Monday, October 13, 2014

Art Experiment: Felt dryer balls

Art Experiment is a a series of posts using supplies which I own but have rarely (or never) used. Failure or success is not important, it is trying something different and seeing what can come from it.  There are three goals: try something new, use something in my supply stash, and have fun/experiment in the studio.

 My aunt requested felt dryer balls for Christmas. A while ago (probably two years ago), I had bought an enormous bag of alpaca fiber. When I say enormous, I mean a giant garbage bag full of "seconds" (the second trimming, not as nice as the first cutting, but fine for felting). I washed all of it multiple times, but it still had tiny bits of grass and hay pieces embedded in it, so I didn't want to use it for a felt art piece. I thought this would be great project to use up some of this fiber.

I am not one to just provide boring ivory felt balls, they need to be colorful. So the first step was to dye some of the alpaca fiber.  My stash of Jacquard acid dyes was rather sad, just two yellows and a bright lime green.  Luckily, there is always KoolAid mix at the grocery store to offer me a larger color range. 

I used the acid dyes and some of the KoolAid by putting damp alpaca fibers in different ziplock sandwich bags, adding the dye (that I already mixed with water), and steaming it in a steamer on the stove for about an hour.

I also used some of the KoolAid (already mixed with water, at least two packages in a plastic party cup of water) and tried to make two-tone sections of fiber. This worked pretty well. I put damp alpaca fiber on cling wrap in the sink,  dipped one end of the fiber in one color and squeezed it a few times and took it out of the cup. Then I dipped the other end in a different color and squeezed as well.  This was super messy. I highly recommend wearing gloves or your hands will be dyed as well as the fibers.  After wrapping the bundle in the cling wrap, I put it in a microwavable container and microwaved it for two minutes. I would let it cool and if I thought there was still color that hadn't absorbed, I would microwave it again.  I think next time I would do this in a gallon ziplock bag instead of cling wrap, as the cling wrap did not really stay closed. I also dyed some solid colors in the microwave as well

Once the fibers had been dyed, I let them cool completely. After they were cool, I soaked and rinsed the fibers in room-temperature water.  I had forgotten to add vinegar to the acid dyes (vinegar is not needed for the KoolAid, it is already acidic) so I had to rinse those fibers quite a bit, as well as the red KoolAid dyed fibers (gloves recommended).  Once the water was clear, I squeezed as much water out as I could and laid them on a towel to dry.  There may still be a little dye in the fibers, so use a towel you don't like and put it on a protected surface or one that you can use a bleach cleaner on, in case the dye bleeds through.

Here are my fibers.
Close-up of the variegated fibers

I didn't dye all of my fiber stash, as I just plan to use the colored fibers to cover the exterior of the ball. I grabbed a hunk of the natural (ivory) fiber for the center of the ball and put it in a container of room temperature water. While it sat in there a few minutes, I pulled out the colored fibers I wanted to use on the exterior. I pulled and spread the fibers out, since they were kind of clumped from the dyeing process.  I squeezed out the excess water from the ivory fiber and shaped it into a ball, then laid the colored fibers over it - on all sides.  I then put it in hot soapy water while holding it in a ball shape, took it out and squeezed out the excess water, and then rubbed the ball onto some bubble wrap to start the felt process (for just a few minutes).

I put my ball in a pantyhose leg and secured it with a rubber band. I did this over and over until I had two pantyhose legs' full of these balls.  I had read on the internet that the balls work better for helping dry and de-wrinkle clothes if there were at least eight of them.  I have no idea if this is true are not, but making balls was fun for the first six or so, then I lost my initiative after that. So I pretty much quit rubbing the balls on the bubble wrap and just stuck them in the pantyhose after adding the colored fibers.  I do think the first ones felted quicker in the wash machine than the others, but not enough for me to think it would have been worth my time to hand-rub them. 

As you can see, I am not very good about making them a consistent size. You should see what happens when I make cookies, they are all different sizes too.
I then threw my pantyhose covered balls in the wash machine.  In our new house we have a fancy new wash machine. When I bought it, I saw this one had a Soak function so I figured I could still use it to felt.  I think they turned out well. I did run them through the washer and the dryer twice, hot water wash/hot dry. I will probably add them to my wash when I am doing a dark load a few times, just to make sure there isn't any residual dye before I give them to my aunt. I would hate for her clothes to have colored polka dots from the dryer balls!


  1. I found your blog via Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's site...and I am so glad I did. You have a gift for writing clear, concise instructions, Ginger. They are easy-to-follow and just right. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Peggy! I'm glad my instructions are clear, sometimes I feel like verbally-challenged. I am more a Pictionary person, than of a Scrabble person.