This title made me chuckle. 🤭 It sounds like I’m going to lecture, about good hygiene. But no, my post is about felting soaps, as take-away gifts, for my niece Lauren’s bridal shower. The shower was in Phoenix, this past weekend. I declined my invitation, knowing I would surely melt in July’s hot temperatures – never dreaming there would be a triple digit heatwave. However, as her only aunt, I wanted to send something special, to help with the shower. Felted soaps are always appreciated, by any recipient I give them to…so I asked her mother what she thought? I explained they are lovely, and useful, pieces of hand made art. With a few questions, about colors and theme, I was ready to tackle the job.
The theme: Petals and Prosecco.
I taught soap felting classes, at a fiber show, and a couple fiber retreats. In doing so, I developed a descriptive narrative, to help people understand the process. I experienced many pitfalls, in my learning process. I like to share my mistakes, to prevent my students from experiencing the fate. Felting soap, while not hard to do, can humble any experienced Felter. [Truthfully I had 2 bars fail this time.] Sometimes it just happens!
Generally, the following method works pretty well for beginners. This recitation, is close to what I usually say to my students, as we felt our soap together. I have inserted photos as illustration, where necessary.
1. Use wool that felts well! – For my batts, I try to blend dyed merino, with another easily feltable wool. Add fancy fibers, like silks and angelina, sparingly. I tend to add those fibers to the top of my batts; that allows me to pull small amounts of the add-ins, as decoration. Always try to add a thin web of wool fiber, on top of your silks and fancy fibers. It helps them felt in better.
2. Use a vegetable peeler to remove all 90 degree, or pointy edges of your soap.My best advice – use less wool than you think. Lay out 3 very thin layers of fiber; only enough to cover the area of your bar of soap, with a small overlap. (Photos)
3. Wrap bar of soap, being mindful to cover corners of the bar. This is where you can add wool yarn embellishments, if you choose.
4. Carefully wrap in a nylon knee high stocking. Better yet, use cheap nylon footies – ones you use to try on shoes with. [Amazon sells them – $8 for 144.] Grab the wool wrapped bar, with your socked hand, and carefully pull it over.
5. Add luke warm water to a 2 quart bowl. Wet wrapped bar – dipping quickly. Pull wrapped bar out of water, and begin pressing air out of the wool. (You will hear the air leaving the wool – sounding like little farts.) Press sides, press edges, press ends…keep pressing as the air continues to bubble out. Do this for a minute or two. As you press, soap suds begin to form. Some soaps foam more than others.
6. Quick dip in water again, begin pressing the fiber as before. Keep pressing. You should be able to feel all of the contours of the bar of soap. The wool should feel so tight, on the bar, you almost don’t feel it present.
*Only after about 5 minutes of pressing and pressing, around the bar…should you attempt to start rubbing. ***This is where the felting problems happen. Ask me how I know this?? When I am in a hurry, and rush the process, the wool says “No, no, no!”
7. When you do rub, imagine your bar of soap is a new-born baby. You wouldn’t rub your baby roughly…start by rubbing very very gently. After a minute or two, your baby is 1-2 months old, so add a little more rubbing for a minute. Rub all the edges and ends too. Now, your baby is older and you can begin building up the rubbing. [Wipe your soapy hands off with a towel – don’t add more water unless you absolutely have to. Trust me!]
8. You can peel your stocking/footie back, to make sure the wool is tight to the soap, and not sticking to the nylon. If still sticking, you need more rubbing, so wrap it back up and rub some more. Otherwise, remove the stocking, and rub all over some more.
9. Here if you feel the need to felt a bit more, you can rub the soap bar on bubble wrap, or something with a little texture. Make sure every edge is tight to the bar, and you’re pretty much done.
10. Start running some warm water, in your kitchen sink. Rinse your hands off, and quickly like before rinse the bar. Press all the water out, dry outside of bar with paper towel, then set aside to dry.
I generally stop at this point feeling satisfied with the beauty of this simple look. But for the shower, I planned to try something different. I decided to use bits of fiber and felted scraps, to needle felt a loose flower shape. I didn’t take pictures of that process, but I did think to photograph my leaf process:
I dug in my bin of felted pieces and off cuts. I found a lightly felted bit of prefelt, in various shades green. Perfect for leaves.
I placed my rough flower shape on the bar of soap. For this example, imagine a round piece of felt/fiber. I divided the round shape by eye into petals. Then at a petals edge, I grabbed it with my felting needle tip, and pushed toward the center of said flower. I did this 2 or 3 times around the flower. As shown in the photos above, I cut leaf shapes from the green prefelt and rolled it between my hands a couple times. Whenever my leaf rolled on itself, I flattened it out, and kept on going. (Note: that could work well for another project) For the stems, I used a US-E hook and green yarn to crochet a chain of about 10 stitches. Each of these flowers, stems, and leaves were totally different. I let the colors and fibers determine their own destiny.
I broke 4 felting needles, on this project, before I figured out my mistake. I watched a YouTube video that said to “needle felt directly into the soap.” I beg to differ with them, unless they have an endless supply of felting needles. I found keeping my felting needle between the felt and the bar of soap worked fine. (See the edge of the leaf, photo above.)
While I am sharing tips with you, I should warn you, these soaps took a good bit of time. For these, I chose to use organic, specialty bars of soap, because they were for my niece’s family and friends. If you ever try selling them, as I have in the past, don’t bother using good soap. While purchasers enjoy, good quality soap, they rarely believe you have used it. I did a fiber show in Mississippi, and used “free” 2oz soaps, we got when traveling. I sold them for $5 ea, and they were gone in 40 minutes. I used a better quality, organic soap in my next batch, and couldn’t get people to part with $7.50. As I sit here writing this up, I don’t see these as money makers at all! But, if you have the supplies, and a bunch of soaps hanging around, they make pretty nice gifts, or stocking stuffers. And…they look so pretty on the tables at a shower.