How to Felt Soap with Glen Mooar Cottage
Felted soap is essentially a bar of soap plus a natural wash cloth built in one. The layer of matted wool surrounding the bar can extend the life of the soap and creates a soft surface that lightly exfoliates your skin as you wash. I also found that the process of felting is a quick and easy craft that anyone can do. All that’s needed is a bar of soap, wool, a bit of water, and five minutes of rubbing and swirling the soap in your hands.
My friend Sue Quilliam of Glen Mooar Cottage Retreat took me through the process at her picturesque craft centre in the Sulby Valley. We sat outside on a warm spring day and before I knew it we had not one but two bars of felted soap ready to be used in the bath or shower. Though felt is a functional addition to the bar, it can also be a beautiful decoration that transforms an ordinary soap into a piece of artwork.
Depending on the wool used, it can be as natural or colourful as you’d like. Choose vibrantly dyed Merino wool for dramatic effects or go with local un-dyed wool like the Manx Loaghtan wool we used for our first bar. For added effect, embroider a pattern or design on the front. Not only will it make the soap more special but the silk pattern will give even more exfoliation if that’s what you’re after.
To start, Sue took a bar of Lovely Greens Natural Oatmeal soap and rounded the edges with a potato peeler and small knife. You need smooth edges otherwise when you felt, there’s a chance that the corners of the soap will poke out through the wool.
Sue then laid about 20g/0.7oz of washed and carded Loaghtan wool in a rectangular pile. Loaghtan is a type of sheep from the Isle of Man that is well known for growing four to six horns. It has wool in colours ranging from light brown to grey and white.
Some of the wool strands were placed length-ways and some horizontal. She layered it like this a few times so that if you imagine the pile of wool, the strands were stacked in a criss-cross fashion. This layering helps the wool to transform into felt.
Sue then folded the soap into the wool and formed a small parcel. Holding the parcel tight, she dipped it into hot water and then added a squirt of liquid soap.
For five minutes she twirled the soap around in her hands, chatting to me the while. I had a go at this point later on when we made the second soap and it’s fairly easy to get the hang of even if you’re a beginner like me. Just imagine rolling a bar of soap around in your hands only you’re feeling for bits of loose wool and pulling it tight with your movements. You’ve also got to watch the corners of the soap and make sure the wool is being stretched over them without the edges poking through. Rubbing with your fingers and thumbs helps.
Most of the suds you see in the below photo come from the liquid soap but there’s also a bit from the bar soap too. Don’t worry about it affecting your finished product though.
The wool pulls tighter and tighter and after a very short time transforms into ‘Felt’. This occurs when microscopic barbs on each of the wool strand locks with barbs on other strands and through agitation becomes a woolly fabric. Merino wool took a much shorter time for felting to occur but the Loaghtan wool took only five minutes.
When the wool feels tight and matted together it’s time for a rinse in very cold water. The water helps the felt to set and will also rinse the liquid soap away from the material. Squeeze the felted soap of as much liquid as possible and set it someplace to dry. The first time you use it, the only soap that comes through the wool will be suds from the soap inside. I don’t doubt that the Lanolin from the wool expresses itself along with the soap too. Lanolin is a natural oil from sheeps’ wool and can be found in cosmetics and beauty products due to its wonderful moisturising ability.