NEFS has several rolling mats (including a rolling kit and cording mats), and honestly all I knew until about a week ago was how much they cost. That’s useful at the cash register, but not so much when trying to actually make something! I asked around to get some answers, but I mostly found what I needed to know in Uniquely Felt (which you should consider getting, because that is always my first step when trying to figure out a problem by myself without asking anybody else!).
During the initial felting stage, rolling mats help to distribute both water and soap throughout the fiber pile. Once you are in the fulling stage, they are a protective layer and determine how the fibers move and interact. The mat is an extension of your hands and distributes the energy of the rolling across all parts of the felt simultaneously. People use a piece of solar pool cover, bubble wrap with the smaller bubbles, or a bamboo mat depending on the situation. As author Christine White notes, “The key to keeping everything clear in your mind is simple: Think about the fiber itself. What is happening at the various stages in the process, and what are you trying to accomplish?” (White 20).
Bamboo mats are good to use when you have a large volume of wool and many layers, because they provide a strong framework around your fiber. All types of bamboo mats will work, though true bamboo is superior because of its resiliency. The smaller and rounder the individual bamboo pieces are, the smoother the rolling will be, and small-diameter matchstick-style mats are even better than larger flat-slatted, split-piece mats. Make sure it is sewn well with many running threads holding the bamboo together.
The size and weight of the bamboo mat you choose depends on your project. For some projects, you can even adapt bamboo window shades by removing the hardware and securing the loose strings so the bamboo slats don’t fall out!
See-through bubble wrap is lightweight, inexpensive, and waterproof and works well for many types of felting. However, it also can retain soapy water and break down with rigorous work. Oftentimes when felters say “bubble wrap” they actually mean solar pool cover. This can be found at pool stores in the late spring months for clearance prices. Felters also use nonskid rug mats, because water runs through the holes and does not pool inside the roll. The flat, “lacy” kind is good for thin nuno garments and the puffy grid kind works better for slightly thicker felts.
These are just some options available, and we suggest that you try anything you have that seems similar to some of these products! Let us know what you find!