Making Felted Fleece Rugs

A Labour of Love

I love making felted fleece rugs.  In fact, since I’ve started making them a funny thing has happened.  I used to slightly dread the onset winter – just thinking about those long dark evenings would make me shudder.   But these days I don’t mind winter at all!  The longer evenings mean I can legitimately spend more time indoors making rugs.

You would be correct in assuming that wet felting involves water and you might be wondering how I manage to do this indoors without splashing water everywhere.  Well this is where Adrian comes in, he has set me up with heat and light in the summer house which is just a skip from the front door, perfect!

Fleeces from our own happy sheep

Making felted fleece rugs is a long process and it all starts at shearing time.

Sheep are sheared in the spring of every year, (some sheep are sheared twice a year) but ours are sheared just the once.  Shearing is an exciting time as it marks the onset of summer.  It also means I will have a whole new set of fleeces to make rugs from which is very exciting.  The shearing gang who come to us are highly skilled, professional shearers.  They spend their time going round big sheep farms shearing hundreds of sheep at a time.  They are lovely people who clearly enjoy what they do and we’re lucky to have them.

shearing dayOnce the fleeces start coming off the sheep, I hop onto the shearing platform, get them out the way of the shearers and label them up.  This is easier said than done because I’ll also be helping Adrian feed the sheep through and lead them out at the other end.  Shearing time can be crazy so you have to be really organised.  We make sure everything’s running like clockwork so the sheep aren’t kept waiting for too long.  As shearing’s done when the weather’s warm (you can’t shear sheep in bad weather), they can get a bit hot and bothered in the holding pen so we like to keep them on the move and the atmosphere as calm as we can.

Once the flock is sheared and the gang have driven off to their next job, we check the sheep for any scratches and make sure they’re all OK.  Then we lead them back to their pasture and get to work with the fleeces.  We need to dry them out before bagging them up (they come off the sheep slightly ‘dewy’).  To do that, we lay them out on the grass and keep fluffing them up and turning them until they’re dry and can be brought indoors.  Sometimes the weather can turn so we finish off the drying indoors.  Finally, we put the fleeces into individual bags, all nicely labelled and sit down for a cup of tea.

drying fleeces for felted fleece rugs
fleeces drying in the sun
fleeces drying in kitchen
fleeces drying in kitchen

Making felted fleece rugs – the process

I take a fleece from the large pile in the spare room.

fleeces in bags
fleeces in bags waiting to be made into rugs

I set up my frame to the size and shape I would like the rug to be and lay out a base of bubble wrap.

fleece shaped frame – ready for carded batts and locks

On top of the bubble wrap I lay out the rug’s base of carded wool “batts”.  Then, on top of the batts I carefully place the locks which will form the fluffy, furry top of the rug.

making felted fleece rugs
square frame – laying out the locks a little at a time

Once the locks are laid out which can take several hours, I carefully drizzle hot water (and a tiny amount of soap) over the whole rug.  Once the rug is wet but not too wet I’ll put a layer of bubble wrap over the top to make a big sandwich and roll it up.

Rolling to felt the rug

I press the wool down to make sure the water and soap is evenly distributed, then I roll the rug hundreds of times in different directions until it is felted.  In between rolls I check the rug regularly and pick out any ingrowing locks.  The total amount of rolls depends on the fleece and size of rug, but it’s usually at least 600 times.

rolling the rug

Once I’m satisfied the rug has felted and the locks are firmly in place, I hose the rug down and then soak it in warm water and a gentle “fibre scour” solution to release the lanolin.

I then wash the rug using a wool-friendly detergent and rinse in water with a slosh of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of cedar wood essential oil to keep the moths away.

large rug drying in the kitchen

Then, I lay the rug out flat to dry, if the weather’s nice, outside, otherwise (mostly!) in the kitchen.

rug all fluffed up and ready to go into shop

Finally I do the “fluffing up” bit which sometimes can take several hours.  When the rug comes out of the wash it’s lovely and clean but it can look a bit bedraggled, even when dry.  Locks can be stuck together or squashed flat and sometimes the tips of the locks can be “crispy” so will need removing.  This part is really important to me to get the rug looking its best.  So I’ll take the rug and go through it methodically, separating the locks and rescuing any which have gone into hiding.  I’ll also remove any bits of moss or grass seeds which may still be lurking, I’m always surprised at how much vegetable matter still seems to be present in the rug even after all that washing!  But after my “fluffing up” treatment, it will more or less moss/seed free, and looking its bouncy best!   Ta daaa!

Natural ethically made rugs

finished felted fleece rug
a rectangular felted fleece rug hanging around on a sheep hurdle

We love using our sheep’s wool to make felted fleece rugs.  It feels good to know that we’re using the wool productively and in a way which is sustainable.  The same sheep can go on producing rugs year after year.  It’s even better that we don’t have to send the fleeces away anywhere to be processed as they’re so simple to make and require very little other than water and elbow grease.

It’s great to know we can produce these rugs right here on our smallholding.  For more info on what goes into the rugs click here.  But apart from all of this, the rugs are hugely satisfying to make, there is nothing like seeing a raw fleece transform into a big, soft, fluffy rug.