Felted Fleece Rug
The felted fleece rug is a wonderful way to create a sheepskin effect without the skin. The sheep keeps its skin, and lives to grow another fleece – the ultimate in renewable materials.
To make a felted fleece rug you will need a raw fleece, hot and cold water, liquid soap, and some carded wool fibre.
You can create a full fleece sized rug, or break it up to make seat pads or pieces for cushion covers.
If your fleece is particularly dirty or greasy, it’s a good idea to scour it first. This is heavy work as the fleece needs to be kept whole and I find it easiest to use a black plastic dustbin. A full fleece is exceptionally heavy when wet so take care.
There are a number of ways to create a felted rug. This is my tried and tested method.
Working outside is most practical and I use a 5” x 7” weld mesh panel as my work surface, propped up to waist height. I find the mesh panel ideal as not only does it allow excess water to drain through, it also helps to preserve the lock structure and the fluffy finish of a real sheepskin rug.
Any large sturdy table would be appropriate. You could even work on a plastic sheet on the floor but this would be very hard going on your back.
I start by laying out the skirted fleece, tip side up, and then carefully pick over it removing any vegetable matter. Any little thorns or pieces of bramble can be very uncomfortable on your hands when working. Once this side is clean, I carefully turn it over so that the cut side is uppermost. Again I check for any vegetable matter or other contaminants.
Once clean I use the palms of my hands to push the fleece together so that it sits just as it would’ve done on the sheep’s back, taking care not to have any thin spots.
The next step is to take some carded fleece and make a layer across the whole of the fleece. Then another layer is applied with the fibres running perpendicular to the first layer. I like to use fibres from the same breed of sheep as the main fleece but you could use whatever you have. You could even use dyed fibre and create a design should you so wish. This would be fun if your felted fleece was going to be used as a throw where the underside would be visible.
The amount of carded fibre used to create the felted base will vary depending on the size of the finished rug and also how sturdy you want it to be. A throw needs to remain flexible so you may not want to felt it as thickly as a rug for the floor. As a guide I probably use a third to half a fleece, carded, for the felted base.
Once an even layer of felt has been applied, I sprinkle hot soapy water across the surface and then gently pat it down all over. Some people like to use some voile netting for this stage, that’s just personal preference, but I don’t. I pat the felted layer flat then gently work my way over the surface with the flat of my hands. I start with my hands close together gently rubbing back and forth. As I work across the surface my pressure and friction increases and I frequently add more hot water.
The soap I use is either Fairy liquid or Ecover washing up liquid, but you can use whatever soap or detergent you usually use for felting.
Felting a rug can take a few hours and it’s advisable to take breaks as its very physical work and quite demanding on your body. An afternoon felting a rug can leave parts of your body aching that you had quite forgotten were there! It’s good exercise though, especially when the fruit of your labour is so beautiful.
If any holes or thin spots appear whilst felting, simply add more carded fibre and felt in. Take particular care to create a thicker felt around the edges of the fleece.
You know that you’ve felted enough when you can pick up the fleece without any movement within the felt.
When you’re sure that you’ve felted enough, it’s time to rinse. I do this with a hose pipe, running the water until the soap is completely gone. Then the rug is rolled up and given a good squeeze to get the water out. Small rugs and seat covers I put in the spin dryer that I keep only for fleece. This spins the rug so that it’s almost dry. I then give it a good shake and either hang it on the washing line, or lay it out on the mesh panel to dry,
Once dry, I check the felted side again. Any thin spots or holes can be strengthened by layering with carded fibre and needle felting securely into place. The upper surface of the rug can be fluffed and teased out depending on the look you prefer.
Felting a fleece rug is not complicated but it is physically demanding. You can make the work lighter by starting off with a fleece that is already cotted, or partially felted, naturally whilst still on the sheep. I once had a ram whose fleece came off felted every year. I find that this does not give as even a finish as a rug felted by hand, and it can be difficult to remove any vegetable matter like hay and seeds, so it’s not my preference to use them.
If you are going to use your rug on a hard or smooth floor surface, it’s a good idea to place a rug gripper mat underneath to avoid accidents.
And that’s it!
This article first appeared in the Nov / Dec 2017 issue of British Fibre Art magazine.