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BTRT Patterns (on Etsy)

Monday, 31 January 2011
One of my commtiments with Beneath the Rowan Tree is to use natural materials that are ethically sourced, high quality and safe for our families and our earth.  Even as I hope that our toys bring our children and families closer to the source and cycles of life, they do the same for me as an artisan~ I derive deep joy in working with fibers and materials that are natural, and about which I can feel confident in sharing!

This means I am always learning, always seeking to know more about the materials I use. 
While working with prepared/ manufactured felt over the holidays (vs. the kind I make by hand with raw fibers)~ the kind in sheets, I became aware of the vast difference in quality between my wool and wool blend felts and some acrylic craft felt nabbed for a kid's project at church.
I think most folks think 'felt' and we think of the 10/$1 acrylic craft felt we used in childhood crafts, banners and Halloween costumes. And it has earned its place as a staple because it is cheap, comes in a variety of colours and readily available in sheets and even on the roll in fabric stores (I have made a lot of Vacation Bible School banners!).  We are used to its texture and its limitations (it stretches, stuffs poorly and tears easily) and know that is just what felt does. Or is it?Because there is felt and there is felt.  And really, it is not a matter of apples to apples, but apples to oranges, or maybe, pineapples.

Wool felt is an entirely different creature.  It is thicker.  It is generally gentler in colour due to the dyes and nature of the fiber. It does not tear, stretch or pull at the seams. It is actually felt as it is made from wool that has been machine felted.  In the case of wool blends a viscose/rayon (natural plant fiber) generally makes up the remainder of the blend.  It is a delight to work with, although the 100% wool felt can be stiffer due to thickness than some projects require or can use.

And yes, it is more expensive.
It may cost anywhere from $1.25 - $3.00 for ONE sheet of equal size with the 10/$1 acryclic felt.
 So naturally (pun intended?), toys or items made with wool felt are going to be more expensive~ and they are also likely stuffed with wool and not poly-fill (another acrylic product).  So, next time you are shopping for wool felt food or toys, read carefully, this may well be the difference between the two items with widely divergent prices!
Placed side by side for me, as a toymaker, I am going to choose the wool felt, hands down.  For quality, durability and for safety.
Safety? Yep. Acrylic has a very low melt/ ignition point and when it ignites it melts, creating serious burns and potential for ignition of other surrounding items. Acrylic felt toys (filled with poly-fill) could prove very dangerous, especially when compared to wool felt which does not burn (one of the reasons wool is popular for cloth diapering, especially at bedtime~ wool smolders out and does not ignite). This is why any poly pajamas must be treated with flame retardant to be legal.

And finally, the real eye-opener for me as I chased this one down the rabbit hole, was that just as the name says, acrylic felt is made of acrylic. It is plastic.  I know this should be assumed, but I think this is a case where calling it all felt confuses the issue AND the difference between being handmade and being natural must be emphasized.  One does not equal the other in every case.

Acrylic felt is NOT a natural material.  Toys made with it are NOT natural toys (although they may be perfectly wonderful toys!).  And unfortunately many, many descriptions of toys out there laud the choice of the handmade toy over the plastic alternatives ~ when they are, in fact, made with plastic themselves (acrylic felt) (I assume the sellers are unaware rather than misleading).  Same goes for toys filled with poly-fill. Plastic.

And what about eco-felt/ eco-spun felt? Plastic. Yep. It is made through a recycling process (just like polyester microfleece, polar fleece etc) ~ recycled plastic. It is of better quality than acrylic felt and makes an affordable alternative, as long as makers and buyers understand what it is~ a plastic that can be recycled, but will not degrade. That 'eco' bit can be so misleading!

If you want to read more and see the varieties of felt pitted against one another in a head to head comparison, you can pop over to this article and see the difference in various tests.

Acrylic felt has its many uses and has earned its place in craftdom~ so this is not to knock the stuff~ but as consumers it is always good to be educated and to understand what our choices may really be. ♥


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