Studio: Fibers – Wet Felting Soap with Cassie Stephens

Video Transcript 

Hi, this is Cassie Stephens for the Art of Education. I’m a kindergarten through 4th grade art teacher and I’ve been teaching art for nearly 20 years. One of my favorite things to teach my students is fiber arts and one fun activity that you can do with your students involves wet felting. This kind of wet felting is a little bit more advanced, so once you have tiptoed wet felting into your students art curriculum, then this would be a great addition.

This is soap felting. What you’re essentially going to be doing is wrapping roving around a bar of soap, and you’re going to agitate it. The great thing about this is, is that when it’s done this can actually be used for hand washing. It’s great because it acts as kind of a scouring tool for your hands and to clean them well.

For this activity you’re going to need bars of soap. I have found that using bars of soap that are round or oval works a lot better than the ones sort of shaped like a rectangle because they have those corners where roving like or the soap likes to pop out. I also really have found that using hotel soaps are great. Send out a school wide email at the beginning of the year, let people know that you are going to need some soap so the next time they travel they can pick you up some of those hotel soaps. They’re great because also they are a little bit smaller which means it won’t be as time consuming for your students.

The other thing you’re going to need is roving, and again, since you’re doing wet felting, you are going to want to use the roving that has been carted, meaning it’s been cleaned, but not combed, so it’s not the sleek stuff. When you’re doing this activity you’re gong to need some big container of water, preferably for each student to use. Making sure that it’s a big enough container where the sides go up high enough so there isn’t a lot of water spilling on the tables. I think it’s a great activity for students to do while they’re standing. If in your case if you have the ability to take students outside and work on picnic tables this would be perfect for that since they’ll be using water.

To get started you are going to just take a bar of soap, and you’re going to take you’re roving. Once again you’re gong to pull that roving off, just like it’s cotton candy. Making sure never to use scissors with it, and always to pull really gently. Now with wet felting unlike needle felting, you do need to use a lot more roving. Your goal right now is to wrap the roving around the soap so that you don’t see any more of the soap. It helps if you have some roving going vertically, and then others going around it the other way.

This is a great time to bring in science for your students. You can chat with them about where the wool roving comes from, how it’s carted and cleaned, and how there’s going to be this amazing transformation of these wiry fibers into something that’s going to become something hard and solid like a fabric.

Again, I’m just kind of wrapping this roving around the soap. I’ve only used one color, so to add a little bit of a different color for some variety, you can start mixing up the colors a bit. As I’m doing this I’m doing some vertically and some horizontally, and I’m making sure that there’s no bald spots. I don’t want to see any bars of soap so I’m making sure to cover all of those places up. Now I know my bar of soap is looking kind of crazy and fuzzy, but keep in mind that it’s going to shrink … these fibers will shrink and start to get a little more firmer and more tightly wrapped around that bar of soap.

Once my students have this done, and I’m sure you have a system for checking as well. They can work with a buddy and have their buddies check for bald spots. I would love for my students to show me theirs just to make sure that there aren’t any empty spots peeking or poking through. Once they’ve got that wrapped really well, then it’s time to talk about the science about how this is going to work.

Inside you’ve got your soap. When you’re wanting to felt something, to wet felt something, all you need is water, agitation, and a little bit of soap. The agitation part, that’s coming from the kids. They’re going to really need to rub that bar of soap.

The first step is to get it nice and wet, just by putting it in the water. They’ll see some bubbles coming up because of all the water getting in and out of those little spots. Now they have this nice, lovely, fuzzy piece of soap. Go ahead and have them gently squeeze this out, and then they’re going to just start rubbing this in their hands very, very slowly and gently. Because what the roving is going to initially want to do is slide right off that bar of soap. If they do this too hard or too quickly that’s what is going to happen. However if they move about it very slowly, then it won’t.

Now this roving is sticking to the top of my hand a little bit, so I could use another bar of soap to get my hand a little bit more slippery so it doesn’t slide off. Now this will take them some time because the roving does take a little while to shrink and get a little bit more tight around the bar of soap. They’re going to know when it starts to happen because they can feel the fibers change. You definitely will want to bring in that science element and talk to them about that.

What I’m doing is just gently putting it int eh water, squeezing out the water, and then going back to the agitation. When I do that, I don’t just use my hands on top, I’m rubbing with all my hands all the way around, sometimes flipping that bar of soap around in my hand.

Now if I stop right here you can see that it’s still a little bit fuzzy and pulling away from the soap. A good thing to use in your room, if your students are visual like mine, would be a timer. Tell them, “You guys are going to have to do this for a good 5 minutes. In 5 minutes you can stop and check.” So they can sit there and chat with their friends. I know in my room I like to make things into a game. Have them switch bars of soap, move around, like I said, if they’re doing this outside they could walk around while they’re doing this. Just getting it wet every now and then, gently squeezing the water out and continuing to agitate.

Now that I’ve agitated this bar of soap for about 5 minutes, it still could use a goo 5 more minutes of agitation before it reaches that final look. You’ll know and your students will know as well, when you have finished, when the roving is now tight against the bar of soap. There aren’t these lumps that you see. The great thing is, is that now this isn’t just a beautiful work of art, but it can also be used. It’s functional. Your students can use it in your room to wash their hands. As the bar of soap inside shrinks, so will the roving. This is also something that could be given as gifts, they could even take this home and use it in their own homes.

I know that in your art room you will think of plenty of ways to use this fun project and tie in the science of how this works, and even if they were to create things like rocks. How this could be a rock and how rocks are formed with pressure and agitation. I now that you will think of a lot of ideas and ways to use this in your art room.