How to make felt slippers
This month writer and stylist Rachel O’Brien headed to the Fluff-a-torium in Dorking. She learns how to make felt slippers with felt guru Gillian Harris, aka gilliangladrag.
Follow the step by steps and create your own super-cosy felt slippers. There are also lots of expert tips from Gillian herself as well as ideas to inspire you in the gallery at the bottom of the post too. Hope you enjoy!
“The shoe repairer did look at me a little bit quizzically,” says master Fluff-a-tier Gillian Harris. She is describing the time she took a pair of felted slippers to the shoe menders to be soled. Clearly not everyone is as well versed in the joys of felt as Gillian.
How to make felt slippers
Gillian has turned felt-making into an art form and her creations have graced the pages of many a magazine. Her felt-making kits are for sale in John Lewis and Liberty. Gillian’s books are available in several languages and on sale around the world.
As a keen knitter myself, I’m used to working with wool but I have never tried making felt before. So this wet-felting workshop is to be a voyage of discovery for me. Not one to turn down a challenge, I make my way to Dorking and Gilliangladrag’s Fluff-a-torium. I would be learning how to make felt slippers.
The fluff a torium
A short walk from Dorking West train station, the Fluff-a-torium is easy to spot. The facade is bright and quirky with festoons of felt bunting.
Inside is just as inviting. Shelves, stands and cabinets are filled with balls of wool, ribbons, buttons and all manner of felt items. I immediately feel abuzz with creative energy.
The felting workshop is to be held upstairs in Gillian’s studio. Myself and the three other students are keen to get started as we take in the array of rainbow coloured slippers.
After a cup of tea and a chat, Gillian gives us a step-by-step demonstration. She describes the various styles that we can cut our finished slippers into. We can go for mules, booties or ballet pumps with different sole options.
How to make wool felt
Handmade felt is made from sheep’s wool called wool tops or roving. Sometimes it is also referred to as wool fleece, and has been cleaned and combed. To make felt, the wool fleece must first be rubbed with soap and water so that the fibres begin to join.
The material is then ‘fulled’ – a process which shrinks and hardens the wool to make it thicker. By the end of the day we would all leave the Fluff-a-torium with a pair of shoe lasts covered in wool fleece to ‘full’ in our washing machines, ready to shape and decorate at home.
To make our slippers we first need to cover the polystyrene shoe lasts with three layers of wool fleece. Spoilt for choice, I finally settle upon lilac for the first layer, fawn for the second and a dark purple for the outer.
Covering the shoe lasts
Laying one of my shoe lasts on its side, I start to tease out strands of lilac wool fleece and lay it on top. With a piece of polyester netting covering the last, I spray it with soapy water and rub until the wool is firmly in place.
I continue the layering process until the last is completely covered and resembles a ‘bearskin’ as Gillian describes it. We repeat this for the other shoe last and for our second layer, before taking a much needed break for lunch.
After lunch we add our third and final layer of wool fleece. As we would be applying our designs on top of this, we only rub the wool fleece gently this time.
Once our designs are in place we rub firmly for around 10 to 20 minutes. This is to ensure the fleece and any decorative felt is secure.
Watching Gillian, working on a pair of felted slippers throughout the day, she effortlessly creates a simple floral motif around hers. I opt for a similar design.
Using oddments of wool fleece in complementing colours I create five or six ‘roses’ around each last and then apply soapy water and rub until they were in place.
Throughout the day the atmosphere is very relaxed. Gillian also demonstrates how to make needle-felted roses to decorate the slippers so that we can make them ourselves at home.
Rubbing with soapy water
Back home, I continued to apply soapy water and rub my shoe lasts until the wool fleece was firm. Apprehensive, I put both lasts into the washing machine along with a pair of old jeans to add friction.
With the slippers rattling around I was quite worried about how they would turn out. However I followed Gillian’s guidelines and kept them in for a second wash and spin to toughen them even more. With the wool now fulled, I carefully cut out the slipper shape and removed the polystyrene moulds. Now it’s time to allow the slippers to dry out.
Decorations to try
Gillian showed us how easy it is to make felted wool roses and flowers to decorate our slippers if we wanted to. I decided to keep mine simple, but if you feel like adding a felt rose, it’s really easy. Just cut a length of felt in your chosen colour and then wind around, starting with a tight wind at the beginning and then loosening out the outer ‘petals’ as you go. Hold the base tightly as you go and secure with a few stitches underneath. Then simply stitch on to your finished slippers.
The finished result
The result is a beautiful pair of cosy lilac slippers with pretty rosebuds. They are perfect for warming my toes in front of the fire this Christmas.
This one-day course is ideal for anyone wanting to try their hand at something a little bit different. The making process is quite unusual and the finished product is truly unique.
Alongside felted slipper workshops you can also learn how to make felted bags, jewellery, hats and pictures. All I have left to do now is have my slippers soled. I think I’ll brave my local shoe menders… I wonder how he will react?
Buying the materials online
Gillian’s online shop has many of the materials you need to make your own pair of slippers. Her felt slipper kit is perfect if you want an easy project to get stuck into.
The slipper lasts are also available to buy from Gillian’s shop
Ideas to try next…
Now I’ve had a go at making my first pair of felt slippers, I’m looking for inspiration and ideas for my next pair…! What do you think of these ideas I’ve found? I reckon they are all do-able following the same basic technique with a few moderations here and there – which would be part of the creative fun.
I love the combination of rich brown and soft blush pink roses here. The slippers follow the same technique as the pair I’ve already made, though I’d cut away a little more around the top this time. I fancy having a go at making the rosettes of pink felted wood roses by RitaJFelt too…
Whilst we’re on the subject of brown and pink, how cute is this dotty pair?
Also love her grey and red version don’t you?
Also really like this pair of pale grey felt slippers with simple white ‘flowers’ design felted on top. I feel I could have a go at creating something similar…
This birds on the wire design is really beautiful, but beyond my skills right now. I am thinking about joining one of Emma Herian’s felting workshops (Emma is listed in our directory here) so I could take on more ambitious projects like this…
I love these ombre effect turquoise blue/green slippers handmade in the UK by Lucy Antwis and I’m thinking I might have a go at achieving a similar effect…
This box of felting wool might be worth a try, I’m thinking…
And what about just combining two lovely colours for inside and out like this orange and pale primrose yellow pair?
And I do really love the clog shape of these by WoolenClogs on etsy…. I’m on the hunt for a clog-shaped shoe last now.
I really love this collection of one-colour felted slippers too... they are handmade by Aura Que and have suede leather soles. That’s definitely a step on from what I’ve made myself so far, but it would mean you could wear your slippers so much more…
Get all the info you need to connect with gilliangladrag from the listing >>
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Rachel O’Brien is a freelance writer and stylist. All workshop images courtesy of Rachel O’Brien.
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