A couple of weeks ago, my family piled into the van and we made a road trip down to the Old Forge Hardware Store in Old Forge, N.Y. Now, if you're not familiar with this hardware store, it's more like a department store -- there are three floors filled with craft supplies, kitchen tools and cookware, kitschy stuff for your house like candles and sun catchers, sporting goods, clothing, kids' toys, books, and even home furnishings! (And, yes, they do sell some hardware, too.)
The first department I wanted to check out, naturally, was the yarn and craft department, so my son and I headed over there. There were a few baskets filled with tiny felt beads and some fishing line for stringing them, but I was more interested in making my own felt beads. After all, I've done bead making using glass, seed beads, polymer clay, and precious metal clay (PMC), and I thought making felt beads would be fun!
To get started, I purchased six colors of alpaca wool in little bags. I could barely contain my excitement as I used my smartphone (I love technology sometimes) to look up felted bead instructions on the web as we made the two-and-a-half hour drive back home. I found lots of different methods for making felt beads or felt balls, but they all involved the use of hot water and a little bit of dish soap. It couldn't be too hard, right?
The next night, my son and I cleared off the kitchen counter and filled a couple of old plastic food storage containers with hot water, then added a drop or two of liquid dish soap to the hot water. We were ready to make our own felted beads!
- Wool roving, dyed or natural
- Dish soap
- Hot water
- Beads for embellishing (optional)
Step 1: Roll Your Wool Into a Ball
I saw a couple of tutorials online that instructed me to roll my wool into a loose ball before dunking it in the hot water. I have to say, a loose ball of wool held together in that hot soapy water about as well as a piece of limp spaghetti! Winding that wool into a tight ball made all the difference in my finished beads.
Unroll your wool into a long strand. The longer the strand, the bigger your finished felted bead will be. (A few of the tutorials said that the beads would shrink by 50% when they were finished, but I didn't find that to be the case with my felted beads.) Begin rolling it into a ball the same way you would wrap a strand of yarn into a ball. Wrap tightly as you go until you have a ball of the desired size for your bead.
Step 2: Dunk and Roll
This was my son's favorite part of the whole process, the dunk and roll! With your water steamy hot and a couple of drops of dish soap added, dunk your wool ball into the hot water. I used a tablespoon to help me with this process, since I had my water very hot, and the ball sort of floated for a bit before it sank and started absorbing water.
After you get your wool ball nice and wet, gently lift it out and roll it between your palms, using a very light pressure. Don't squeeze it too hard, or it will come apart or become distorted. Just like when you're making beads out of polymer clay, precious metal clay, or hot glass, if you have a perfectly shaped base, you'll end up with a perfectly shaped bead!
Roll the ball for a few seconds, then dunk it back in the water and get it good and wet again. Continue to roll and dunk until you see the fibers start to "melt" together -- this is the magic part of making felted wool balls for beads!
Step 3: Dry Your Felted Beads
I continued to dunk and roll my felted wool beads until I felt like the center of my beads was good and sturdy. Then I gently squeezed out any excess liquid, gave them one more gentle shaping between my palms, and put them on a clean kitchen towel to dry overnight. My son and I were delighted in the morning to see our finished felted beads!
You'll notice in the photo of our finished felted beads that there's one wonky bead. That was my learning experience for wrapping your wool into a tight ball! I have no idea how to fix that one, or what I'll do with it (it's too small to make a very good cat toy), but if anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
Once the felted beads were finished, the real fun began: I went through my stash of sequins and beads and found an assortment of goodies with which to embellish my little felt balls. These fun, felted beads make a great addition to any strand of beaded beads or handmade glass beads.
For me, there's nothing quite like bead making to add something special to my finished beaded jewelry projects. Whether I'm stringing or bead-weaving, using beads that I've made myself is a real treat!
Are you ready to branch out and explore more jewelry-making projects that use fibers and felt? Check out Elements of Style: Knit + Crochet Jewelry with Wire + Fiber Felt + Beads by Rosemary Hill. I'm always inspired by the colorful, mixed media jewelry-making projects in this book, and the way they're put together make fiber and felt jewelry not only easy to make but easy to wear!
Grab your copy of Elements of Style and save 70% on this classic jewelry-making resource during the Interweave Resolve to Save sale, going on now in the Beading Daily Shop!
Have you ever tried making your own felted beads? Do you have any tips for me? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and help me out!
Filed under: Beaded Beads, Bead Making, Stringing, Glass Beads, How To Bead, Seed Bead Patterns, Mixed Media Jewelry, Bead Crafts, Beaded Jewelry Design, Beads, Jewelry Making, Beading Daily