"Agitate the wool in a circle. Put some elbow grease into it," said my instructor. With every sudsy circle I made I saw the creation coming together. What a learning experience. It was something I had wanted to learn for years, but was gun shy to try it because I thought I 'had' to knit. I have a dear, dear friend who has shown me how to knit, several times, but I am a tragic student. Every time I knit something it looks as if mice beat me to it-with the apparent gaping holes. So when I heard about the 'non-knitting' felting classes at the Muddy Lamb in Fishtail, Montana, I was more than excited.
Now what is felting? "Very simply, felt is matted wool. Wool becomes felt when it is subjected to moisture, heat, and pressure. (In fact, if domestic sheep were not shorn, over time their wool would felt or "cot".) Hot soapy water makes the wool slippery, and causes tiny scales on the fiber to "open up". The scales prevent the fibers from backing up again after they slide across each other; with agitation, the fibers get hopelessly tangled together. When cooled and dried, the scales close and lock the wool into the tough, durable material we call felt." ( directly quoted from http://www.gfwsheep.com/felting/felt.html) There's a detailed project with images for further reference on this link.
Also, here's a little information directly quoted from the Woolery.
"FELTING is an age-old craft. Perhaps developed in the Middle East, perhaps the Far East, it is a process that has evolved with local traditions wherever it was used. And it is still used today, by kids in kindergarten to nomads on the great plains of Asia living in felt yurts. The technique is basic, requires very little experience or tools, and "mistakes" may well lead to interesting results. The Woolery brings you products and information about feltmaking and needle felting. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WETFELTING, FULLING, NEEDLE FELTING & ARTFELT? WETFELTING or FELTMAKING means that you are working from the fiber (most often sheep's wool) to make a felted fabric or product using soap and water; there is no spinning, knitting, crocheting or weaving involved. FULLING or KNITFELTING is achieved by knitting a garment and then shrinking it, filling (hence the term "fulling") the holes between the stitches. This fulling can be done on crocheted or woven items as well. Check our knitting books for many projects that are knitted and then "felted". NEEDLE FELTING, unlike felting, does not require soap and water and does not need to be animal fiber. It is accomplished by using felting needles to make figurines or applyadditional fibers to decorate fabric or garments (those can be made of felted material or knitted, crocheted or woven material). ARTFELT is the name of a new product that is very similar to needle felting but uses a special paper backing that can be needle felted onto and then dissolves when washed leaving just the finished product."
I had a great time at the Muddy Lamb! I learned a lot to bring home, and share with my children and friends. We've felted Styrofoam eggs and soap, and even needle felted them. It's a fun and easy project for any age! Here's a couple links of good sites with lots of information: Muddy Lamb, Gleason's Fine Woolies, Woolery, Ravelry