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History and Techniques of Nuno Felting

  • 7 min read
A silk/merino Nuno felted scarf (Image credit: Ashford)
A silk/merino Nuno felted scarf (Image credit: Ashford)

Nuno felting, a captivating textile art form that merges traditional felting with delicate fabrics, has gained popularity as a unique and versatile craft. The fusion of wool fibres and fabrics results in a lightweight yet strong, durable fabric with a distinctive texture.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the rich history of Nuno felting and explore the various techniques that make this craft so special.

History of Nuno Felting

Nuno felting has a significant historical background and cultural significance in the textile industry. It has combined the traditional art of felting with modern fabric manipulation, creating a new avenue for textile artists and designers. In this section, we will discuss what Nuno felting is and its origins.

What is Nuno Felting?

Nuno felting is a fabric felting technique that blends together wool fibres with sheer fabric to create lightweight, textured textiles. The process begins with laying out the sheer fabric and evenly distributing wool fibres on top. The combination is then wetted and agitated, causing the wool fibres to intertwine with the fabric, resulting in a strong and supple material. The characteristic ripple effect of Nuno felting is achieved as the wool fibres shrink and pull the fabric in, creating a wrinkled or rippled appearance. This unique effect adds depth and dimension to the finished textile, making it a popular choice for creating garments, scarves, and other wearable art. Nuno felting produces lightweight, versatile fabrics with a beautifully textured and organic feel, making it a desirable technique in the world of textile arts.

The Origins of Nuno Felting

Nuno felting originated in Australia when textile artist Polly Stirling and her assistant Sachiko Kotaka developed the technique as they explored ways to combine wool fibres with silk fabric. Their goal was to create a lightweight yet warm fabric suitable for a variety of clothing items and wearable in Australia's warm climate.

The name "Nuno" comes from the Japanese word "Nuno", which means fabric, reflecting the core aspect of the technique - combining fabric and felting. Stirling was inspired by the traditional techniques of hand-felting and the desire to create a lightweight yet durable fabric that could be used for a variety of purposes. Her innovative technique involved felting wool fibres into sheer fabrics, such as silk, resulting in a uniquely textured and versatile material.

The technique gained international attention when Stirling and Kotaka's work was exhibited in Australia and later in the United States. The art world quickly recognised the innovative nature of Nuno felting, and it soon found its way into the realms of fashion and textile design.

The technique has also proven to be a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to creating textiles, as it can be done by hand without the use of harsh chemicals or machinery. Nuno felting has become popular for creating beautifully textured and unique fabrics in fashion, interior design, and art. The technique has also influenced the development of other fabric felting methods, showcasing its enduring impact on the textile industry.

What Can I Create with Nuno Felting?

A Nuno felted scarf (Image credit: Chris McGuigan | Malabrigo Nube product review)
A Nuno felted scarf (Image credit: Chris McGuigan | Malabrigo Nube product review)

Nuno felting opens the door to crafting wearable works of art, allowing artisans to experiment with wool to produce a variety of textures and thicknesses for a distinctive end result. Some of the enchanting items that can be crafted through Nuno felting include:

  1. Textured Accessories:Scarves, shawls, ponchos, and wraps come to life with unique textures, providing warmth and a visual feast of intricate designs.
  2. Fashionable Apparel:Explore the realm of fashion with vests, tops, dresses, and skirts that showcase the delicate fusion of wool fibres and lightweight fabrics.
  3. Artistic Home Decor:Extend the artistic touch to your living space with Nuno felted items such as cushion covers, table runners, and wall hangings, adding warmth and aesthetic appeal.

However, handling the completed cloth with care is important, as the delicate textures produced by Nuno felting may be more vulnerable to damage than standard felted fabrics.

Nuno Felting Techniques for Beginners

Nuno felting opens the door to a world of creative possibilities. For beginners to truly enjoy and become skilled at this special craft, getting the hang of the basic techniques is essential. These fundamental techniques will guide you towards unlocking the full potential of Nuno felting and making wonderful creations.

Nuno felted scarves made using the Ashford Nuno Felting Kit
Nuno felted scarves made using the Ashford Nuno Felting Kit

The Nuno Felting Process

Nuno felting is a fascinating process that involves combining loose wool fibres with a lightweight fabric to create a unique and textured textile. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you understand the Nuno felting process:

1. Prepare the workspace and materials.

  • Opt for soft and fine wool fibres, such as Merino wool, known for its excellent felting properties.
  • Prepare a lightweight/loosely woven fabric (silk or muslin), a towel, bubble wrap or bamboo mat, a piece of mesh/tulle, warm water, mild liquid soap, and a spray bottle.
  • Lay a towel for protection, and place bubble wrap or a bamboo mat on top. The chosen material protects the workspace and adds texture to aid the felting process.

2. Lay out the fabric.

  • Creating a flat and smooth foundation is crucial for a successful Nuno felting project. Ensure a flat surface by laying the lightweight fabric flat on the bubble wrap or bamboo mat, smoothing any wrinkles or folds.

3. Prepare the fibres for layering.

  • Tease the loose fibres gently, creating a thin layer. Incorporate different colours or types for desired effects.
  • Evenly distribute fibres over the fabric, covering the entire surface. Fibres will spread during felting, so plan accordingly.

