happily fulled your material to a suitable final size you then finally have a “felted” item.

The Gentle Roller Fulling Drum 

In reality, pre-felting and fulling are a part of a continuum.  When to stop the gentler rolling / meshing / pre-felting, and when to start more aggressive shrinkage / fulling, are personal choices and depend on your objectives and familiarity with the materials.

Ultimately, when you have happily pre-felted and fulled your material to a suitable final quality and size, you have a “felted” item.


And here is how they did it in the old days: