The DIY movement brought about a desire to up-cycle used clothing for our creative sewing projects. Notably, we all began to scour thrift shops and rummage sales for wool leftovers to toss into our washers and dryers and turn into felt, myself included.
But is it Wool Felt? Or Felted Wool?
For some, these two textiles are often misunderstood and can be confusing. While their origin – wool roving - is the same, wool felt and felted wool are completely different textiles; their look and feel is distinct. Let's see how.
Sheep to Roving
When sheep (or any other wooly animal) are sheared, we get piles of raw wool fiber; thank you sheep! These fibers are then cleaned and carded (the process of breaking up unorganized clumps of fiber and realigning them). The result is what we call wool roving. Now here's where each textile goes its separate way.
Wool Felt is a non-woven textile. There is no thread or weaving involved in production. It originates as wool roving and by adding heat, moisture and agitation, the roving compacts and matts together tightly to form what we refer to as pure wool felt.
Wool felt blends are also made using the process described above but with a combination of wool fibers and those from another material. The most common combination is wool and rayon, a non-synthetic man-made fiber derived from wood pulp. Rayon's properties are similar to those of cotton and linen, making it an excellent choice for wool blends.
Felted Wool is a woven textile. There is thread and weaving involved. Like wool felt, it originates as wool roving, but the roving is spun into thread after being cleaned and carded. This thread is then woven into wool cloth, which is washed in hot water and dried on high heat to emulate the “add heat, moisture and agitation” process used to make wool felt. This process turns wool fabric into felted wool.
Felted wool contracts into a thicker 'puffier' texture than the original cloth. This puffiness translates into “soft and fluffy,” which is why we love it! The results you achieve when felting wool will vary depending on the weave of the fabric, the wool content (whether or not it is 100% pure wool) and wash/dry temperatures.
Wool roving is also spun into yarn, which is used for knitting wool sweaters and accessories such as scarves and mittens. You can “felt” these knitted items as well but regardless of your wash/dry temperatures, they will not compact as tightly as wool fabric woven from thread. Wool yarn is considerably thicker than wool thread and knitting is much less taught than weaving. Homemade felt from a knitted garment has a much looser, bulkier texture and is more likely to fray.
Both are Wonderful!
Each of these two textiles are dreamy to work with. I love wool felt because it is soft yet strong and durable for making softies. It is available in a myriad of rich, vibrant colors that are lightfast and uniform throughout. It doesn't fray or pill and hand-sews like butter.
Felted wool offers endless possibilities when it comes to color and is available in richly textured patterns and plaids. It is fabulous for soft appliqué projects and making softie clothes with a hint of drape.