What’s the Difference Between Wet Felting and Nuno Felting?

Colorful bits of dyed wool being prepared for a felting project.

Grasping the concept of felting, the process of meshing fibers together to create felt, isn’t too difficult, and in fact, felting can be a fantastic creative outlet and hobby.

When you begin to explore some of the lesser-known techniques, however, things can start to get a little confusing.

What’s the difference between wet felting and nuno felting? Wet felting is used to bind animal fibers together to form a solid piece of felt for various crafts. Nuno felting binds animal fibers to a sheer, man-made fabric until they are fully fused together producing a light-weight material suitable for clothing. 

Although felting itself is believed to predate all other textiles including woven and spun fabrics, it is a craft that is still continuing to evolve. 

Inventive people are always experimenting with new techniques and ideas to put their own spin on the hobby and personal touches on their creations, as is evidenced by the nuno felting technique.

Let’s eliminate some of the confusion surrounding wet felting and nuno felting by examining them both more closely and noting the key differences.

The Differences Between Wet Felting and Nuno Felting?

Although both wet felting and nuno felting are techniques used to interweave fibers together by using soap, water, and friction to create a new, felted material, the two methods actually differ significantly in several areas.

Materials

Wet Felting

Believe it or not, most animal fibers can be wet felted successfully – even human hair and clumps collected from your shedding dog or cat. (Learn more here.)

However, most of the time, felters use a more traditional fiber to felt. These include:

  • Sheep’s wool.
  • Mohair.
  • Fleece from alpacas or goats. 
  • Angora.

Most beginners and those without easy access to some of the more exotic fibers use prepackaged wool roving or batting. 

It’s clean, often dyed, and easy to tear off into workable pieces.

Nuno Felting

Nuno felting utilizes animal fibers and a sheer, open-weave fabric to create a new material.

Although silk gauze or chiffon is most often used, other loose-weave, natural fabrics, like hemp or cotton, will felt well too.

Even synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester will work, but it will take more effort to achieve proper felting.

Technique

Wet Felting

Wet felting begins with placing fibers (most often wool roving) in a criss-cross pattern on a flat mat, typically bubble wrap or a bamboo sushi rolling mat

Hot, soapy water is added, and the crafter applies friction either with their hands or by forming the mat into a tube and rolling it back and forth.

You can read more about the wet felting process here.

Nuno Felting

Nuno felting is done in a similar fashion, except that instead of only adding wool fibers to the mat, you lay down a piece of sheer fabric, such as silk gauze or chiffon, onto the mat first, and then add small bits of wool according to your chosen design.

Sometimes felters sandwich the sheer material between light layers of fiber, but this produces a slightly heavier result.

Often, the sheer fabric is used as a base for placing fiber swirls, lettering, or other designs. With this method, large portions of the original fabric will remain visible and unchanged.

Temperature

Wet Felting

In wet felting, hot water is used to relax the fibers and open their scales to encourage the process of interlocking fibers to occur more quickly. 

Once the scales or barbs of the fiber are open, they’re more easily attached to the barbs of other fibers when agitated, and the piece readily turns to felt. 

The use of hot water also helps the fibers to shrink in the final stage of felting known as fulling.

Fulling uses extreme agitation to further entangle the fibers, remove trapped air, prevent future pilling, and produce a tough fabric that will last for years.

Nuno Felting

Most felters steer clear of hot water when nuno felting and opt instead for water that is cool or room temperature. 

The cooler temperatures slow down the felting process to ensure that the fibers will have the needed time to work their way through the cloth before the process is complete. 

If the fibers felt too quickly, proper incorporation of the felt and the cloth will not be achieved.

History

Wet Felting

Wet felting is by far the oldest form of felting and has been done for thousands of years. 

Though we don’t know exactly how long ago and who it was that made the discovery, it’s commonly thought that the felting process was stumbled upon by accident by nomadic tribes from central Asia.

As hair from animals accumulated on clothing, the ground of pens, and even the animals themselves, it was likely to eventually felt on its own during warm, wet periods. 

Someone probably noticed this phenomenon and had the idea of making the matted fabric intentionally to serve various purposes.

In ancient times, felt was used to create useful items such as hats, socks, and other clothing. Rugs, blankets, and even shelter coverings were also often made from felt.

People today still enjoy making useful creations out of felt, though decorative felt art is very popular as well.

Nuno Felting 

Nuno felting is a rather new felting technique created in 1992.

An Australian woman by the name of Polly Stirling, along with her assistant Sachiko Kitaka, developed this method out of a desire to produce a cooler felt that could be worn comfortably in warmer climates.

Ms. Stirling, speaking of the technique, said, “It makes sense that we reinvent the way that we use felt now that we don’t need it for shelter or protection as in ancient times.”

Curious as to why it’s called nuno felting? In Japanese, the word nuno means cloth, so nuno felting translates to cloth felting. An apt description.

Interestingly, a similar felting technique was developed in Europe in the 1980s called laminated felting, but today the two terms are used interchangeably.

You can learn more about felting’s interesting history and common felting methods in Christina White’s book Uniquely Felt.

Final Results

Wet Felting 

Although wet felting is typically used to create flat shapes or sheets of felt for projects such as handbags, vests, slippers, and appliques, 3D creations are possible as well.

Wet felting produces a firm, durable, solid piece of fabric that’s ideal for a wide variety of crafting projects including warm garments.

Nuno Felting

Nuno felting can result in a very light, flexible fabric ideal for clothing items like shawls, vests, scarfs, skirts, shirts, and even dresses. 

Artful items such as airy wall hangings can be made as well, though the beauty of nuno felting truly reveals itself when used to make apparel.

Expertise

Wet Felting

Generally, wet felting is fairly easy for a beginner to learn, especially if they have a seasoned pro by their side to demonstrate the basics.

There are also plenty of excellent books, like First Time Felting by Ruth Lane, available to guide the beginner.

If you aren’t the book type, you could spend a few hours watching tutorials online to learn the ins and outs of wet felting. I felt like an expert felter after watching the following tutorial:

Nuno Felting

Nuno felting, on the other hand, can be a bit more difficult to master, especially if this will be your first foray into the felting world. 

Working simultaneously with very different materials can prove to be frustrating for beginner felters and may leave them with a negative impression of the hobby. 

It’s best to build upon your skills gradually and be quite comfortable with the basics before attempting an advanced technique like nuno felting.

Can Wet Felting and Nuno Felting Be Combined?

Although wet felting and needle felting techniques are often both used in the creation of one item, wet felting and nuno felting are not typically combined. 

The reason is twofold. Once an item has been wet felted, it’s a solid piece of felt, and the fibers’ scales have meshed together; none remain to weave into cloth fabric.

The second reason is that nuno felting is really wet felting; you’re just incorporating an additional material into your design.