Wet dog. It’s an improvement over the dog poo, right? I’m probably not doing myself any favors by describing my soap this way, so I’ll explain. You remember the dog poo soap and how I said I’d make the most out of the little suckers. Didn’t believe me, did you? Well, here’s a quick lesson in pictures on how to felt dog poo (or any other) soap.
Choose the soap you’d like to felt. Though it might seem like a smaller bar of soap would be easier to felt, you’re more likely to succeed with a standard-sized bar on your first attempt or three. You can use your own homemade soap or a typical bar of store-bought stuff.
Once that’s decided, head to a local craft store or yarn store or sheep farm (those are on every corner, right across from the CVS) and get yourself some wool roving. This is also called felting wool, is usually packaged in plastic bags, and looks a bit like a giant colored cotton ball. Now, unroll that puppy and spread it out as above.
You’ll want to wrap your soap twice. In the picture above, I’ve wrapped the bar of dog poo (okay, I’ll stop) from top to bottom, and now I’ll wrap it again from side to side, making sure that no soap is showing through the roving and paying particular attention to the corners.
I don’t have a picture of the next step, as my photographer (Thing 1) was too busy playing that dad-blasted Harry Potter Lego game on the Wii to do her duty, so just bear with me. It’s easy, I promise. Take your double-wrapped bar to the sink and run some scald-your-skin-off hot water. Try not to squeal when you drizzle some of the water onto the soap, getting the whole thing damp enough that it begins to smell like a wet dog (it’s wool, what did you expect?). You don’t want to drench the soap at this point, as your roving is likely to shift around a good deal this early in the game. Begin gently rubbing the roving in small circles on every side, drizzling more scalding hot water over it every minute or so, still taking care not to uncover those pesky corners. The soap will begin to lather through the roving, which is perfectly fine. Continue this gentle rubbing and drizzling for at least five minutes or until the roving begins to shrink and mat together. The matting together is what “felting” is all about. Ever had a wooly dog, cat, sheep? Remember how their undercoats were great at getting so tangled you’d never have any hope of freeing the individual strands? That’s what we’re trying to accomplish with the roving.
Once the roving has begun to shrink and knit together, you can get serious. The next phase involves lots more agitation and lots more hot water. You can do this a couple of ways. You can continue by hand, dunking the wrapped soap into the scalding water and scrubbing every surface between dunks, or you can pop the whole sucker into the end of some pantyhose (I own no pantyhose and can attest to the fact that a brown trouser sock works just fine) then rough it up on a washboard, sushi mat, your husband’s six-pack abs (though if you choose the latter method, I can’t be held responsible for the outcome). I like the sushi mat, as my husband is quite ticklish. You’re going to keep at this for a good ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes, depending on how loose your roving is. Continue dunking the soap into the hot water every minute or two, as the heat helps the wool shrink. Take care not to scrub in one spot for too long, especially not the corners or sides, as these are prone to scanty coverage as it is. After ten minutes or so, you can carefully remove your wrapped soap from the hose/sock to check on the progress.
As you can see in the picture above, the roving has felted and now fits the soap snugly. There are no wispy tails hanging off the bar – if there are, you’ve probably used too much roving. At this point, you can stop, press your bar dry with a towel, then use your felted soap as is. I prefer to add a little more detail. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, either by wrapping wisps of contrasting colored roving around the soap and beginning the process again to achieve a multi-colored tie-dyed kind of felting, or by adding detail with needle felting, which I’ll show you here. If you choose to add details with needle felting, wait until the felted bar is completely dry before beginning again.
I’ve chosen to add a couple of butterflies to this soap, as I’m giving it to Thing 1, who has a real thing about butterflies (and the Bros. Jonas, but alas, I don’t have a Jonas-shaped cookie cutter). If you’re gifted enough to design your details by hand, you probably don’t need to be reading this blog entry, but if you’re like the rest of us, cheat whenever possible. Place your template in the desired position, tear off a small (even tiny) amount of roving and place it in the outline. Now comes the fun part, which involves a felting needle – a long barbed needle you can pick up for about two bucks at most craft stores. Stick that sucker in the roving and start jabbing away. You want to go through both layers of roving and into the soap, but don’t take out your anger about your kid’s stupid soccer coach or that moron in the pick-up line on the poor soap. It did nothing to deserve such treatment. Poking into the soap is good. Poking through the soap, not so much, so control yourself. Keep your jabs as close together as possible, and make sure you spend a while focusing on the edges of the design before removing your template. I have no idea what the heck this shadow is in these pictures. You know you covet my mad photography skillz.
Once you’ve got your initial layer of roving attached and thoroughly felted, you can add further detail, like the butterflies’ dots and bodies, simply by placing tiny bits of roving onto the felted layers and jabbing away. If you look closely, you can also see that I used the needle pretty heavily to separate each of the butterfly’s wings.
Once felting is complete, you can use the soap as you would any other. Use a good soap dish so it’s not sitting wet continuously and wasting all your precious soap. The wool acts as a built-in washcloth and mild exfoliator, and once the soap is gone, you can cut open the resulting wool pocket and pop another soap into place. And of course, the natural sheep-y tendencies means the whole thing is mildew-resistant. I mean, really. When was the last time you saw a moldy sheep?