Today I'm going to show you the steps I take to felt a soap. Everyone does this just a little bit differently - it's a matter of finding a method that works for you. This photos is the finished felted soap. There are no seams, and the merino wool has shrunk nice and firm around the bar of handmade soap.
Ok. You’ll need to hold your merino top in one hand about 10-12 cm from the end. With your working hand gently grab the wool between the length of your thumb and fingers and pull out a length of wool. With a bit of luck the width of the piece should be the length of your thumb and the length of a combed strand of wool. Place this section onto a mat or table. Repeat the process and lay that at a different angle to the first. Keep going and you’ll build up a cross hatch pattern. The reason you lay at angles is that the fibres will grab each better when you begin to felt.
Keep going in a criss cross pattern until you finish a rectangle. Mine is about 15cm wide and 40cm long as the chunk of soap I'm felting is quite large. It's ok if there a small gaps in the 'mat' as we'll be wrapping it around the soap more than once. I've found that if you don't have enough coverage there's a risk of the soap escaping through a thin spot.
You may have read my earlier blog about a beer and honey soap that went solid in the pot before I could pour it. This is it!. I did force it into a block mould and roughly cut it into chunks. It's actually my husband's favourite soap. Anyway, place the bar at one end and start to roll up the wool. I prefer to push in the ends rather than fold them as I've found folds sometimes resist felting.
There are many ways to decorate your fluffy beastie. This is some hand dyed merino wool wrapped around the bar. I recently felted a bar in pale mauve and wound deep purple merino wool around it and it came up beautifully. Many wool suppliers also sell silk 'hankies'. These are little scrunched up pieces of silk, often hand dyed, that you can spread over your soap. While silk doesn't felt, as such, the wool will grab the silk and hold it in place. Check back for part two of this felted soap tutorial, when we'll shrink and 'full' the wool to complete the process.