A few years ago I invited a group of families into my home to make wet felted lanterns for Winter Solstice. I covered my living room floor in a large blue tarp and set out a few bins of hot soapy water. It was chaotic and messy but so much fun for everyone. After several years our little felt lanterns have disappeared, likely lost on some grand adventure, and with Winter Solstice drawing close it was time to make new ones.
Children and adults of all ages enjoy making wet felted lanterns but young children, especially those under five, will definitely need help from an adult or older sibling. This project isn’t difficult but it does take time and patience, be ready to commit about about an hour. I find that older children really enjoy making these lanterns.
- a balloon
- wool roving and/or batting (natural white)
- wool roving of various colours (optional)
- wool yarn
- tub of warm water
- dish soap
- tealight candle
What kind of wool should you use?
For this project choose wool that works well for wet felting. Wool roving or wool batting work well for this purpose, just make sure it hasn’t been processed in some way that will prevent it from felting. I prefer using wool batting because it’s easier to wrap around a balloon and felts a bit quicker. I also recommend using a natural white wool for the lantern and colourful pieces of wool yarn or roving to add a bits of colour.
Wool roving: Long pieces of wool that are usually about two to three inches thick.
Wool batting: Large pieces of wool that are made up of multiple layers of fiber like a blanket, sizes may vary.
You can purchase wool roving and batting at local knitting shops, craft shops or online. I highly recommend looking for locally sourced wool as it is often much better quality and more affordably priced.
How to Make a Wet Felted Lantern
Start by setting up a work space. Cover the surface with a waterproof cloth or tarp. Put a bin of warm soapy water with bottle a dish soap in the centre of the work space. Gather the remaining supplies on the side: balloon, wool roving, batting and yarn and scissors.
Blow up a balloon to match the size of your head, about six to eight inches wide. Smaller is fine too, it will make a cute little lantern.
If using wool batting, separate it into a thinner layer and cut out a piece that will wrap around the bottom half (or up to three-quarters) of the the balloon. If using wool roving, gently pull the pieces to widen them and wrap them around the balloon being careful not to leave big holes.
Take a piece of yarn and wrap in around the balloon to secure the wool. If you’re using batting you can get away with one piece of yarn around the top. If you’re using roving, criss-cross the yarn around the balloon to fully secure the wool.
Time to start wet felting!
Don’t dip the balloon into the bin of water! I know it’s very tempting but the wool will get super soggy and droopy and might slip right off the balloon. Instead dip your hands into the water and pat wool with wet hands. Dip, pat, dip and pat, until the wool sticks to the balloon.
Use extra pieces of wool to cover holes, or to make the lantern thicker. If you want to incorporate bits of colored roving to decorate the lantern now is the time. If you wait too long it may be difficult to get the new pieces to stick to the rest of the wool. Continue dipping your hands in water and patting the wool.
As the wool begins to felt and it will become sturdier. Add a few drops of soap on the wool and start rubbing it gently. Wet felting takes time and patience. The more time you spend patting, rubbing and massaging the wool the better the wool will felt.
Once the wool fibers look dense and smooth the lantern in felted. The wool will shrink as it felts which is normal. At this point you can leave the wool on the balloon as is, without rinsing it, and let it dry in a nice warm place. If you want a really well felted lantern, slip it off the balloon, rinse it under hot water and continue rubbing, folding and massaging it. When you’re satisfied with the result, stuff the lantern with a towel to help it keep its shape and let it dry.
When the lantern is dry remove the balloon or towels and you’re done!
It’s alright if the lantern is wobbly, knobbly or is thin in spots. Don’t worry about the imperfections, it will still be a beautiful lantern. If the wool is falling apart it’s probably because it was felted long enough. One quick fix is to use a felting needle to tack the pieces together, glue might work in a pinch too.
Making a Lantern Handle
The simplest way to make a lantern handle is to poke a stick through the top. Another option is to make a braided rope and secure it to the lantern at two edges. You could even use a piece of twine, a ribbon or strip of fabric. The options are endless, and completely optional. You could have no handle, and that’s lovely too.
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