I got a crazy idea a little while ago that I needed to come up with a better rocking chair cushion/pad before the baby was born. The internet was not as useful to me as I had hoped until one day I saw these chunky wool seat pads on Design Mom and I knew that is exactly what I wanted.
It seemed like it couldn’t be too difficult, but I had not the first clue of where to even get the materials. Thankfully, I know a girl who knows all about textiles and knitting and wool and felting. She pointed me in the right direction on where to get roving (unspun wool) at a decent price, helped me figure out what my order of operations should be (knitting, then felting, then dyeing), and offered plenty of support and encouragement when I was doubting how things were turning out.
I knew going into the project that it would be a miracle if everything turned out well. I had no idea how to do any of the steps necessary to pull it off. But the first step, knitting, went pretty smoothly. YouTube was my teacher and I learned to knit using my arms as needles. The only problem I had was that I really had no idea how big I should make the pads (I was doing one for the seat and one for the back), but I figured too big was better than too small. I thought the knitting turned out pretty great (although I’m not o great at casting off), but was terrified of the felting part. That is where I would shrink and strengthen the roving.
There are a couple of ways to do it, and my mentor suggested I start by hand felting—which entailed lots of warm, soapy water. I did the smaller pad first and . . . it didn’t look so good. It was smaller, but still too big. And some parts looked just matted together. After some additional consulting and deliberation, I tossed it in the washing machine. It got a bit smaller, and looked a bit better, but still really lumpy and uneven. Oh well. There was still the other pad. A run in the washing machine and dryer and it came out looking just fine. In fact, although I hadn’t planned to do it, I realized that if the other pad never got looking any better, I could use that one for the whole chair and it would be fine.
So then I got to dyeing. I wanted to dye the pads blue-gray, and I had hoped to do it using natural dyes. It turns out that black beans are often used to dye wool and other fabric the blue-gray of my dreams. It also turns out that there is/can be a lot of variation in how this is achieved and what process you use. I decided to go that simplest route—no mordant, just a bath in warm black bean water (with all the beans taken out)—and see what that did. It did not. After nearly two days (or three days?) in the bath, not only was the pad not blue, it wasn’t really holding the dye. (Wool is supposed to hold dyes more easily than plant-based fabrics like cotton.) So I rinsed it out, let it dry, and was grateful I’d only done one pad. I may eventually try to re-dye it, but for now it is kind of a dingy, pinkish tan color.
So the back pad is going to stay as it is—just its natural color. It isn’t perfect, but I kind of like the way it drapes on the rocking chair. And it is quite comfortable to sit on. It was not a miracle, but it was an experience and I am glad I did it. I’m hoping that it’ll be a part of our home and our story for years to come.