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Millions of sheep can't be wrong about the warmth of wool, and every year they give up their coats for our use. We've good reason to be grateful for this and, being a resourceful lot here on the East Coast, throughout the years have used every scrap of fleece to keep warm during winter. After shearing, we've spun, knit, woven, hooked and felted garments and household goods. Fishermen's mittens were-and are-knit on the large side deliberately so that, with continual soaking and abrasion against rough nets, they "felt" into thick, durable fabric.

Make a beautiful - and practical - tea cosy by turning fleece to felt.

Millions of sheep can't be wrong about the warmth of wool, and every year they give up their coats for our use. We've good reason to be grateful for this and, being a resourceful lot here on the East Coast, throughout the years have used every scrap of fleece to keep warm during winter. After shearing, we've spun, knit, woven, hooked and felted garments and household goods. Fishermen's mittens were-and are-knit on the large side deliberately so that, with continual soaking and abrasion against rough nets, they "felt" into thick, durable fabric.

Most of us have accidentally felted something in the washing machine, usually a favourite sweater, but to set out to do so deliberately is delightful. Felting can be achieved with knitted or woven fabric, but the easiest is using raw fleece. I have chosen this simple tea cosy project as an introduction to the art of felting from fleece.

To source raw fleece, check to see if there's a heritage farm museum in your area. In Nova Scotia contact Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum, in Cole Harbour, or Ross Farm Museum in New Ross. In New Brunswick try Kings Landing, near Fredericton. They all have their own flocks of sheep. Or try a local specialty yarn store-Fleece Artists, near Halifax, has a spectacular inventory of luxurious hand-dyed and hand-painted woollen fibres you could use to make a tea cosy that would rival any Impressionist painting, for example.

I chose to use some creamy-white fleece from Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum, plus some hand-dyed yellow, blue, red and green locks to make my design.

Dying wool is simple and fun. Packets of dye are readily available and the recipe uses salt as the mordant, or fixing agent, so the process is non-toxic. Making natural dyes is another option.

Materials and Tools:

  • 1 pound of fleece (maximum) in a variety of colours
  • Teasing device: wire carders, wire dog brush or alternative
  • 1 square yard of broadcloth or cotton sheeting 
  • 12 x 12 piece of clear or white plastic bag
  • Pins, needle, thread and scissors
  • Kettle/pot
  • Rolling pin
  • Rubber gloves 
  • Bar of soap

Step 1


Step 4


Step 5


Step 7


Step 8

1 Tease the fibres apart and lay them out. Like hair, each strand of wool is made up of several layers; each has a scaly outer layer that, when treated in the correct manner, will attach to nearby strands and make felt. Any lock of fleece can be felted, but in order to make a flat fabric you need to start by teasing all the locks apart and laying the fibres parallel. Devices for doing this include your fingers, wire dog brushes, carding paddles, or the more complicated drum carder. Once you have a pile of teased fibres laying approximately parallel, sort them into batts-pads of fluffy fleece - about 16 inches long by eight inches wide, and about one inch thick. You will need seven.

2 Lay a piece of cotton sheeting or broadcloth on your work table; one square yard will be sufficient. Later, this will be folded over the fleece, so work on one-half of the sheet only. In the middle of the lower half, make up a decorative design for one side of your tea cosy using coloured fleece. The overall size of your raw fleece cosy will be 16 by 12 inches, so plan your design to fit within these dimensions.

3 Assemble the batts to make one-half of the cosy (in Step 5 we'll make the other). Lay one of your batts on top of your design, with the fibres parallel to the bottom of the cosy. Split a second batt and lay this piece beside the first, shaping it to form the curved top of your cosy. Put another batt on top of this layer, this time, with the fibres oriented "up and down" the cosy, or perpendicular to the first layer. Shape one end - the top - into the same curve as the first layer. Lay a fourth batt on the pile, perpendicular to the last (i.e. parallel to the bottom). You now have a layer-cake of fleece batts, with the middle layer perpendicular to the top and bottom layers.

4 Cut the profile of your curve-topped tea cosy from a clear or white plastic bag. Make it 12 by 12 inches. Place it on top of the growing pile of fleece so that it overhangs the bottom 1 1/2 to 2 inches. There must be a band of fleece fibres, about 1 inch wide, showing on both sides and across the curved top. These will felt together with the second side to join the two. Make alterations if you need to; add a little or take some away to make a pleasing curve.

5 Build a second layer-cake of fleece batts, just as you did for the underside, finishing this time with the colourful fleece picture on top. This is the second side of the cosy.

6 Bring one end of your cotton sheet over the top of your fleece pile without knocking the top layer off of the plastic. You'll have it folded over the fleece like a pita sandwich. Temporarily pin layers together all around the edges. Using a sewing needle with a long strand of thread, sew your fleece cushion all the way around the outer edges, removing the pins as you go. It doesn't matter if you trap some of the fibres, but try to outline the shape you wish the final cosy to have. This cotton wrap will be removed later so use long stitches and light knots.

7 With wide, loose stitches, sew right through the tea cosy cushion you have just made, anchoring the centre designs in place while the felting process is underway. (You might affect your design by pulling the stitches tighter to make indentations in the surface of the felted fabric - it's something to play with on your next cosy.)

8 The felting process begins. It's caused by heat, water and friction. There are two ways to apply these forces. The washing machine works well, but you won't be in control unless you are vigilant and check the progress of the felting. For this method, throw in a couple of pairs of jeans or old bath towels to provide friction. The better method is to do it by hand. To begin, boil a kettle of water. Get your rolling pin, rubber gloves and a bar of soap, then make your way to the bathroom. Put a second on to boil kettle while you work with the first. Lay the tea cosy in the bottom of the bathtub, put your gloves on and wet the cosy all over with hot water. Rub it well with soap. Roll the pin aggressively over the wet tea cosy, adding water to keep it hot and wet as you work up a good lather of soap. After 10 minutes, get the second kettle of boiling water, turn the cosy over and work the other side. After 10 minutes of working the other side, peel the wet outer layers of cotton apart and look at the edges of the cosy to see if they are felted and joined. If the fibres are still loose, keep wetting and rolling. If they are felted, there should be some clumpy bits. Rinse out the soap, rolling out the sudsy water. Once the bubbles are mostly gone, roll out the excess water and tidy up the bathroom.

9 Snip all the threads holding your cotton wrap, and remove the finished tea cosy from its cocoon. Remove the plastic, which has kept the two sides apart. Either trim the edges or leave them lacy; it's up to you.

Hang your new tea cosy up to dry. Put the kettle on and make a pot of tea. You deserve it!

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