When Rolling’s Not Enough: Fulling Tools and How to Use Them!

There can come a time in the fulling process where even the most intrepid felter wants to throw up their hands and say: NO MORE! Fulling tools let your project finish before you reach that point! Here’s a breakdown of sanders, palm washboards, and glass washboards for your reading pleasure.

One afternoon during a class with Katia Mokeyeva, I was confused by a persistent buzzing. Did a late-in-the-season mosquito somehow find its way indoors? Were there bees in the walls? The answer became clear as I walked into the back room and saw an unexpected sight: ten women standing with electric sanders in their hands, buzzing away! Here are the advantages of using an electric finishing sander, taken, of course, from Uniquely Felt:

Using a sander is most effective when nuno felting. It does not actually do the fulling for you, but it can help speed the process along if the fibers have already begun to penetrate the fabric. (Check out a Felting Detangled post about nuno here and about silks here!)  It is especially useful if you’re trying to save an embellishment (such as Angelina or neps) that isn’t sticking- try hitting it briefly to make it attach. Sanders can reduce rolling time and save a little wear and tear on your body. After you’ve rolled for a while and have checked to make sure that it’s safe to pick up your tulle, cover your work in a piece of plastic and start applying the sander, one section at a time. Be aware that if you try to do it in a circular motion, it can move your plastic and your layout.

There are several rules that you absolutely have to follow when purchasing a sander. First, make sure that it is grounded with a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter). This hardware is often found in electronic appliances used in the kitchen or bathroom that will come in touch with water, because it prevents accidental electrocution. Most buildings have them built directly into wall sockets, but you have to be one hundred percent sure. If you can’t tell, buy a GFCI at a hardware or electrical store, and get the kind used for temporary applications: a 2-foot-long cord with plugs on both ends. Wear rubber-soled shoes and stand on a rubber mat to be as safe as possible.

(A note: While a sander can be helpful, it is also noisy and can cause nerve damage with prolonged use. When I asked her, Christine White said that she prefers not to use one, because she feels that it robs her of the sensation of fiber moving and the information that such movement provides. However, she said that she might consider it if she was in production and needed to make larger quantities of felt in a short amount of time.)

Then for the less high-tech option: washboards! Washboards are a great way to speed along the felting process by increasing the effect of your rolling. We sell glass or palm washboards in our tool section. Our palm washboard is handmade by Heartfelt Silks and is essentially a wooden circle with texture on one side and a handle. By using a circular motion, you can bond the fibers together faster and stronger with less labor. You can combine elements of needle felting, nuno felting and wet felting. They are very popular in our nuno scarves class and can be seen in a lot of our garment making workshops (check out our Facebook page for pictures!). The ones we carry are made from native hardwoods and are sealed with three coats of two-part epoxy. They fit perfectly in your hand.

Glass washboards are great for creating footwear or thicker felts. The ones we stock fit right inside a pail of warm soapy water and will full down a hat or a pair of slippers in a matter of minutes! Be sure to use plenty of soap to keep your wool from abrading and roll or knead your felt across the glass surface instead of scrubbing.

There you have it! A three-pronged approach that can speed your work right along! Let us know what fulling tools YOU use in your felting adventures!

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