Wool and Silk – materials of unique properties
Mammals evolved fur, such as wool, to protect themselves from harsh weather. What material could be more appropriate to protect us as well? Wool and silk are the two main materials I use in my art. They are natural products with exceptional properties.
Wool helps regulate body temperature, even when wet, prevents the accumulation of perspiration and has slight anti-bacterial properties. Merino wool in particular, the one I use, is one of the softer types of wool, with excellent heat retention per weight. It has very fine fibres, pleasant to the touch, with thickness between the coarser 24 µm (microns) and the ultra-fine of less than 15µm. In comparison, human hair tends to vary between 17 and 180µm.
Silk is so extraordinary that it gave birth and name to its own trade route, the legendary silk road that bridged Asia and Europe across 2000 years and thousands of kilometres. It is the perfect material to bring all this magic, adventure and romance into my creations. It has a natural shine that originates from tiny triangular structures that refract light like a prism giving rise to a plethora of colours.
Unlike most textiles, which are created by spinning into yarn and then weaving or knitting, felting uses the fibres directly, without any such techniques. The fibres are simply compacted and intertwined, traditionally by massaging with soapy water. This is a laborious technique but it opens up a world of creative possibilities. The end result are organic and unpredictable pieces, loaded with personality.
How to care for your felt
Felt may look like a fragile handicraft but it is actually quite strong. So much so that it is used by Central Asian nomads to make houses (Yurts, a kind of large tent). Still, a little care can help increase the longevity of your felt piece. You want to avoid anything that will make the fibres felt further, which would shrink or deform you piece.
- Wash by hand, separately. Note that, depending on the materials used, some dye may run.
- Submerge in cold or tepid water with a little gentle pure soap, shampoo or wool wash.
- Massage gently, without rubbing hard nor twisting. Any vigorous washing may felt it further.
- Rinse in water at the same temperature as the wash water. A dash of vinegar in the final rinse water helps.
- Squeeze gently, lay down to dry in the shade, horizontally and shaped like you want it.
- If necessary, iron at low temperature, keeping in mind that sometimes my crafts have other fibres besides wool, such as silk, cotton and synthetics.
When storing your felt, remember moths love them just as much! If you get an item infested you can get rid of the moth eggs by freezing your items for a few days, although that's not always a very practical solution.