Good guess Carrie! Yes, inside the crate was a 40″ Feltcrafts Rolling Machine.
This machine is designed to take the labor out of felting, rolling the fiber by machine instead of by hand. The fiber is laid out in the traditional manner on the blue bubble wrap, sprinkled with warm, soapy water, rolled up and then sandwiched between the pvc pipes.
The machine runs on a 115 volt, 1/2 HP motor mounted to the frame. Pulleys attached to the motor turn the bottom rollers. The handcrank raises and lowers the top roller. When the fiber roll is sandwiched in place, turn on the motor with the speed control and watch it roll. Varying the speed of the rollers and the amount of pressure applied by the top roller affects the felting action.
The key is learning the magic spot where there is enough pressure to simulate handfelting, but not so much that the fibers are prevented from agitating against each other. Another variable to complicate the equation involves the speed of the rollers. How fast should it go? Too fast and the felt tends to twist and warp, but run it too slowly and the piece will take hours to finish.
As long as the machine is on the floor, there is still lots of ‘work’ involved in felting. Every couple of minutes, you need to crank the handle to raise the top roller, remove the bubble roll, unroll the felt to check for skew and/or progress, roll it back up, load it in the machine and wind the crank to lower the top roller back into position exactly where you had it the last time (trying to remember how many times you cranked it when you removed it a few minutes earlier). I made two narrow scarves yesterday, spending two hours on each. I have yet to determine a systematic approach for finding the secret mix of speed and pressure; systems are really not my forte.
So far, it appears the blessing of this machine will be its ability to create very large pieces of felt, which I simply can’t muscle by hand. Since the distance between the rollers can be adjusted by the handcrank, it is possible to do very fine pieces of nunofelting or extremely thick horse blankets.
Since all big machines deserve a name, I’m announcing a contest with prizes for the best name suggestion. The winner will be announced on March 10th.