This is the question that I've been getting with greater regularity at Wind Rose Fiber Studio, so on Friday, I made this promise,
"Over this weekend, I will take a sample of Merino, Bamboo and Soy Silk rovings and try to felt them two different ways. First I will take a pencil of each roving and loosely crochet a chain and then try to wet felt the samples. I will also try needle felting all three. I'll take pictures along the way and share my results next week."
So this morning I conducted my fiber experiments. First I'll share the wet felting. I chose to machine felt which is the same method I use when I make my felted bangles in my store. So here are the three fibers:
On the right side you can see that I've made each roving into a short, loose crochet chain. Now into the washing machine! I decided to give them thirty minutes in hot soapy water with an old pair of bluejeans. I chose 30 minutes because I knew it would be more than enough for the wool and would give the plant fibers plenty of time to show if they have any felting tendencies. So here's the final picture:
As you can see, the wool became a perfect little felted bean, while both the bamboo and soy are more tangled than felted. Remember, this experiment is with 100% wool, 100% bamboo and 100% soy silk. A yarn that is a blend of wool and soy or wool and bamboo may felt very well, but for the sake of this experiment. we are looking at the fibers individually. So when it comes to wet felting and in particular, machine wet felting. I have to conclude that bamboo and soy silk do not felt.
Now on to the second half of my fiber experiment, needle felting. Using the same three fibers, I gently teased them apart at their natural staple lenght. I laid them in a criss cross pattern to help the fibers interact with each other. Using a single medium sized, barbed felting needle and a foam pad, I decided to give each fiber five minutes. That's five minutes of concentrated needle felting in which I will vigorously work each fiber into what I hope will be a circle. So here they are before being felted and to the right is a picture of the needle and foam pad I used.
It is important to note that each fiber is being felted on the same surface and that the surface is not made of wool. It is a dense Eurofoam that I purchased for the express purpose of needle felting. So here are my results:
All three felted for me. I was a bit surprised because I've never tried to needle felt anything other than wool before today. I think I was expecting that either the plant fibers would not felt or that it would take much more effort. On the contrary, working with them dry and with a single needle, all three felted up for me with relative ease. I didn't feel like I had to try harder on one fiber than another. I couldn't believe the results I had after just five minutes. Imagine if I took more time!
I want to point out a couple more details. The first is that the felted fibers do have different looks and textures. Talking to felters recently on Etsy, it sounds like that is what draws many of them to exotic or different fibers. They want that variation and interest in their work. The other detail or really a final little experiment on my part is about how they hold together. After I took this picture, I picked up each circle in turn and tried to pull it apart. All three held fast. If anything, the wool had a little stretch to it while the bamboo and soy silk. did not. In conclusion, I have to say that bamboo and soy silk do needle felt on their own, specifically dry needle felting.
I do have some comments from felters at Etsy. I will have to come back a little later to share those. My youngest has just informed me that he is starving to death! See you soon.