The Difference Between Felted Wool Fabric & Wool Felt

It’s a common question: What is the difference between wool felt (not talking synthetic felt, a product usually made from plastic, and found in craft stores, but actual wool felt) and felted wool fabric, which is more correctly called fulled wool fabric.

Their origin is the same: wool sheared from a sheep, after which the wool is cleaned. Next, it is carded, a process whereby the fibers are pulled from a mass of cleaned fleece into a “combed” condition.

In the creation of wool fabric, the next process is to spin the combed wool into thread. (Were yarn for knitting or crocheting to be desired, the “thread” is spun to a thicker consistency, from which skeins are created.)

Whether thread or yarn has been created, it is at this point in the process, if color is desired, that dyeing occurs.

The final step is to weave the threads into fabric, on a loom. Weaving is what creates most fabric, be it wool, cotton, silk, linen, etc.

At this point, especially if all the processes outlined above are done on a large scale, in a factory, (as most are), the fabric is rolled into huge bolts, to be sold to wholesalers.

That is where I come in. I order my wool fabrics from wholesalers. Many are of the already-colored variety (referred to as “mill-dyed”). The rest of what I order is wool fabric in its natural color … and this I dye by hand.

When I receive the bolts of mill-dyed fabric, I cut them into smaller, more manageable pieces, and put them through a vigorous hot-water cycle in the washer. When the cycle is completed, I place the spun-dry fabric into the dryer to fluff and soften it.

When I receive the non-dyed natural wool fabric, I put the cut pieces through the same process, but only to get it thoroughly wet. From there the fabric is placed in large tubs of water to continue soaking, until I’m ready to begin the dyeing process.

Whether mill-dyed or hand-dyed, the finished product is called … voila! (we’ve finally come to it!) … felted wool fabric.

“OK,” you say. “So what about wool felt? What is that?” Please take a close look at the photo below. On the left are two examples of felted wool fabric.

wool fabric vs wool felt

Also in the picture (now above), you can see, in the two fabrics on the right, what wool felt looks like. Wool felt is created by any of a variety of processes which work the fibers together in a way that does not include spinning or weaving. The fabric on the far right is as I receive it from my supplier, already dyed. The fabric to its left is wool felt which I have over-dyed. This process gives the felt a more “lively” look, color-wise, and also more “texture.” Its technical name is over-dyed fulled wool felt.

Both of these types of fabric have their place in wool appliquè. What you will find, in working with them, is that, in general, felted wool fabric is more pliable and “giving,” whereas wool felt is rather more dense and not as pliable. In my design, Jacobean Round Square (below), only straight-from-my-supplier wool felt is used.

JacRoundSq smaller

In my design Under the Potting Bench (below), only felted/fulled wool fabric is used … well, except for the vines … I used gardening twine for those! The great majority of my designs use felted/fulled wool fabric.

UPB small enough for facebook

I hope this clears up some of the confusion … but if you have any questions, please contact me, using the button at the top of my homepage.


The Freezer Paper Method for Cutting Out Wool Pattern Elements

One of the most frequent questions I get, ordinarily from those relatively new to wool applique, is, “How do I use the page(s) of elements included in the pattern to cut out the wool pieces for the project?”

The most common, and surely the one that achieves the best results, is the “freezer paper method.”

You will need:

  1. Freezer paper (find it in the grocery store alongside the wax paper, aluminum foil, etc.)
  2. A sharp scissor (although I do not recommend you use your best fabric-cutting scissor, since you will be cutting the freezer paper simultaneously with the fabric)
  3. Your iron, set high
  4. The elements page(s) of your pattern
  5. The wool fabric for the pattern elements

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A. Trace the elements of the pattern onto freezer paper, with its shiny side face down on the pattern elements page. If you have a light box, this job of tracing will be a breeze;

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B. Cut out the elements you’ve traced onto the freezer paper, leaving about a 1/16″ outer border around the edge of each traced element;

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C. Lay the wool fabric that you will use for any particular element on your ironing board or press pad, then position the freezer paper elements, shiny-side-down, on the fabric. As it is likely you will have several elements of the same color of wool, and since I’m a real skin-flint when it comes to conserving wool fabric, I always position the elements as close together as I possibly can on the fabric, so as to eliminate waste;

D. With a hot iron, press the cut-out freezer paper elements, shiny-side-down, onto the fabric. The addition of steam can help to adhere the waxy side of the freezer paper to the wool fabric. A good five or six seconds should be all you need to get good adherence. Moving the iron back and forth a bit is fine, too, so long as you don’t catch the edges of the freezer paper;

E. Carefully (and, again, with a sharp scissor) cut out each fabric element, this time right ON the drawn outline;

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F. Gently peel the freezer paper away from each cut-out wool pattern piece;

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G. Be ever-so pleased with your results!

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