Fuzzy, Fun, Felted Beads!

Jan 28, 2013

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!

Materials:

  • 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!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Make wearable pieces of art with the clever techniques and unique designs ideas. It's all about the mix in this creative approach to making fabulous jewelry.

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Comments

on Jan 28, 2013 5:57 AM

I haven't tried wet felting yet but have done needle felting.  It works up fast and is relaxing to do.  You can mix colors and it almost feels like painting with felt.  Looks like your kids had fun with the water though!  

Carolhine wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 6:02 AM

Felted beads are great fun to make and so easy. I have put them into necklaces with heavier semi-precious beads. Have you tried rolling and felting several colours together? Once the bead is well felted, you can slice through and make 2 hemispheres to be used as earrings or individual beads. Very colourful!!!

CarolineB@18 wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 6:19 AM

I tried making felted beads 'way back in 2003 after somebody gave me a huge bag of roving in dozens of colors.  She showed me how to make them using a special needle with a tiny hook on it.  It was tedious and boring and I never made any more of them.  I wasn't excited about the finished product, so I never tried again.  I guess I'm just a "glass snob" and won't use anything but glass beads.

glazierg wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 7:43 AM

I have often made felted beads and it is quite easy to repair wonky ones or to make small ones bigger. You just need to wet them again thoroughly in the hot soapy water and then wrap some of the dry roving tightly round it - do it quite thinly and add more layers as needed. Then dunk again and roll as you did to start with. the new wool shrinks down and holds in all the loose edges. There are also great effects from making fat ropes of wrapped and rolled wool with different colours from the centre out. when it is all felted tightly you can cut it into cylindrical shapes, that a friend calls sushi beads.

on Jan 28, 2013 10:21 AM

I would use the wonky bead as a charm for a braclet.

meganrp wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 10:33 AM

I really like making felt beads.

If you want holes in them, run a large needle, knitting needle, skewer or other such item through before drying.  You can let them dry on the implement used, also.

on Jan 28, 2013 10:48 AM

I save my roving for my embellishing machine and I use leftover  100% wool yarn , double knitting or heavier to make my felt balls. They are made the same way , just roll into a tight ball the dunk in warm soapy water and floo lightly until it felts.  A good use for all those left over pieces of wool. You can also use different colours of wool yarn in the same way and when dry take a knife and  slice the felted balls and you get all these lovely colours inside , to use as buttons, beads or other embellishments

HollyK wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 12:04 PM

Great tutorial!  About the shrinkage rate - alpaca fiber usually shrinks about 33% compared to wool (sheep) fiber which usually shrinks about 50%.  Alpaca is a wonderfully versatile fiber, usually much softer than wool and holds color beautifully - as your lovely beads show.  Thank you for sharing!

linshrslvr wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 12:10 PM

I would use a felting needle if you want it to be a nice round bead.  I made an entire necklace out of needle felted beads that I made to look like turquoise.  I wire wrapped the focal "stone" and strung the rest.  I wish there was a place to post a picture of it for you to see.

Linda

beady100 wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 1:54 PM

Hi Jennifer

I read your blog every day and look forward to your projects. I like you am a beadaholic and have no intention of seeking treatment, well unless it includes buying more beads.

I live in the UK now but my son still lives in South Africa and they know when I go out to visit I dont care how tired I am from the overnight flight etc even before going to their house I have to go to one of my favorite bead shops. Once I emerge with a bundle of little treasures all is well again in the world.

I also love felting and have submitted a little book to agents called Fabulous Fibres a short history of felting and activities. In it I show how to make a number of felted and beaded projects. Rather then using Alpaca I use merino wool and for some beads I use a undyed white wool as the base with the dyed wool as an overlay if you are lucky you end up with a marbled effect.

I have also used a long taper ended sausage shaped felt as an over long focal in an asymmetrical necklace.

Wish I could show you some of the photos

rewgards

Felicity

tunsinn wrote
on Jan 28, 2013 10:11 PM

How much wool was in each of the bags you bought and how many beads did you get per bag?

chelleh0868 wrote
on Jan 29, 2013 6:24 AM

how do you put holes in your felt it beats to string them? or are you stringing them with a needle that would go right through?

