When you felt with the Artfelt® method, you are using the Artfelt® Paper as a canvas for your medium, which are your fibers.  In order to keep your fiber attached to the paper during the felting process in the dryer, you must secure it to the Artfelt® Paper.  To do so, you will use a felting needle that pulls tiny tufts of the fiber from the top of the paper through to the bottom side, latching it into place.  This process is called tacking.

Tacking: The actual action of tacking is similar to that of popping a balloon with a needle.  It is a quick poke with the barbed needle going right through the fiber and the artfelt® paper.  In order for the needle to do this, the paper must be laid on a tacking surface, something that will allow the barbs of the needle to easily puncture it.  The needle must penetrate the tack board below, far enough so that the barbs pull the fiber through the paper.  After tacking the fibers into the paper, tiny tufts of fiber should be visible on the bottom side of the paper.  You should also be able to hold the paper upside down without the fiber falling off.  If the fiber falls off and if there are no tufts on the bottom side of the paper then you are not tacking deeply enough.  You must push the barbed needle deeper, through the fiber and the paper and into the tack board.   If the fibers still fall off, you are not making enough tacks to secure that amount of fiber, and you must tack the fibers in more.

To begin a piece, lay the Artfelt® Paper on the tack board.  There is no right or wrong side to the paper.  Then proceed to create a fiber base. 

There are two types of a base used in Artfelt®: a solid base and a background base. A solid base is a foundation made of several layers of cross hatched fibers.  It can either be your finished piece ready to felt, or a background for design work. A background base is a foundation consisting of a single layer of fiber. Its sole purpose is to give design work something to adhere to. If a background base is not covered entirely by design work, the portions not covered will be very thin, weak, and possibly sheer.

laying down fibers for a solid base made with tops or roving

Since a solid base is often used as the finished piece itself, the best way to create this base is to use standard roving or tops. Since you want the piece to be strong, the fibers need to be cross hatched.  Cross hatching is when you lay one layer of roving on the paper with all the fibers going in one direction, then another layer with all the fibers lying on the first layer, but going in the opposite direction. The more layers you create like this, the thicker and stronger your final fabric will be.  

If time is of the essence, the quickest and easiest way to create two layers in opposite directions is to start with a rope of standard roving cut to the length of the paper.  Using your fingers, spread the fibers as thin as they will go, so that the paper cannot be seen through the roving. You may have to cut several pieces to ensure the paper is covered.  Then cut another rope of roving the width of your paper and do the same thing, with the fibers lying across the first layer in the opposite direction.  Once more, you may need to cut more than one rope in order for the roving to be spread evenly.  The bottom and top layers should be as close as possible to the same thickness.  At this point, tack all the layers to the paper.  This will create a slightly textured, solid base when felted.
For a smoother, more refined fabric, it will take a little more time as you will need more, but thinner, layers. This can be done by first drafting fibers in small sections and laying them on the paper with all the fibers running in one direction.  Although the paper must be covered, the first layer should be thin enough that you can still see the paper through it.  When drafting the fibers from the standard roving for thin layers, hold the rope of roving in your left hand (right hand if left-handed), and with the finger tips and the palm of your opposite hand, grasp just a few fibers and pull them from the end of the roving.  Lay these down on the paper and repeat as often as necessary until the paper is covered with these thin drafts of roving.  You may use your index finger and thumb to draft fibers, however, you will be drafting smaller and narrower segments of roving, which may cause your finished piece to be uneven rather than smooth.  The more evenly you lay out your fibers, the smoother your finished piece of felt will be.

Create the second layer in the same manner, placing the drafted fibers so that they are lying in the opposite direction to the fibers of the first layer.  Drafting the roving creates more ends and allows the fibers to interlock more strongly.  Depending on how thick you want your finished piece to be, add additional layers in the same manner.  Uneven layers of drafted roving will cause the piece to felt more in one direction than the other, so if you want the finished piece to be felted evenly, you need to draft an even amount of layers. 

Once you have the layers of fiber positioned on the paper, tack them into the paper.  Using the method described earlier, tack the fibers to the paper only enough to ensure that if the paper is held upside-down the fibers will not fall off.  Tacking more than necessary does not damage the piece, but as with needle felting, too much tacking will begin to felt the fibers.  The artfelt® Paper was designed to save the time it would take to needle felt a project, and tacking minimally,  allows the paper to do just that.

laying down fibers for a background base
Start with a rope of standard roving cut to the length or width of the paper.  Using your fingers, spread the fibers as thin as they will go, so that the paper cannot be seen through the roving. You may have to cut several pieces to ensure the paper is covered. Then tack in the fibers.  This will create a perfect background base for small pieces where you intend to cover the entire background with design work.

several key items to keep in mind when laying down the fibers

  • In general, the first layer drafted will be the bottom and/or back side of the fabric.  When the paper is dissolved, that is what you will see.
  • If you layer different colors, the colors on the top layers may show through to the back side as little dots.  This is caused by the tacking action; small tufts of the top layers are pulled to the bottom.
  • The more evenly the layers are distributed, the smoother your finished fabric will be.
  • Cross hatching creates strength.  Though fibers drafted only in one direction will felt together, the felted material will only be strong in the direction that the fibers are running.  

 you are now ready for design work
Once you have a base, you are free to create whatever designs you desire.  You can create designs with standard roving or pencil roving. Specific instructions for different types of design work can be found in the second half of this book that features sample squares to make.  All design work is tacked directly onto the base.