Let me fill you in on what goes into my "wearable art" accessories and tops. These handmade fashion pieces are composed of two media: silk and wool felt. I use these materials both together and separately. My fiber work is the result of many many hours learning the craft, both in classroom situations and on my own. In college my art degree concentration was textile design. Although I didn't start felting until the early 2010's, it has been my favorite creative direction in textile creation.
On-site you see examples of silk scarves and bandanas dyed with the shibori technique. This technique involves using resists to create my dyed pattern. These can be wood blocks, rubber bands, clothes pins, or my latest adventure - laser cut wood or acrylic. These resists are clamped or tied together with the silk I am dying before placing it in a hot dye bath to achieve the colors and effect I want. The dye will color everything except for the areas of silk covered by the resists. This shibori dyeing process can be used on felt as well as silk. I use industry standard professional dyes which will not wash out and are fade resistant.
The felting process I use to create my wool felt accessories and fashion is called wet felting. It is a slow and laborious process. I begin by laying out wool roving in rows before adding hot, soapy water. Then I scrub the wool with a textured tool on a textured surface. Wool is a type of hair, and just like human hair, it has a scale like structure. Exposing wool to hot water and soap opens these scales. The felting process of agitation, scrubbing, sanding (just wait!), whatever causes these open scales to interlock, creating a new fiber element. That creates a state called "pre-felt" where the wool is adhering together, but not in a way that would be lasting.
At this point I generally break out my power sander (with no sand paper) and sand the garment, which is covered completely with plastic sheeting to avoid electric shock. Next I rolled up the piece and pop it in the dryer for a while to let the heat of the machine and the friction of being bumped around in the tumbler make those wool fibers interlock more and more. The final step is the fulling process, where the piece is delved into super-hot water before I ball it up in handfuls and slam it against a hard surface over and over again. This final shock of heat causes the final interlocking of the wool fibers and results in the textile we call finished felt. This is then finished with a dip in cold water with a bit of vinegar to close those scales and lock the fibers once and for all, stopping the felting. Through this process, the item I'm making tends to shrink around 30% in size from the initial layout to the finished felt. This shrinkage must be taken into consideration when planning any felting pattern.
The final kind of felt you'll see offered on-site is nuno-felt. Imagine the felting process above, but with silk laid over the wool before the scrubbing, and felting starts. Through felting and shrinkage, the silk presents with a fascinating new texture of crinkles. Thinner silk fades into the felt with wool fibers showing through. Nuno-felt tends to be a much thinner textile than plain wool felt. The silk already provides the stability of a fabric, so less wool needs to be used to create a stable textile. As with any wool garment, it is still warm!
A final thought: I use wools for felting that are soft, high micron fibers - mainly Merino wool. My felt accessories and garments are comfy, not scratchy like your grandma's old wool blanket. This fine felted wool mixed with silk for nuno-felt makes a lightweight, comfortable, and warm garment.