OddByNature wrote
on Jan 29, 2013 7:07 PM

Although I haven't tried for beads, I have made dryer balls [the method for making is below if anyone is so inclined :) ] and have found the following helpful:

1.If you have a wonky one - try cutting a cirlce of panty hoseto hold your wool ball and tye the panty hose with thread tightly. Agitate it as if it were in the washer using a wooden spoon in the sink, using bar sunlight soap and near boiling water. (this helps firm up pesky ones that uncoil).

********

How to make dryer balls starting with a- VERY large bead size wrap, felt as outlined in the wool bead article. Keep adding layers and felting until size of tennis ball, put 2 in your dryer with Essential Oil and voila no static!).

Erin Shand

on Jan 30, 2013 2:04 AM

For your wonky ball, I am guessing it is felted, just not together.  If it came all apart, you could try some crinkly plastic,catnip, or a bell, and put it in the middle.  Wrap the scraps around it, and just sew it closed.  Not a beautiful ball, but you get a toy for your pet, and it isn't just waste.  

I think after you felt it, it just doesn't shrink any more.   (It hasn't for me)

If you can think of some way to use the ball with out adding more wool, please post!  You could try adding more wool to the 'ball' and see if that will do it.  Felting needles might help here too.  

DebbiB@2 wrote
on Feb 1, 2013 2:04 AM

You might be able to repair your wonky bead using needle felting.  A great alternative if you don't want to go through the wet felting process to fix just one or two beads.  Cheers!

MaryM@238 wrote
on Feb 2, 2013 8:43 AM

Glad you're enjoying making felted wool beads, Jennifer.

I enjoy making them (usually in the winter) and embellish them with micro-embroidery and beading. You can see a sample here: <a href="s66.beta.photobucket.com/.../500px_Candy_Collage_Necklace.jpg.html" target="_blank"><img src="i66.photobucket.com/.../500px_Candy_Collage_Necklace.jpg" border="0" alt=" photo 500px_Candy_Collage_Necklace.jpg"/></a> Fuzzy Gems!

momcat560 wrote
on Feb 2, 2013 9:37 AM

I have done needle and wet felting, including beads - fun, fun!  A WONDERFUL place to get felting supplies and extrememly helpful advice is Living Felt.  They have great selection and scrumptious colors!!  I can HIGHLY recommend them.

momcat560 wrote
on Feb 2, 2013 9:46 AM

CarolineB - Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience making needle-felted beads.  Sounds like you didn't have the proper type of needle.  Felting needles have many "hooks" notched up and down the shaft.  Felting a bead should not take very much time or effort.  I usually needle felt the bead into its general shape, then welt felt it for strength and density.  They look lovely with bead caps and/or combined with glass, metal and ceramic beads.  You need size 38 star needles (check out Living Felt).  I do hope you will consider giving another try!  If you do want to try again, please feel free to email for assistance!

Jan-Falk wrote
on Feb 4, 2013 11:39 AM

Hi Jennifer,

I read with great interest, your explanation of wet felting wool beads. I strongly recommend that you rinse your finished beads in plain water, then briefly in a mild vinegar/water solution, then again in water. What you want to do is get rid of the soap in the wool and change the ph back to a more neutral status.  You can put your beads in a towel, step on them on the floor which pulls much of the water out of the beads, reshape them, and then air dry them.

Merino wool makes very firm, mostly non-itchy beads. The world of wools is extensive. There are many different breeds and mixes which can be chosen  for beads, art wearables, purses, rugs, you name it. And some breeds which are better for needle felting, dry, using a special barbed needle.

I have been making wet felted accessories for about 6 years, now, and have two sections of classes offered on making Fabulous Wet Felted Flowers at the upcoming Bead and Button Show in MIlwaukee. I have taken classes from the felt and bead jewelry guru, Carol Cypher, and now have been accepted to offer my version of an accessory which can be beaded to your heart's content. My friend Pat Pawlowicz is offering several needle (dry) felting flower classes, and one with Christi Friesen. Check it out.

