Making a vegetarian sheepskin rug is quite a complex process,. There are lots of things to consider, such as, which is the best type of fleece to use, as fleeces from different breeds of sheep respond differently to the felting process. Also, people have varying methods of making felted fleece rugs, for example some apply a backing as well as a wool layer and some don’t. It just depends on the final look that you prefer. There is no right or wrong way, just find the method that works for you and achieves a finished rug that you like.
It takes quite a bit of practice and feel to felt a vegetarian sheepskin rug, so expect a bit of trial and error in the learning process.
I am going to give you an insight into how I go about felting a fleece and will try to help you avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. So let’s dive in.
How do I Find a Good Fleece to Make a Felted Rug?
This takes practice, and you will need to work with a few fleeces before you work out what you like and what produces the type of fleece rug that you fancy.
If you have never handled a raw sheared sheep fleece before, be prepared for it to be dirty, smelly and greasy! It will have been worn by the sheep for anything from six months to eighteen months, so not only will it have picked up dirt and vegetable matter (VM) it will be full of lovely greasy, waterproofing lanolin.
There are lots of places where you can purchase raw fleece in the UK, from ebay and Facebook to local rare breed sales and local farmers. Beware, fleece is very heavy and often the cost of postage will be more than the cost of the fleece because of the weight.
You are looking for fleeces that have kept in shape when the sheep was sheared. If a fleece is falling apart it is really not worth the time to piece it back together and makes the felting process very hit and miss!
Consider what colour and type of rug you want to make. Long white locks are lovely, but take a lot of washing and cleaning. Curly locks will only stay curly and looking beautiful if they are fairly clean from the start. If you have to comb or brush curly locks to remove VM, they will not usually go back into their original curly state again.
So you have found a fleece that you like the look of, it has arrived, which is exciting in itself, now let’s make a start on transforming this smelly dirty fleece into a stunning vegetarian sheepskin rug.
What Will I Need In Order to Make a Vegetarian Sheepskin Rug?
You will need:
- A fleece
- Rubber gloves
- Hot water for wet felting
- Lots of water and wool wash to clean the rug
- Wool top or carded wool
- Mesh curtain
- Bubble wrap
How to Make a Vegetarian Sheepskin Rug
Prepare The Fleece Well to Save Time Later
Lay the fleece out on a flat surface right side up. You will need to pick through it very thoroughly taking out dirt, seeds, twigs and vegetable matter. If there are patches of tangled up droppings and badly soiled edges, remove these as they will not felt. This is called skirting. The fleece may have been purchased as “well skirted” in which case it should be fairly clean around the edges.
The more thorough you are in this preparation stage the better your fleece rug will turn out. Time well spent now could save you hours of brushing and washing later. Also bear in mind that dirt in the fleece will interfere with the wet felting process, resulting in patches that don’t felt the backing to the fleece. These patches can take many hours to fix, so make sure to be thorough now and it will save lots of time later.
Once the right side of the fleece has been thoroughly picked over, turn it over and place it flat on a sheet of bubble wrap, on the surface where you are going to felt the fleece. Make sure the fleece is laid out in the shape that you want the rug. Repeat the process of picking through and removing all dirt, VM, seeds and twigs from the underside. Your fleece is now ready to add the felt backing.
Prepare The Middle Layer
I add a layer of carded wool or wool top as a middle layer, which acts as the glue that sticks the backing to the fleece. Some people don’t add a backing, so this middle layer becomes the actual backing of the rug. In this case the layer needs to be thicker. You can use wool from the fleece itself, so you would have put some aside and washed it, dried it then carded it for the middle layer. Or you can purchase commercially prepared wool top or roving, which is quicker and gives good results. I like to use Jacob wool top for this purpose as it comes in white, grey and dark brown, so can be used with different coloured fleeces. Jacob also makes a good strong middle layer and felts nicely. If your fleece is a unique colour, it may be best to use some of the same fleece for this purpose.
Separate out your top or roving into fluffy airy handfuls and spread it nice and evenly all over the back of the fleece. The thickness of this layer comes down to practice really, but as a general rule of thumb an inch or so thick of light and fluffy wool should be about right.
Adding a Felt Backing
It is entirely up to you whether you want to add a backing or not. You can use a sheet of felt or pre felt, depending on the thickness you prefer. You can buy felt and pre felt online, or of course you can make your own felt.
I like to cut a piece of felt to fit the shape of the fleece. Some people keep it in a rectangular shape, I prefer to make the rug sheep shaped rather than straight sided, but again all down to personal preference.
Place the backing felt carefully on the top of the middle layer, taking care to keep all three layers in place. A handy hint here; go round the edges of your fleece and lay the locks out i.e. make sure they are not tucked in or folded underneath, as they will felt like that and may not come free again.
Now carefully place your net curtain over the whole lot. I like to weigh it down around the edges to help me keep it all in place while I am working on the fleece. You are now ready for the fun bit; the wet felting.
How to Wet Felt A Fleece Rug
You will need very hot water. Use rubber gloves so that you don’t scald yourself. Wet felting involves applying hot water and soap and rubbing with your hands until the wool felts. Wool fibres are covered in lots of little hooks, when you agitate them and apply heat they tense up and lock together. You are aiming to agitate the wool fibres so that they lock together and form a strong bond.
Remember this little equation: wool + heat + agitation = felt
Another handy tip here, if you are not used to wet felting, practice on some small pieces of fleece first. It takes a little while to acquire the right feel and get the right amount of felting. Wet felting a full fleece is a big job and a very physical job, so it would make sense to build up your skills by making a few small rugs from parts of a fleece first before you tackle a full fleece.
Wet felt the entire fleece, working through the mesh backing. The mesh is only there to hold everything in place and give you a neat finish. You need to gently peel it off the back of the rug once you are happy that the layers are felting together nicely. You can tell that felting is working as the mesh will start to stick to the backing. Not everyone uses mesh to help them, again this is personal preference.
Once you think that you have felted the entire fleece evenly, all over, gently peal off the mesh. You should be able to pinch the backing to test if it has stuck nicely to the fleece. If patches have not stuck properly, you can add more soap and hot water, without the mesh in place and rub until you think you have a good felt.
At this point where the fleece is sticking nicely to the backing I like to roll it, to help get an even felting all over. I take a length of plastic drainpipe and roll the entire piece of work, bubble wrap and all around the pipe. Tie it in place with a few strands of yarn and roll back and forwards a couple of hundred times. You will, with practice work out how much rolling works for you.
Now the exciting bit. Remove the drainpipe and bubble wrap and hopefully you will have a lovely soapy wet vegetarian sheepskin rug.
Washing Your Wet Felted Fleece Rug
You can use cold, warm or hot water to wash your rug, depending on whether you want more felting to happen or not. You will probably need to wash two or three times and then rinse two or three times to get your rug clean. You can use detergent or specialist fleece cleaning product, but you do need to use something that will get the dirt and lanolin out. I like to add some vinegar to one of the final rinses too, to counteract all that soap.
Handle your fleece rug carefully while washing being careful to support it will it is heavy with water.
You will now get an idea of what your rug is going to look like. Don’t worry if it looks a bit rough at this stage. Lay it out flat and gently tease out any trapped locks while it is still wet. Hang over a fence or lay flat to dry naturally. It may take a few days to dry thoroughly.
If there are any patches that haven’t taken properly, you can always needle felt them. You can even transplant locks into any thin patches using this technique too.
You should now hopefully have a beautiful vegetarian sheepskin rug and a massive sense of achievement having created it yourself.
You can of course skip the hard work and buy one of my ready made vegetarian sheepskin rugs.