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Friday, February 10, 2012

Nuno Felting with Silk Habotai

I have been nuno felting with various fabrics for a pretty good while now, and I still learn things all the time. I thought I would share some of the things I have learned about nuno felting with silk habotai. It is so beautiful, but you just need to know how to use it.

Silk Habotai is a denser or more tightly woven fabric than chiffon, so it makes it a little harder to get the wool to go through, but when you are done, you get the most beautiful texture in your piece.

The first thing to know is the finer rovings (18.5 micron and smaller sometimes called 100's) really do make a difference in how easily the wool goes through the habotai silk. I also see that there is 15 micron roving starting to be available -- that would go through the silk even faster. Getting the roving to go through the habotai takes a little longer, and at the beginning I was afraid it would never go through, so I quickly learned to use the sander. I found that using 18.5 micron roving and 5 mm silk and the sander made for foolproof results and I still use that method today. When I sand, I skip the rolling entirely. There is a little bit of difference in the texture of the piece when you roll vs when you sand, but it is pretty hard to see -- and I think the ease of felting with the sander far outweighs the difference in texture.I now have a video in which I show you how to use a finishing sander. Find that video here: It also helps to rub the habotai pieces on a glass washboard or shelf liner with tiny ridges after sanding or rolling (shelf liner is made by Contact and is available at most Home Depots and Bed, Bath and Beyonds). It really helps push the wool through.

Generally speaking the heavier the mm of the silk, the more difficult it will be to felt. (the mm refers to how many threads there are per inch in the fabric, so the smaller the mm number the fewer threads per inch and therefore the fabric will be more open and easier to felt -- so 5mm is easier to felt than 8mm) I have never used 8mm habotai but I have seen it used in pieces before. It does not felt as tightly -- it makes a looser texture if that makes sense. I am guessing it also takes longer to roll but would be easy enough to sand. I use 4.5 or 5 mm habotai because it is readily available and I like the texture. I understand there is also a lighter habotai which is 3.5 mm and sometimes called paj. That fabric would felt easily but might produce less ruching -- I am not entirely sure.

I love to cut up the silk and felt it into commercial prefelts. The habotai will attach to the prefelts with just rubbing or rolling, but I find I get the best results when I needle felt the habotai into the prefelt first which greatly shortens the felting time. Also having some extra roving on top of the commercial prefelt and some roving on top of the fabric really helps. I did a tutorial about how I do this -- it is called "Hand Needle Felting, Wet Felting Tutorial" and it is in the sidebar. I also have free instructions on my website here:

Being a bit of an adventurer, I keep trying new things. My latest seamless felted jacket was a big leap for me. I used habotai and had to lap fabric edges to get the design the way I wanted. I was so afraid all these layers would never felt together, but they did!!! I used 18 micron roving and we rolled about 15 minutes in each of the 4 directions (so I rolled for about 1 hour total -- no sanding on that one) and it felted beautifully!!

I've also been trying the latest thing which is felting using the clothes dryer. I find that getting fabrics to attach when felting in the dryer requires that you do some work to get things attached before throwing in the dryer. I made the little red Valentine's pouch with prefelt and some silk habotai.   I needle felted everything together first and then wet it out and wrapped it up in plastic and put it in the dryer and it felted beautifully. I tried another piece when I was in a hurry and didn't needle felt it or work it by hand first and the habotai did not felt in very well at all. Lessons learned!

Here are some photos of a scarf I made recently -- I just love the texture -- you can see the haze of blue wool on the silk side of the scarf. So don't be afraid to try the habotai, just know it takes a little longer if you are rolling, but it does work!!! Patience is a virtue with this beautiful fabric.


  1. Very nice scarf, Suzanne; a fine post here with all these tips and results of your adventures!

  2. Thanks Ginny! Anything you want to add about felting with habotai? You've been using that fabric a lot haven't you?

  3. i have been purchasing habotai here and there with the nuno felting in mind; however my very first attempt was with it and i didn't have good luck. shouldn't have tried it before chiffon as my first attempt. but now that i have read what you say i will give it a try but roll it longer. i have no idea what the mm is of my silk and i doubt i have the 18 micron roving but here goes....

  4. I am a newborn when it comes to felting, but I do paint on silk, - you can see my blog at I would love to learn how to felt some of my silk creations in addition to painting and sewing on them. I see you have some tutorials, but do you have from scratch tutorials for beginners like me?
    Your work is beautiful.

  5. Hi Charlene,
    Sorry to be slow to respond. I do have a video available now that will show you the basics of how to do this.Here is the link:
    I love hand painted silks and would love to see some of yours felted! Thanks for the comment!

  6. Hi Suzanne - I am a nuno-felter and always looking for new ideas and advice so I really like your website. You mentioned 5mm or lower habotai - do you know where I could buy it? I have been getting silk scarves from Thai Silks but they are often hard to felt and I think might be a higher mm. Also they do not indicate what mm they are. Thanks for your help!

  7. Hi Suzanne - I used the Habotai silk about 6mm last week and had no trouble felting with 19micron merino, it worked beautifully. I made a very light weight shawl out of Peacock type blues and greens as I live in the tropics it was beautiful and the blue silk on the back was so luxurious.