The Midwest Felting Symposium, which will be held in Madison, Wisconsin in July, will showcase wool felting processes and felt art from the United States, Canada, England, and Lithuania. The Symposium could be an excellent forum for entrepreneurial shepherds to meet artisanal felters and find new markets for their wool.
“Shepherds who are interested can take a mini class for $15 to learn if their wool is good felting wool,” Susan McFarland, owner of Susan’s Fiber Shop, said. “If you have quick-felting wool there are growing markets available for you.”
Illinois veterinarian Susan Brown attended the 2009 Symposium and made wonderful wool felt house slippers.
Susan McFarland says wool growers can supply an unfilled need in the re-emerging craft of felting. Here she helps kids learn to felt furnishings out of slender and stout wool fiber.
Wool “magically” bonds into fabric!
Finished felted fibera work of art that could endure for generations.
Felt furnishings can even include bouquets that never wiltall made of your wool!
A surprising volume of wool makes heirloom non-flammable Christmas tree ornaments, and warm-when-wet gloves and mittens.
Felted bootsdurable as leather; way more comfortable.
Felted toysa durable, unique product in which American craftsmen need not compete with Third-World plastic products.
This is the fifth annual Felting Symposium that McFarlandwho raises Teeswater sheep and makes felted products such as wallets and hatshas sponsored.
Feltable Wool Sells HighAnd In Large Volumes
“I originally put the Symposium together so that I could sell the locks from my Teeswater to felters,” Susan said. “I’m able to get $18 per pound for my Teeswater fleeces because it’s so prized by felters. I sell the dyed locks for $4 an ounce. The locks can be eight to twelve inches long and they are really kinky. Felters add them in as embellishment to their flat felt.”
McFarland says the longwool breeds like the Teeswater, Lincolns, Wensleydales, Cotswolds and Leicesters have the long locks that are prized by felters. On the other hand, their fleeces are not prized for making the actual felt. Although all wool will eventually felt it is the classical wool breeds, such as Merino, that are preferred.
“When you get into your finer breeds like Merino, Cormo, even Columbia and Corriedale, they felt very easily,” Susan said. “When you get into certain medium breeds like Suffolk and Hamps they are very spongy and take forever to felt.”
“If you take some locks from your sheep and break them up into little pieces and put them on your hand with a little spit you can find out if you have fast felting wool,” she said. “If you can roll it around in the palm of your hand and make a little felted ball the size of a pea in one minute you have good felting wool. With wool like that you can go to the felters and tell them you have fast felting wool.”
Buyers Get Fulfillment & Fun Out Of Consuming Your Wool
As a felter and shepherd of longwool Teeswaters, McFarland needed a way to please customers and yet move her long-fibered producta good, marketable compromise. The renowned Turkish felter Mehmet Girgiç attended the Symposium a few years ago. He taught a class on blending wool. McFarland learned she could blend a mix of 40% Merino and 60% Teeswater wool to create beautiful felted articles. She will demonstrate that in one of the children’s activities at the Symposium.
“With two groups of kids we take Merino roving and my raw Teeswater fleece,” she said. “I have one group throw Merino on for a while and then another group throws Teeswater on for a while. Then they jump into the pile and throw it up into the air and mix it all together. We really have fun.”
After the blending is finished the fun continues.
“We take one of those plastic kids’ pools and lay the fleece into the bottom,” Susan said. “Then I have them help me pour the water over the top. Then we put a screen over the top of it and rub soap on it. Then I let the kids stomp on it and we make a rug.”
Felting uses lots of wool!
“I have taken 12 to 14 inches of puffed-up fleece and felted it down to a quarter of an inch thick; even to an eighth of an inch! That’s how much you can compact it,” McFarland said.
What’s On Tap
There will be shoe and boot making classes at the Symposium. The compacted felt for them is as tough and durable as leatheryet still warm.
“I haven’t researched it but I bet you could almost make it bullet proof,” McFarland says half jokingly. “I know they used to make body armor out of it. You can really felt some hard stuff.”
It may or may not be possible to make wool felt as tough as the DuPont company’s bulletproof Kevlar®a product whose high strength depends on inter-chain bonds between adjacent strands and a molecular structures resembling animal proteinsjust like felt. But felt is unique in its fireproof traits.
“I made a piece with Mehmetthe Turkish guythat used five pounds of wool, and it felted down to less than half an inch,” she said. “It’s a tent of wool like the ones the Basque shepherds went into to protect themselves from a prairie fire. The fire went right over the top of the tent!”
Felt is amazing in that it can be made into tough, hard body armor or the softest of fabrics. Classes on soft felt will also be taught at the Symposium.
Viltè Kazlauskaitè, a felter from Lithuania, will teach two 2-day classes on creating nuno felt and even working silk into it. Nuno felt is an oriental fiber laminating process that results in lightweight and drapable felt, a fabric that’s cool enough to be comfortable in the tropics.
Chris White, of Massachusetts, will teach a class on cobweb felt. Cobweb felt is a type of felt in which very small amounts of wool fibers are used to create an extremely sheer fabric that contains intentional holes.
“Felt is a thrilling medium in which to work because it’s at once deceptively simple and unexpectedly complex,” White says.
What Can Woolgrowers Learn?
Although some of the classes at the Midwest Felting Symposium will present the unexpectedly complex side of felt other classes will be short and simple, as well as entertaining and instructive.
Suzanne Pufpaff’s 45-minute “Make It and Take It” classes will be repeated regularly throughout the Symposium. Pufpaff will teach students how to make such things as a felt pouch or container to keep hot drinks warm. Or, attendees can learn how to make multi-colored 8 x 12″ felt artworks, useful in ways as diverse as home and office wall decorations to dining table place mats. How about a recreational felting option? The Michigan felter will show participants how to make a set of felt juggling balls.
Although most classes are not set up for shepherds to use their own fleeces Susan McFarland suggests that Pufpaff’s classes could be a venue to quicklyand inexpensivelydiscover if your flock’s wool has fast-felting fleeces.
“For $15 you can bring a pocket full of wool and very quickly find out if your wool is what the growing felting market wants,” she said.
Symposium A Win For Wool Growers & Buyers!
If you already know you have good felting wool, the symposium welcomes vendors.
“I’m trying to bring felters together and grow this community,” says Susan McFarland.
So whether you go to sell your fleeces, to learn more about the possibilities your wool may have in the lucrative feltable wool market, or if you just want to take some classes for your own enjoyment, the Midwest Felting Symposium is an excellent venue to learn more about this ancient craft and art form fast expanding into the United States.
The Symposium will be held from July 21 to 25 at Madison, Wisconsin’s Alliant Energy Center. To learn more visit the Symposium’s website www.midwestfeltingsymposium.com or call Susan McFarland at 920-623-4237.