4. Wet the fibres and agitate.

  • Lay tulle or mesh fabric over your work.
  • Use a spray bottle filled with warm water and mild soap to thoroughly dampen the fibres and fabric. Take care not to over saturate.
  • Press down gently and rub the surface in a circular motion for 5 to 10 minutes to encourage fibre-fabric binding.

5. Roll and unroll the fabric and fibre blend.

  • Roll the fabric and fibres tightly within the bubble wrap or bamboo mat and apply pressure while rolling back and forth to further agitate the fibres.
  • After rolling for several minutes, unroll the fabric and check progress by gently pulling at the fibres. A firm hold indicates successful felting.

6. Rinse and dry the newly felted fabric.

  • Rinse under warm water to remove soap, gently squeeze out excess water, and lay flat to dry on a clean towel or drying rack.

By following these steps, you can create beautiful textured Nuno-felted fabrics ready to use in scarves, shawls, or other wearable art pieces.

Quick Nuno Felting Tips Every Beginner Should Know

For those just starting, a few essential tips can turn this artistic endeavour into a delightful and successful experience. Let's explore some Nuno felting tips for beginner to ensure a smooth and enjoyable introduction to this unique and tactile craft.

  1. Start small: Begin with smaller projects, like scarves or small wall hangings, to grasp the basic techniques before attempting larger pieces.
  2. Experiment with colours and textures: Nuno felting allows for endless experimentation. Play with different colours and fibre arrangements to discover your unique style.
  3. Patience is key: Felting is a gradual process. Be patient, and allow the fibres to bind and create the desired texture.
  4. Learn from mistakes: Embrace any mishaps as learning opportunities. Mistakes can lead to unexpected and beautiful outcomes.

With practice, you can confidently explore more intricate designs and expand your repertoire within the realm of Nuno felting.

Using Natural Fibres vs. Synthetic Fibres in Nuno Felting

As previously stated, Nuno felting combines loose fibres with loosely woven fabric, typically silk, to create lightweight fabrics with unique texture. When it comes to fibre choice, natural fibres, such as wool, and synthetic fibres, like polyester, interact differently with the wet felting process. Natural fibres readily bind together when agitated, creating a strong, durable fabric with a slightly textured appearance. Wool, a natural fibre, also has the advantage of being breathable and temperature-regulating.

A Nuno felted scarf made using the Ashford Silk Merino Scarf Felting Kit
A Nuno felted scarf made using the Ashford Silk Merino Scarf Felting Kit

The incorporation of synthetic fibres is uncommon as they do not bind as easily and may not felt as readily as natural fibres. When utilised, typically as the ground fabric that other fibres are felted onto, they can add a smooth, shiny finish to the fabric and be more diverse and easily controlled in terms of colour and texture.

The fibre choice also significantly impacts the final Nuno felted fabric's texture, drape, and overall appearance.

What is the Best Fibre to Use for Nuno Felting?

Among the options, wool emerges as the preferred fibre, offering a seamless blend of texture, durability, and sustainability. Let's explore why wool is a favourite fibre of artisans diving into the captivating craft of Nuno felting.

  • Fibre Integration:Wool fibres have a natural affinity for bonding, ensuring a strong and seamless integration with lightweight fabrics.
  • Texture and Softness: Wool contributes a soft and luxurious texture to Nuno-felted items, enhancing the overall tactile experience.
  • Felting Properties: Wool readily felts, creating a durable and cohesive fabric during the wet felting process, making it well-suited for Nuno felting.
  • Insulation: The inherent insulating properties of wool provide warmth without adding excessive weight, making Nuno-felted garments comfortable to wear.
  • Versatility: Wool's versatility allows for creating intricate designs and textures, providing artists with endless possibilities for creative expression in Nuno felting.

Additionally, natural fibres are often considered more sustainable than their synthetic counterparts due to several environmental and ethical factors.

Here are key reasons why natural fibres are considered environmentally friendly and sustainable:

  • Biodegradability: Natural fibres decompose naturally, minimising environmental impact.
  • Renewable Resources: Sourced from renewable plants and animals, like cotton, flax, and sheep.
  • Low Energy Consumption: Production typically involves less energy compared to synthetic fibres.
  • Social and Economic Benefits: Contribute to local livelihoods and well-being by provision of jobs.
  • Recyclability: Some, like cotton and wool, are recyclable, reducing demand for virgin materials.

Choosing natural fibres for Nuno felting aligns with sustainability goals, with their impact hinging on cultivation practices and processing methods. Integrating sustainable practices, like organic farming, enhances ecological considerations and aligns with ethical standards in the crafting process.

Explore Nuno Felting Today!

In our exploration of Nuno felting, we've unravelled its history, explored its creative possibilities, learned essential techniques for beginners, and considered the choice between natural and synthetic fibres. Nuno felting is not just a craft; it's a blend of history, artistry, and hands-on ingenuity. Now equipped with the knowledge of its past and the techniques shaping its future, artists can dive into their creative journey, weaving unique and textured masterpieces in the evolving world of Nuno felting.

If you are interested in learning about other types of felting, you may want to check out our past articles:

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