Also, Ann Cook, bead weaving jewelry instructor and wonderful person, would call your wonky bead "an artistic opportunity". You could wrap a bit more wool around it, wet it with more soap than water, and gently refine it to a spherical shape, or you could use that funny squiggle by stringing beads to it, stitch or loop it to hang from the main felted part, extend it out further with beaded branches, you name it. Sometimes a bead wants to be a different shape. Also, good info on rolling slowly at first. Roll and press one faster at the beginning and see what happens.

Whoops. Once I get started on talking felting, it is hard to stop. Happy felting. Glad you finally tried a new material to expand your jewelry media repertoir. It would be fun to meet you at Bead & Button in June, and anyone else reading these posts..

twoberries wrote
on Feb 5, 2013 12:58 AM

I have made a bunch at a time by rolling the roving into a ball--just wad it up into a round shape. Put the first one in the toe of an old knee-high stocking. Then tie a knot in the stocking and pull it as tight as you can to the ball of roving without flattening it out--or flatten it out if you want a different shape. Make another, do the same thing, make another, same thing. Before you know it, you have a string of balls/beads. Throw them in the washing machine, then in the dryer. I make a bunch when I have a load of what we call "working in the yard" clothes that hot water won't hurt. You can do different sizes, different colors and let the appliances do the hard work.

twoberries wrote
on Feb 5, 2013 12:58 AM

I have made a bunch at a time by rolling the roving into a ball--just wad it up into a round shape. Put the first one in the toe of an old knee-high stocking. Then tie a knot in the stocking and pull it as tight as you can to the ball of roving without flattening it out--or flatten it out if you want a different shape. Make another, do the same thing, make another, same thing. Before you know it, you have a string of balls/beads. Throw them in the washing machine, then in the dryer. I make a bunch when I have a load of what we call "working in the yard" clothes that hot water won't hurt. You can do different sizes, different colors and let the appliances do the hard work.

twoberries wrote
on Feb 5, 2013 12:58 AM

I have made a bunch at a time by rolling the roving into a ball--just wad it up into a round shape. Put the first one in the toe of an old knee-high stocking. Then tie a knot in the stocking and pull it as tight as you can to the ball of roving without flattening it out--or flatten it out if you want a different shape. Make another, do the same thing, make another, same thing. Before you know it, you have a string of balls/beads. Throw them in the washing machine, then in the dryer. I make a bunch when I have a load of what we call "working in the yard" clothes that hot water won't hurt. You can do different sizes, different colors and let the appliances do the hard work.

twoberries wrote
on Feb 5, 2013 12:58 AM

I have made a bunch at a time by rolling the roving into a ball--just wad it up into a round shape. Put the first one in the toe of an old knee-high stocking. Then tie a knot in the stocking and pull it as tight as you can to the ball of roving without flattening it out--or flatten it out if you want a different shape. Make another, do the same thing, make another, same thing. Before you know it, you have a string of balls/beads. Throw them in the washing machine, then in the dryer. I make a bunch when I have a load of what we call "working in the yard" clothes that hot water won't hurt. You can do different sizes, different colors and let the appliances do the hard work.

marruquita wrote
on Feb 10, 2013 5:51 AM

puedes ponerle entre bolas una cadena para un collar abrazos ruth

marruquita wrote
on Feb 10, 2013 5:54 AM

puedes ponerle una cadena entre cada bola para un collar abrazosruthperdomo5@hotmail.com

Mktraver wrote
on Dec 28, 2013 8:11 AM

I know this sounds gross, but I love my kitty, and she LOVES the furminator which I use to brush her coat. Since I have quite a bit of fur at the end of a couple days, I was curious what it would look like as a felted ball...???... So I looked up how to do it and easily began to roll her fur into tight balls. Her fur is endless ;) and I can make a necklace that reminds me of her! My kitty has short hair and a tiny bit the fur tips kind of stick out a bit, but I don't mind. She is tricolored, but they come out as grey as that is her most predominant color. Wish I had an angora or Persian cat!!! I know... I am crazy about my cat... Who knew?

on Dec 28, 2013 10:24 AM

Love the Old Forge Hardware Store! You never know what you will find there!