This winter I have lived in the ugg boots I made last summer. I haven't blogged them before now because they are, frankly, ugly. But they have really come into their own as the most stunningly warm footwear I've ever worn. They are comfortable, lightweight, and just about perfect. I'm thrilled to be able to report that homemade footwear really can be practical. If you'd like to give it a go, here's what to do.
(By the way, I'd never felted before, so made heaps of mistakes, but was determined to start with the boots I wanted, rather than practise on a scarf... so forgive me if I've broken any felting laws or norms.)
The first step is to make a template out of a couple of plastic placemats, which I stuck together with gaffa tape. The template needs to be about 30% bigger than the finished ugg boots, to allow for shrinkage. Here I'm doing both boots in one go, and will cut them apart later.
I've also got some bubblewrap. You can see I've drawn around the template and left an outline on the bubblewrap showing where the template will go. Basically what happens is I lay fleece down on the bubblewrap, filling an area slightly larger than the template, then put the template on top, fold the fleece over the edges, and put more fleece on top. Then it gets rolled up in the bubblewrap ready for felting.
I wanted my boots to be black, so the outter layer is black alpaca fleece which a friend gave me. Then I put down a nice thick layer of sheep fleece, also from a friend. The sheep's wool is particularly strong so good for footwear. The alpaca by itself probably wouldn't be strong enough. Then for ultra-warmth and softness, I made the inner layer angora fur from my rabbit. I used up the fur I had sitting around that had been stained by wee, or had knots it in, or was too short for spinning. So the layers had to go like this: bubblewrap, outter black layer, middle sheep layer, inner angora layer, template, inner angora layer, middle sheep layer, outter black layer. I wanted thick boots so I used a lot of fleece.
I made a mistake here. I should have carded the alpaca fleece (fluffed it up and teased it out with special brushes called carders). Because I didn't card the fleece, it sat in clomps, and it didn't felt especially well, as you will see later.
In the above photo you can see I've laid out the first layer of black, the sheep layer, and have started adding the angora layer.
Now all three of the first layers are down, I've added the template and folded over the angora fleece, and am adding the next angora layer.
Now all the fleece is arranged around the template, and it's reading for felting. You'll see in the top of the photo a piece of black netting. I lay this on top and tuck the edges under. This keeps the fleece in place while I'm working.
Here's the netting-wrapped fleece, ready to felt. I drizzled this with dishwashing detergent, then poured cups of very hot water over it, and rolled up the bubblewrap, fleece, netting and all. The detergent helps it felt better. The hot water helps it shrink. Generally hot, wet, soapy and lots of friction are the keys to felting well.
Once the bubblewrap was rolled up, I massaged the roll with my hands for a little while, helping the water and detergent spread evenly through the ugg boots, and starting the felting process. Then I unrolled it and with my hands I massaged the edges, working the fleece towards the middle so as to avoid having a flap at the edge. When it was starting to cool off, I unwrapped it and it looked like this:
I was amazed by how all that volume of fleece just disappeared. You can see the black coverage isn't perfect afterall - the sheep's wool is showing through in many places. At this point, I added more hot water, rewrapped it, rolled, massaged and generally kept doing more of the same. After about an hour or so, the fleece had definitely shrunk, and in fact was starting to warp the template. When that happens, it's time to remove the template.
I cut straight through the middle so that I had two separate boots, and removed the template. Then I turned the boots inside out. This is what they looked like with one boot turned through, the other one still with the template inside:
At this stage the boots were still enormous, far too big for my foot. I dipped them in a pot of very very hot soapy water, and when it had just cooled enough, I put them onto my feet. I put a stocking over the top, and started massaging my feet, to encourage the boots to shrink into my very own foot shape. With every dipping, they shrank noticeably, but it took many dippings to get them down to the size I wanted. The stocking helps the fleece to attach to itself, and not get rubbed into the wrong position by your hand. Here's the boots on my feet, without the stockings:
As you can see, there were a couple of holes, and some of the bits of alpaca refused to felt themselves onto the boots.
To fix this, I used a needle and thread to sew some of those bits of errant alpaca into place, and to sew some extra fleece over the holes. Then I continued felting. The stitching wasn't really obvious by the time the boots were done.
I wore them for a little while, then decided they should be a size smaller, so did another couple of rounds of hot pot dipping and massaging. I wanted to get them as tight as possible while still being easy to slip on and off.
I also wanted to make a sole for them. I laid out a super-thick rectangle of sheep fleece, and felted that, then cut the soles out of this thick felt fabric:
I sewed the sole to the bottom of each boot. I figured when it wore out, I'd make a new sole, which would be relatively quick compared to making a new boot, so I promised myself to do this repair before the boot itself started wearing a hole in the bottom.
The boots are incredibly comfortable, soft and warm. The only drawback is that at our house, we have to go outside to go to the fridge, the toilet, the bathroom, to feed the animals etc. And if I step in a tiny puddle of water, my boots get wet, so do my socks, and it takes them ages to dry. Half-way through winter I ended up rubbing silicone rubber into the soles, and that has worked excellently. Now a little bit of water no longer causes a problem, and the grip on the shoes is much better.
I'm pretty chuffed to have made shoes that have really gotten me through winter, without buying anything except the tube of silicon. I love that my toes are kept warm by my own bunny's angora fur (which is seven times warmer than wool), and that they were made by simple tools and technology. If you have access to some fleece, it's well worth they effort.