Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nuno Felted Book Cover - Pictoral Journey - part 1

Example of a Nuno Felted journal cover
A friend of mine recently ordered two felted book covers - one for herself and one to give as a gift. I knew I wanted to photograph the process and post it here, but completely forgot until I had already started laying out the fiber. You didn't miss much - just the creation of the templates. These are seamless book covers, so a resist template is necessary.

To bring you up to speed I'll describe the process. If you have any questions, please let me know. Being an impatient artist has it's benefits and drawbacks. Many felt artists will tell you that it is necessary to work a test swatch of a particular wool before beginning the project. This is a great idea because it will totally tell you how much you can expect the wool to shrink. I've also heard that the weather from day to day will affect the wool shrinkage. It all makes sense, but there is no way that I am going to take the time to go all the way through the felting process for that.

Basically I feel that if it works, it works. If not, I will turn it into something else. I do not suggest that this approach is for everyone. It's just the way I roll :P. If you want to have more control over your creation, by all means - do a test swatch.

To begin, I measured the book. The height is self explanatory, but the width is the sum of the front, back AND spine. Take those measurements and increase for the percentage of your shrinkage. I increased 30%, added it together and came out with 10.5" tall and 14.75" wide. I have some heavy plastic that I cut to those dimensions. Be sure to round off the corners too, so they don't poke through the wool.

 With the resist in front of me I begin to lay out wisps of wool all going in the same direction. Choose a side where the flap will be and also lay your 3 layers there as you go. The flap will not need to be cut open so it's shape isn't included in the template. As you can see here I have rounded the edge for my flap. (If this is confusing, make sure to read further and look at the pictures I took after I flipped over.) There will be a total of 3 layers - one laid vertically, the next, horizontally and then vertically again. Extend your layers about an inch beyond the template of the top, bottom and side that doesn't have the flap. These will be folded over when we work the other side.

Laying out roving with flap on left
Extending beyond resist

After all 3 layers of wool are down, I laid a piece of hand dyed cotton gauze on top of it. I thought the color was kind of plain so I laid a piece of synthetic blue and purple lace on top of the cotton with a few wisps of wool in between to anchor them together.
Hand dyed cotton gauze on top of roving
Wisps of roving on top of gauze to hold next fabric

Lace fabric on top

Cotton gauze on flap trimmed in merino & Tussah silk roving

Now I wet it down, cover with screen, tulle in this case, and rub to create a skin. You know it's time to move on when it passes the pinch test.

Cover with screen

Gently with your fingers, pinch a small amount of the very surface and pull upwards. If the fibers separate, you need to keep rubbing. Once the fibers stay together when you pinch & pull, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Pinch test - it's holding together!!

Keep in mind that your piece is still quite fragile. Very carefully, lift the entire piece and flip it over. It's now time to work on the other side. This pic shows the other side and the darker area is the resist. See on the left where the flap is? Notice how the flap was formed beyond the edge of the resist. Where the resist is covered on both sides a pocket or space will be created that does not felt together. There won't be a pocket on the flap. Does that make sense? I hope so!
The resist is now on top & I will be forming the pockets that hold the book.

Using the roving again, I need to shape the pockets that the front and back covers of the book will slide into. First, take the wool that is extending beyond the template, including any fabric, and smooth it over on top of the template. Do Not bring the flap over - only the stuff that is extending on the top, bottom and side Without the flap! Lay it flat as you bring it over so it will create nice smooth edges.
Bring wool & fabric smoothly over the resist

Bringing the wool from the bottom up and over the resist

You may need to pay extra attention to the corners as they can get a bit bulky. In this case I trimmed some of the excess wool and fabric so they would lay smoother.
A bit too bulky on the corners
Trimmed corners are smooth

Now each of these edges already has 3 layers of roving, so I won't lay too much more there or it will get bulky.  But I do have to lay some there so the roving on this side felts to it nicely. I lay 3 layers but keep the center open. It makes it much easier to pull the template out when it's done and it saves roving - since I don't need any felt right there anyway. As I lay my 3 layers down I also need to go over the edge of the template where the flap is. Again, not too much so it doesn't get bulky, but 3 layers of nice thin wisps so the edge will be nice and secure with no holes.
Laying roving over resist and a bit onto flap
Laying roving onto folded over edges - but not too thick!

Oh - don't lay wool in the center - leave it open. All that's needed is wool laid on the areas that will be the pockets. Look at this next photo and you will see what I mean...

Keep the center open

OK - all 3 layers are done, so again with the wetting and rubbing. Ooooooh, don't forget to smooth out any overlap of roving on this side before you rub. I want to have nice smooth edges so I push the wisps up wool back onto the main area. Once it passes the pinch test it's time to felt it all together.
Push the wisps over to get a smooth edge
Rubbing, rubbing...

I grab my favorite tool - The Sander! This step isn't necessary - felting can be done with rolling, rolling, and more rolling. I however, have an old shoulder injury and prefer to keep it pain free by using the sander. I place the sander on the wool for about 5 seconds, pick it up and move it to the next section. Making sure that every part of the item gets the sander, while holding it in the same direction is similar to rolling in the same direction for a time. Now I turn the sander 90 degrees and do the entire surface again. When done flip the book cover over and repeat on the other side.
Sanding - wheeeee!

I think they still need to shrink a bit more so I've opted for a little bit of rolling. I use a piece of foam pipe insulation, roll it up in the bamboo shade and then roll it in a towel. I give it 50 rolls, then I unroll it, turn the book covers over and repeat. Unroll it and now turn the book covers 90 degrees and give another 50 rolls. Finally unroll, flip the book covers over and give it the last 50. So, I've given them a total of 200 rolls and I can tell that it's done since the edges are starting to curl up.
Rolling up in the bamboo blind with foam pipe insulation
Roll back and forth 50 times
Turn them 90 degrees then roll again

Piece begins to curl up as the felts shrinks

Now I remove the resist and head over to the sink for rinsing, kneading and pounding a bit. When all the soap has been removed I give them several throws on my work table. I rinse and repeat until I have shrunk down to the dimensions of the book and I like the texture.
Remove the resist
Rinse, knead, repeat
Throwing (Can you tell I got this pic when they were in mid air?)
Let them dry - next step trimming, shaping & fitting to book...

Let dry, pour yourself a nice glass of wine and contemplate just how awesome and talented you are! Tomorrow will be filled with trimming, fitting and choosing a button. Ahhhh, I feel so accomplished :D Thanks for tagging along with me - it's been a blast! I will post the remainder of this process in a few days so stay tuned. See you then...


  1. Thank you for sharing your process!! Can't wait to see pics of the last few steps!! You are a very thorough teacher!!

    1. Thanks so much Lori! I'm glad you found it thorough and informative. I like that I'm able to use this blog as a testing ground for teaching and find your feedback most helpful.