how to choose felt for your project

 

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between 100% wool felt, wool blend felt and craft, other than price?! On first glance, you might not thing there's much of a difference but there is! Here’s the low down – find out the characteristics of these fabrics and which type is best for your crafts.

 Comarison of 100% wool felt, wool blend felt and craft felt

What is felt?

Felt is a non-woven material made by pressing and rolling fibres together. It’s thought to be one of the first fabrics made by man, with the earliest pieces dating back to 700 BC. Because it’s made without a loom it could be produced easily from wool. It’s strong and water repellant so was used to make clothing, saddles and tents.  It’s still a very important fabric today, with many industrial uses in manufacturing and architecture, and it’s also hugely popular in crafting because it’s such a versatile, easy-to-use fabric.

Felt can be made by hand (using wet felting and needle felting) but on a commercial scale it’s usually done with machinery. If you like the TV programme ‘Inside the Factory’ you might enjoy a read of this!

The fibres used to make felt can be natural like wool or bamboo, or synthetic like petroleum-based acrylic or wood-pulp based rayon. All of these fibres produce a felted fabric which won’t fray at the edges, so no hemming is required. However, the different fibres also give the felt fabric different properties and uses. Let’s look at these:

100% wool felt

100% wool felt is made of pure wool only. Confusingly, wool blend felts are often called ‘wool felt’ but they usually have less than 40% wool in them (more on that below!).  100% wool felt usually contains merino wool, which is super soft and durable.  Because it comes from a renewable source, wool is a sustainable product and will biodegrade. It’s important to check when buying this type felt that the wool is museling-free (a cruel practice sometimes used by sheep farmers). Ours is!

100% wool felt is evenly thick and smooth with a matt appearance. It cuts without leaving fuzzies and it doesn’t tend to pill (bobble) when rubbed so it’s hard wearing.

This felt is dense so holds stitches well without being stretched out of shape, unlike a wool blend or acrylic felts, which tend to be thinner and less dense.

100% wool felt is washable. Just like your favourite woolly jumper, it’s best to do this delicately with a cool hand wash. There can be around 5% shrinkage on washing so if you are making anything that will be washed it’s a good idea to pre-shrink the felt before crafting with it. 100% wool felt holds dyes really well but some colours are not fast so it’s best to wash them separately if you need to. 100% wool felt can be ironed on a wool setting.

Because of the natural oils present in 100% wool felt it is water repellant so seems to stay clean for longer. It’s also naturally fire-resistant (the best test for wool felt to set fire to it – if it only smolders and doesn’t catch fire it’s wool!). The natural oils in wool also give this felt antibacterial properties.

Because it’s lovely to cut, stitch and stays smooth over time, 100% wool felt is a favourite amongst stitchers and toy makers because it has an heirloom quality. It is however the most expensive option and not widely available.

 

Wool Blend Felt

This is often called wool felt but it usually has no more than 25-40% wool in it, with the rest of the fabric made up of man-made fibres such as rayon (viscose) or acrylic. This felt is thinner and less dense than 100% wool felt but is usually more durable than a craft felt. It has a tendency to go bobbly and stretch out of shape with use and, because of the synthetic fibres, some have a shine to them. This felt is smooth and holds stitches nicely. They do come in a huge range of colours and are less expensive than a 100% wool felt so are great when you are producing a large scale project, for making things that won’t get much wear or for children’s crafting. As it stretches easily, wool blend felt can be useful for felt flower making, if you want a leaf or petal to have a curled shape.

Craft Felt

This is the cheapest felt, often found in craft shops and schools. It’s made of 100% man-made fibres – acrylic, polyester, rayon or viscose. There are some more environmentally conscious choices now too – you can get felt made from a fibre produced from recycled plastic bottles or bamboo (bamboo is fast growing an doesn’t need chemical fertilizers so it’s a more sustainable choice).

The one thing these felts have in common is that they are inexpensive however they tend to vary a lot depending on what type of fibre they are made from. It can be quite thin (sometimes you can see light coming through it) or very stiff. It usually has a plasticy shine to it and it’s easy to stretch out of shape. If you stitch onto it, the threads don’t ‘sink’ into the fabric so they look loose.

This type of felt is great for getting young kids into crafting – just  expect their creations to stand the test of time! It can also be handy if you want to test out a design before upgrading to a better quality felt. If you do use this felt, choose carefully – don’t pick the stiff type of craft felt if you are planning to make a stuffed toy. However, if you need a fabric with a bit of structure, the stiffer felts can be a great option. It’s also perfect for vegans.

This image shows how seams look with different types of felt. You can see that because 100% wool felt is more dense than the other types of felt, the stiches don't pucker the seam. You can also see when you look closely that the wool blend felt and craft felt have a slight sheen to them.

 

100% wool felt

Wool blend

Craft Felt

Composition

100% wool

20-40% wool

60-80% acrylic or rayon

0% (bamboo, plastic bottles, acrylic, rayon)

Fraying

No

No

No

 

Stretching

Dense so doesn’t stretch out of shape.

Seams hold up well.

Not as dense, can be stretched a bit.

Seams hold up relatively well.

Thin and very prone to stretching out of shape

Seams may stretch and tear.

Water repellant

Yes

A little

No

Safety

Flame retardant

Will catch fire but then go out

Flammable

Environmental impact

Sustainable

Sustainable (depending on composition)

Non-biodegradable, depending on composition

Washable

Yes (but expect some shrinkage)

Yes (but expect some shrinkage)

Yes and won’t shrink

Texture and appearance

Smooth and soft.

Matt appearance

Smooth, soft, feels slightly ‘squeaky’.

Slight sheen

Often fuzzy or hard, depending on type.

Sheen

Colours

Lots (but no very bright white as the heavy bleaching would damage the wool)

Huge selection, including bright white

Not so many, but includes a bright white

Sustainable

Yes, wool is a renewable source

If it’s made of rayon

Not always

Hold stitches

Really well

Ok

Not so well

Pills (bobbles)

Unlikely

Somewhat likely

Very likely

Price

£££

££

£

 

There are so many types of felt to choose from these days - each works well depending on your aims and your budget. It's worth spending a little time when you start your next project to be sure that you are using the right type to give you the finished result you're looking for.

June 29, 2021 — cloudcraftshop Admin

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