Vegetarian Sheepskin Tutorial
How to make a Living Sheepskin
It’s hard to beat the cuddly softness of a lamb’s fleece. That’s why I’m delighted to share with you this tutorial on how to felt a lamb fleece rug! P.S. No sheep were harmed in the making of this rug!
Felted fleece rugs use sheep wool, from shearing (not the sheepskin), that is felted using a technique involving hot water, soap, and rolling. The finished rug is felted tight on the backside so that it holds its shape and doesn’t fall apart. Felted rugs are also called vegetarian sheepskins or no-skin sheep fleece rugs.
Every felted rug is as unique as the sheep’s fleece that made it! Some rugs felt easier than others, some shed more than others, and you may find more hay or seeds in a particular finished rug than in others. That’s all normal, and the amount of felting, shedding and debris depends on the qualities of the individual fleece(s) used, the felting process, and the time taken by the maker to remove non-fleece matter.
Icelandic Lamb Felted Fleece Rug Tutorial
In this felted fleece rug tutorial, I am using white Icelandic lamb fleece, shorn in the Fall, at around 5 months growth. I’m going to teach you exactly how I make a rectangular 2 ft by 3 ft lamb fleece rug. Note: I do prefer Fall Icelandic fleeces over Spring fleeces because they are cleaner (less hay and things).
Feel free to use a fleece from different breed of sheep, in a different color, or even a Spring fleece. It is popular to felt fleece rugs in the shape of a sheepskin rug since that is how they come off sheep (you know… in that special sheep shape that we all love). So feel free to try that, instead of a rectangle, too!
There are a ton of pictures in this tutorial. If you need a bigger view of any picture, just click on it!
Be sure to check out the handy video I made for you about the mesh frame that I use. Not only do I use the same frame to make FOUR different sizes of felted fleece rugs, it also doubles as my skirting table for picking through raw fleeces. Such a great tool! Check out the video HERE.
You’ll also want to review my top tips for making the perfect felted fleece rug.
What You’ll Need
- Wool Batting or Roving
- Raw Sheep Fleece
- Two 2′ x 3’ Sections of Bubble Wrap (I prefer this Spa Cover for its durability)
- Sheer Polyester Curtain
- Pool Noodle and/or Wood Dowel (1” diameter or greater)
- Three Strings or Nylon Stockings
- Dawn dish soap
- Unicorn Fibre Wash
- Mesh Frame (optional)
- Saw Horses (optional)
Step 1: Who Doesn’t Love Layers?
Put the mesh frame, screen-side down, on top of the saw horses. Adjust the spacer so that it’s on the 2’ mark. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, grab the video HERE!
In the 2’x3’ rectangle you’ve just created, lay one piece of the spa cover, bubble-side up, in the frame. You will need to make three layers of fiber over the 2’x3’ piece of spa cover. Here’s a break down of the layers:
- Spa cover, bubble-side up
- Thin layer of batting
- Puffy-fluffy layer of batting
- Raw fleece, cut-side to batting
Using the mesh frame is optional. You can just layer your batting and fleece over the spa cover on the ground or on a table, if you wish. I prefer using the frame because it gives the rug nice straight edges and also drains excess water easily. I’m pretty messy when I’m felting!
Here’s how to do each fiber layer:
The puffy-fluffy layer of batting should be thick, and well… puffy and fluffy. I achieve this by quickly and repeatedly ripping off fairly small amounts of fiber from the batting and throwing it over the first, flat layer of batting. It’s similar to the motion of beating an egg for an omelet.
For the last layer, place locks of the raw fleece, cut-side down, so that the cut ends are in contact with your puffy-fluffy layer of batting. The locks will be facing up. Pick out any burrs, seeds or grass as you progress with your layout. Laying the raw fleece layer takes the most time. Be patient, take breaks when you need to, and drink lots of water.
Now, you don’t have to use raw fleece – washed fleece is just fine. But, don’t worry if you are using raw fleece and it’s greasy and looks dirty. All that grit will get washed out by the end of the process. What you DO want to avoid is a fleece with a ton of small vegetable matter (hay) because it is difficult to remove, and will felt into the rug… forever!
Step 2: Just Add Water… Very Hot Water!
You’ll need a kettle-full of very hot water for this step. Please, be mindful of splashes and be careful not to burn yourself. 🙂
Place the Sheer Polyester Curtain over the layers of fleece you just completed. This will help the locks stay in place.
Drizzle (maybe slightly more than a drizzle) the hot water out of the kettle, onto the curtain covering the fleece. Don’t soak it. And just splash a little water at a time. You don’t want the fleece to move around, but you do want it wet.
Now that your fiber is wet, and the temperature of the hot water is bearable, press gently with your hands, straight down onto the fleece. You want the fiber to start compressing down and getting flat. All of the fiber should be wet, but not soaking. You may need to add more hot water, and keep pressing until all the loft is out of your fleece.
Once the fiber is completely flattened out, agitate the fiber slightly by moving your hands up and down, only about a centimeter and only a few times. Then, lift your hands, place them in a new spot, and repeat. Be careful to not displace the fiber.
Step 3: Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ on a Pool Noodle
It’s rolling time!
Next, take your pool noodle or dowel (I use a pool noodle with a one-inch dowel inside, but one or the other works just fine) and place it at one end of the sandwich. Tightly roll the layers around the noodle and secure the package in three places with strings or nylons (with a bow so that you can untie it easily).
Roll the package on a flat, hard surface about 60 full rolls, gradually pressing harder as you go.
Untie, unroll, and very gently separate any locks that are trying to felt.
Repeat this entire process three more times! Once from each side of the sandwich (top, bottom, left, right).
It’s important that the fiber is warm to hot in temperature while you’re rolling. To warm up your fleece if it becomes too cool, pour very hot water on top of the top layer of spa cover and let it stand for a few minutes.
Step 4: Back Rub!
In this step, you’re going to get the back of your felted fleece rug just right! You’ll need more very hot water.
You should now have a delicate felted fleece rug. Very carefully, lay the fiber (ditch the spa covers), lock-side down, on the mesh frame.
Drizzle with very hot water and squeeze some Dawn dish soap in thin stripes onto the felted side (the side that should already be facing up) of the rug. When the water is a tolerable temperature, rub the felt with your “grr” fingers and add in some palm rubbing for good measure. The goal is to tightly felt the back side of the rug.
If your felt project is starting to pill, add more soap. And again, it’s important to keep the fiber warm to hot in temperature. Add hot water as needed. If you are using the mesh frame, the excess water will drain through.
Test your felted back by pinching a small bit of fiber and pull up. If it easily separates from the rug, you have more work to do.
Once you are satisfied with the amount of felting on the back of your rug, you can spray the entire rug down with a hose (if you’re using the mesh frame). Spray the felted back first, and then the lock-side from underneath, until most of the soap is washed out.
Flip the rug over, lock-side up, and pick open any of the locks that have tried to felt. These two pictures (below) show the flat locks that have tried to felt, and what they look like once you’ve pulled them open a bit:
Step 5: Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Fill a tub (I use my bathtub) with a suitable amount of hot water to submerge your felted fleece rug. Add Unicorn Fibre Wash per the instructions on the bottle. Add the rug to the tub, and soak for 15 minutes.
Rinse in hot water.
You may need to repeat this wash and rinse process once or twice more, until the rinse water is clear.
Lay your fantastically felted fleece rug somewhere to dry, like over a saw horse in the sun. Pick the locks open as desired.
Dying to know about this mesh frame I keep talking about? Get the video that explains what it is, how I made it, and how to use it!
And there you have it!