Felting the Senses

Contemporary feltmakers have long recognized not only a primal connection with natural fibers but also a multi-sensory experience involved in the felting process: smell/texture of dry wool, sensation of felting with soapy warm water, and the fulling process (throwing wet felt). This kind of sensory work has implications for self-soothing for all age groups, from simple felted balls to step-oriented layered pieces.  The therapeutic benefits of feltmaking are beginning to emerge in occupational therapy and now in art therapy. Applicable to all ages, feltmaking is a non-toxic and safe process that only requires wool, water, and soap. Feltmaking can be done individually or within a group and is process oriented: involving repetitive compression and agitation to the wool, which moves the individual fibers together forming a felted surface. From an art therapist’s perspective, the tactile process of feltmaking addresses the  Kinesthetic/Sensory (K/S) level of Lusebrink’s (1990) Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC). Further, the neurological mechanisms of the haptic sense of feltmaking have the ability to stimulate emotion and memory; this positions feltmaking as a viable option when working with people with Alzheimer’s, brain damage, dementia, and developmental disabilities. Therapeutic experiences in feltmaking are emerging in geriatric and pediatric populations and in substance abuse counseling, centering on stress reduction, strengthening self-perception, and sensory engagement.

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