A felted soap is like like soap with a jacket on!
It is lightly exfoliating, and a great way to make your bar soaps last longer. When washing up, it is a magnificent washcloth-and-soap-in-one! It is simply; a bar of soap, wrapped in wool roving that is then felted around the soap.
“Say, what is felting and wool roving, and where does it come from?”
Felting is one of the earliest recorded forms of textile processing. It was a process heavily relied upon by Asian nomadic tribes. It is the abrasion of wool which results in the wooly fibers attaching to one another to form a mat.
Wool is an ultra-renewable resource we graciously get from fiber animals, whose fast growing coats provide the ultimate survival material. Not only are fiber animals portable, but they are great for herding and sustain nomadic life quite well. The wool from such animals can easily be felted down for clothing, tents, horse tack, and many other daily items. The end result is a cloth that is lightweight, breathable, fireproof, and even windproof, when thick enough. Wool has sustained nomadic tribes since time immemorial, and is quite a miraculous fiber.
(Wool happens to be my latest “crush” in fact…)
Wool roving is wool that has been washed and brushed and cleaned from impurities. It is then carded to pull the fibers so they are oriented in the same direction. It can then be dyed, or left natural, and is used in various different ways. It can be left flat for batting, or spun into yarn, or reserved for a multitude of crafts. Like felting around a bar of soap…
“Say, Where did you get this crazy idea?”
Contrary to popular belief, I am not crazy, nor are my ideas 🙂 I first learned about felted soap from my friend who suggested it as a method in dealing with a batch of Dear Husband’s homemade soap that we thought might be too soft. After looking into it more, I learned it is a very old craft method as well as a craft commonly made in Waldorf schools. A Google search returned many places to buy bars of felted soap, the most incredible being the trendy store, Anthropologie where they sell these babies for $16 a piece. 16 dollars! That was the price I paid for a HUGE bag of wool, enough to felt probably 30 bars of soap! I am sure some people easily pay that price or a similar one, because the end result of a felted soap is so neat. (Also, the bars for sale at above named store weren’t even needle felted with a design). As far as needle felting goes, I am totally not there yet in my craft skills, but will be one day, and I will be sure to share the journey.
The Who, What, Where, When, Why and How:
First, gather your ingredients. You will need:
- good-lathering soap (round, oval or rectangle will work fine)
- wool roving
- sink and faucet with hot and cold water, (or buckets filled with each)
- old pantyhose (optional)
- felting board, washboard, bubble wrap or bamboo sushi mat (optional)
For my maiden soap felting odyssey, I used the remainder of DH’s homemade soap. They were round bars of a great-lathering soap with lots of coconut oil in them. (I deduced for a successful soap felting project, a good lather is key. Helpful in the felting process, but also when washing with it. If you can’t get a good lather through the wool, it won’t be any fun to wash with).
Lay your base wool flat and place your soap on top of it. Don’t pre-cut a specific length, just pull one end of the roving loose from what you’ve got and start wrapping with it.
Wrap the wool around the soap in first one direction,
and then the other.
make sure all sides are covered and no soap is showing. I ended up with 2-3 light layers, and DH just did one layer, and they both felted up fine, but I preferred the thicker laye rand think it may hold up better over time. (Cut or tear the roving now to sever it from your pile).
Pull small wispy pieces of wool from a color other than your base if you wish to decorate your soap. I used green as my base color, and many other bright colors to embellish it.
Place these wispy pieces haphazardly about the top of your base wool.
*The decorative wool in the first photo on the left felted up much better than the photo on the right. The trick was to use very small amounts of the decorative colors so all of the fibers lay flat against the base color.
**If you are using an old pantyhose, now is when you would place the pantyhose around your whole soap and wool creation. Snip off a length of pantyhose so you have a tube with two open ends, and pull it around your soap, taking care not to move the wool too much and that no soap is showing through the wool. Tie knots at each end. This method is great for felting with young children, as it helps to keep the wool in place around the bar of soap. I did not use this pantyhose method, but there is plenty of info on this method available.
Next, gently drizzle the hottest water you can stand on top of your wool, taking care not to be too abrasive at this stage because your wool will slide from your soap if you do.
Wet until you achieve the consistency of “wet cat.” Unfortunately, I missed the photo op for that stage. The next photo shows the wool fully soaked and beginning to lather.
Press into the soap and gently massage in small circles to achieve a thick lather.
At this stage, I was spinning the soap around in my hands, and roughly agitating all areas to encourage the wool to stick to itself. Wool fibers have scales, like human hair, and the scales are what catch on one another create the felting process.
I periodically rinsed the suds off to see where the wool was at in the felting process, and alternated between hot and cold water. I did not constantly massage under the running water though.
Continue to massage and agitate the wool, quite roughly at this point. Be sure to get all sides of the bar, whether it be a rectangle, a circle or an oval. If you are using a felting board, bubble wrap, or a bamboo mat, at this point you would be rubbing the wool against that surface. An abrasive surface makes the wool felt up faster. I didn’t have one, so I just did it by hand, and it took me probably 15 minutes.
(Unfortunately, if you are a busy Mama like me, that 15 minutes cuts into your precious alone time, but I just used the massaging as a therapeutic exercise. I mean hey, it’s worth it if I get to throw my synthetic loofah away, right?)
When your wool begins to shrink around your soap and has all clung together in an irreversible, matted mess, you have achieved success!
Wring the remaining water from the bar and allow to dry. If you wring the water from the soap and still see suds on your bar, that is perfectly ok. The bar will continue to felt each time you use it. If it takes a bit to get a lather on your first wash, be patient, it will come.
Wring the water from the bar after each use and it is best to place your bar onto a soap dish that will allow the bar to drain and dry after each use.
Did your bar turn out like this one with little pieces felted to themselves and not to your base wool? This was my first attempt where my wispy wool embellishments were too thick and did not felt well to the base wool. I just snipped them off at the end and went about my business. 🙂
I have washed up with my bar a few times since making this, and have thoroughly enjoyed the results. With felted soap, you can save money in having your soap last longer and you have the freedom to toss your loofah in the trash and ditch your body wash! If you use washcloths, you will enjoy not having to use and wash them regularly. The wool lightly exfoliates, and with the right soap, the bar is cleansing, nourishing and moisturizing!
This is a great craft to make with children or friends. The other day, my friend and I stood at my kitchen sink chatting, and felting soap. A great past time, in my opinion 🙂 Many people take this craft a step farther and decorate the wool by needle felting, and I have seen some gorgeous handiwork. If I ever make it that far, (which isn’t likely given my craft skills), I will be sure to let you know how it goes…
Once the soap has been used up, cut open your felted wool and utilize the felt as a sachet, or cut it open and flatten and use as a coaster. Or, the start of a wool dryer ball…
The possibilities are ALWAYS endless…
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