Felting for a Fuzzier Knit

comments (0) June 26th, 2008     

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Tina_Hilton Tina Hilton, contributor
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Measuring the item to be felted before the process is a good way to help determine the percentage of shrinkage.
This sweater measured approximately 16 inches across prefelting. It is now about 11 inches across, making for a 25% shrinkage.
Don’t forget to clean out your washer.
Measuring the item to be felted before the process is a good way to help determine the percentage of shrinkage.

Measuring the item to be felted before the process is a good way to help determine the percentage of shrinkage.

Photo: Tina Hilton

Felting, aka fulling, is an ancient method that creates a fabric that is softer, fuzzier, and thicker than the original knitted piece. Felting occurs when you rub sheep fibers together because the natural microscopic scales on the hairs become tangled and lock tightly together. The magic combination of hot water and an agitating washing machine not only speeds up the melding of the fibers by opening up the scales but also shrinks all the fibers into a mass to form a wonderful uniform material.

If you have never felted before, try it with an old, 100% wool sweater from your drawer or local thrift shop. Alternatively, if you have a project in mind and you want to determine how much your wool will shrink when felted, knit up at least a 4-inch-square swatch to test.

What You'll Need

Top-loading washing machine
Mesh lingerie bag
Laundry detergent or wool wash soap
Old jeans

Step by Step

1. If you are looking for a certain percentage of shrinkage, it is a good idea to measure the item before the process.

2. Depending on the size, you can place the knitted item or swatch in a mesh bag. Do not put more than one thing in the bag because multiple items may felt into each other. This is not good. I will generally toss a sweater loose.

3. Set the washing machine water temp to HOT and the smallest load size possible.

4. Put in a very small amount of no-rinse wool wash solution. I like Soak or Eucalan.

5. Throw in your item and start the wash.

6. Stay nearby and check the item after a couple of minutes of the wash cycle. This is the wet, messy step, so be prepared. Pull out the item and check the progress of the felting. Are the knitting stitches starting to blur together? Eyeball or measure the shrinkage. Keep repeating this step until you are satisfied with the results. My machine goes from a hot wash to a cold rinse, so I keep a diligent eye on the process so it never goes into the cold rinse cycle, inadvertently slowing down my felting process. I just keep moving the dial back to the beginning of the process to keep going until the desired results are achieved. If the felting process is going slowly, I may throw in an old pair of jeans to aid in the abrasion process.

7. Once the item is the size and texture you are looking for, send it through the spin cycle to get out the excess water.

8. Once it comes out of the washer, you may wish to blot out even more water using a big, fluffy bath towel.

9. Inspect the item to see if there is any unwanted distortion in the shape. If so, you can gently tug it back to normal. If it is a big piece that was felted into a carpetlike material and it’s not responding to a tug or two, recruit a strong friend to help you wrestle it back into shape.


Don’t forget to clean out your washer.


10. Depending on the delicacy of the item or purpose, I may throw it into a hot dryer for additional felting/shrinking. Be very careful if you venture into this territory and make sure you are on it like white on rice!


I had high hopes that this sweater would felt like mad!

 


I washed this numerous times and was disappointed with the results. A ride in a hot dryer didn’t even help.

Felting is a combination of science and alchemy. Depending on the yarn, you never know exactly what you are going to end up with but it is always fun!



Great books on felting:

Knit One, Felt Too by Kathleen Taylor

Felted Knits by Beverly Galeskas

Knitting Never Felt Better: The Definitive Guide to Fabulous Felting by Nicky Epstein

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