Have on hand: soap, wool roving (merino felts best...you could also use a cheaper wool for the inside)
Sunny day and a few kids highly recommended.
Start with a pot of hot water. I dunk the bar of soap in it (I use handmade olive oil soap) and let it sit for a few minutes.
In the meantime, split a length of roving lengthwise(my wool guy calls this top and tells me not to call it roving, so there you go) The length of your piece will determine the size of your felt ball, of course.
Start to wrap it on itself. Your aim is to wrap it much like you would a yarn ball. Keep it really taught, and try to make it firm like the tip of your nose.
It's ok if the wool twists as you go along. My hands are wet because I had to get Davis out of the pot.
Start wrapping this flat against the first ball you made. This layer can be a little looser...your wrapped ball might feel more like an earlobe. Roll the roving onto the ball on all sides to round it.
It now looks like this.
Dunk it in the water until you see no bubbles coming out of it. Careful not to squeeze.
Take it out and VERY gently glide the soggy soap over the surface of the ball. I reiterate: VERY gently.
Now, this is where any musical training will come in handy. Imagine your hands are working a slow crescendo in pressure. Start with light pressure on the ball...really just smoothing the cupped palms of your hands gently over the ball's soapy surface. Then, as you feel the ball form a skin, start to gain a rhythm in your movements over the ball's surface, slowly adding more pressure to your ball as you go along.
Your ball should feel mushy and ill-formed at this stage. Keep going. I tell students that their arms should feel like they are about to fall off. It feels like it takes a long time, but really it doesn't. (10-15 minutes)
When the ball feels semi-soft, start to roll it in your cupped hands, again, crescendoing in pressure. Oh, what a symphony!
Tips for smooth felt balls:
Practice wrapping. The prettier your ball looks wrapped, chances are the better it will perform under hands and water.
GO SLOW. Be patient. Learn from the wool. There is a point at which your hands are willing the wool to move, the wool is not moving, and then suddenly you realize that it has been moving with you all along. Ideally, anyway.
Mistakes are blessings. If your ball falls apart, wrap it again and start over. If that doesn't work, wrap it again and stuff it into the toe of a knee-high. Wash and dry by machine.
Davis got in on the act and brought sidewalk chalk with him. He was a dirty mess from scooting (he doesn't crawl the traditional way) all around the yard. He had sooo much fun.