Making Felted Beads

by Jane Dunnewold

Beads make a wonderful addition to garments, pillows, home furnishings and quilts. In 1997, I wrote a book called Fifteen Beads, that detailed all kinds of great ways to make one of a kind beads like the ones you see here.
Felted beads are easy to make and very versatile. Follow these instructions to make beads of any size.

What you’ll need to make the beads:

  • Wool roving (This is loose, unspun wool. It can be purchased in bright colors or undyed at any shop that sells weaving supplies and can also be mail ordered. Look for weaving supplies on the web to locate a supplier.)
  • Two large pans or dishpans, one filled with hot, soapy water, and one filled with cold water and ice cubes
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • An old stocking

What you’ll need for embellishing the beads:

  • Embroidery floss or perle cotton
  • Embroidery needles
  • Scissors
  • Small seed beads

5 Steps to Felted Beads

Step 1
To get started, pull out a wad of the wool. The wool compacts, so get a wad slightly bigger than you want your finished bead to be. Pull the wool apart so untangle it.

Step 2
Fill up one basin with hot water, as hot as you can stand. Add some dishwashing soap to it and froth it up to dissolve the soap. Put water and ice cubes in the other basin.
You will need these two basins because the felting of the wool will occur when the wool is exposed to friction and temperature changes. The wool fibers will shrink up, just as they do if you accidentally wash a wool sweater in the washing machine. This is a permanent action. When you roll the wool between your palms and alternate between the hot and cold basins (in steps 3 and 4), the wool will felt to itself and shrink up into the bead, which you will shape as you work with it.

Step 3
Immerse the wool you pulled off into the hot water basin, and then rub the wool vigorously between your palms, the way you might roll clay to make a round ball. After a few seconds, immerse the wool in the cold water and then continue to roll it between your palms.

Step 4
You will see and feel the wool begin to tighten into a ball. Continue alternating between the hot and cold baths, rolling the wool in your hands, until a very compact bead is formed.

Step 5
To finish the beads, put them in the old stocking and dry them in the dryer for 30 minutes. The heat of the dryer will continue to shrink the wool. When the beads are dry, you can sew through them or onto their surfaces using embroidery threads and beads. A few beads can be strung together to make a necklace by pushing a doll making needle (a very long needle) right through the center of the bead.