episode 0

How I Felt – Easy Felting Tutorial

Hints & Basic Instructions From LGS



The following instructions are for felting knitted (or crocheted) wool items in a top-loading washing machine.  The technique is really called "fulling", but we are jumping on the modern-day bandwagon and will only use the term "felting", even though we are talking about a knitted garment and not the individual strands of fiber.


Always protect your machine.  Even a small wool bag can shed a lot of fiber, so always put the item to be felted inside of a pillowcase.  We use one with a zipper, but we have also used a case that is just pinned together at the opening with several safety pins.  Net lingerie bags are not recommended because the pesky fibers can easily migrate out through the holes.  After hearing so many horror stories of leaky pipes and hoses filled with chunks of felted wool, we decided it is better to be safe than sorry.


After felting, we open the pillowcase, turn it inside out, and dry in the dryer to remove the hundreds (millions?) of little hairs into the lint trap.  That way, the case is ready for the next round of felting.  Just don't forget to clean the lint trap after every load.  A full trap and a hot dryer is a definite fire hazard.


We do not felt light and dark items (or pieces of different colors) in the same case. This is because the fibers migrate, and once they attach themselves to a felted piece, they are there for good.  For this reason, we also do not use a towel in the washing machine to provide agitation during felting.  It's just because someone told us not to, although we can't decide how the towel fuzz would get through the pillowcase and onto the knitted piece.  Oh, well.  Better safe than sorry.


Instead of towels we use an old pair or two of blue jeans.  We also throw in a couple of tennis balls.  Some people use rubber flip flops.  Really, anything that can stand up to hot water and won't harm your washing machine will provide agitation.


We then set the machine to small load and fill with hot water, adding just a drop or two of a mild laundry soap.  We never use detergent with knitted garments, whether we are felting or cleaning them.  Ivory Snow liquid is our weapon of choice, but some people use a little bit of dish soap (not dishwasher detergent!).  Even a little tiny bit of mild shampoo will work.  Again, we can't stress the "small amount" part enough.  Anything more than a teaspoon full will result in a lot of suds and will require more rinsing than you may want to do.


Now, set the machine to a regular wash cycle and watch closely.  After the piece agitates in the hot water for 5 minutes, turn off the machine and pull out your pillowcase.  Open it to look at the piece.  Has it started to felt yet?  Sometimes it takes a little while to see a change.  Return it to the washer and agitate for 5-10 minutes at a time.  You may need to re-start the machine several times before the piece achieves the size and texture that you want.  Do not let the machine go into the spin cycle, as this may cause severe, permanent creases in your knitted piece!  This is why it is important to stay close to the machine the entire time.  In addition, once felting starts, it happens very quickly.  If, after a peek, your piece is close to done, check it again after a minute or two.  It is also important during these checks to make sure that the piece is not felting to itself.   You wouldn't want your leg warmers to felt closed.  Put your hands inside the item to separate the sides every time you check on the progress.


Once you are satisfied, take the piece out of the pillowcase and gently squeeze out excess water (remember not to make severe creases).  Rinse in a sink with cold water until all traces of soap are gone.  Drastic changes in water temperature, as well as agitation, help to felt the fibers.  The cold water and rubbing of your hands may cause a little bit of additional felting, but it is usually very miniscule.  Don't worry about it! 


After gently removing as much water as you can with your hands, place the item in a fluffy towel and roll it up to remove even more moisture.  If the towel is soaked through, get a new one and repeat the process.  Again, do not make creases!  When you have dried the piece as much as possible, manipulate it into the desired shape and let dry.  You may pin it to a blocking board or a sheet.  If the piece is round, place over a bowl to maintain the shape, or create something out of towel, boxes, or kitchen utensils to place inside the item in order to achieve the shape you want in the finished piece.  You may have to turn it inside out overnight, and reshape it the right way the next day to dry completely.  Depending on your climate it may take a few days or a few hours for the felted piece to dry.  Check it periodically.  Turn it over and adjust the shape if necessary.  You may want to dry the item outside, just remember to keep it out of direct sunlight, which may fade the colors.


Here are some truths we have found about felting wool, the "Murphy's Law of Felting", if you will. 

1.  A hole that you hope will felt close (like a dropped stitch) never will, while a button hole or eyelet that you want to remain open will always close itself up when exposed to hot water, even for a second.  It's a good thing that you can use tiny scissors to re-open yarn overs.


2.  Remember to always knit your pieces that are headed for felting longer than you normally would.  Knitting shrinks more in height (measured in the number of rows) than it does in width (measured in the number of stitches per row), and a square tote will come out looking like a long baguette.  To actually end up with a felted square, the knitted piece should be 25-33% taller than it is wide.


3.  There is no "formula" for how a certain wool will felt.  It is impossible to determine the percentage of felting that will occur, but you can take careful notes to guide you in the future.  A loosely knit item is apt to felt more than a tightly knit one, so use bigger needles when you are knitting than you normally would with the given yarn.  A small knitted gauge square can be used as a test felting sample, but be prepared for a surprise no matter what.  If the piece needs to be a certain size (for example, a pair of slippers), make sure to check on it every few minutes so it doesn't felt too quickly!


4.  Sometimes, a certain yarn just will not felt.  Check the label.  Make sure that it is not marked "superwash" or "washable wool".  These are designed specifically NOT to felt.   Also, most yarns need a large (over 50%) percentage of wool in order to felt (You can add other yarns, a row at a time, between rows of all- or mostly-wool yarns, and the wool fibers will felt around the other yarn.  Try glittery or fuzzy novelty yarns spaced throughout a knitted piece and experiment with small pieces).  In addition, sometimes a wool that is bleached (usually white or very pale colors) will not felt, as the bleaching process damages the fibers.  If you are in doubt, knit and felt a small sample.  You can also pre-soak the knitted item overnight to soften the yarn.  The swollen fibers will then be more receptive to the agitation.


5.  While a too-big piece can be felted again, once a piece is too small there is little you can do about it.  While wet wool can be stretched and blocked into shape, if it is really too small, it may be too bad.  Err on the bigger side.


6.  No matter how pretty your piece is before felting, most little details (and some of the big ones) will disappear during felting.  Save the cables and other fancy stitches for other things.  Of course, if you have a glaring mistake in your knitting, don't assume that it will be hidden if you felt the darn thing.  Hence the Murphy's Law part.


7.  Just because your yarns are of the same weight, they will not necessarily felt at the same rate.  If you notice that certain areas of the piece are not shrinking at all, you may have to take matters into your own hands, literally.  If, for example, the cuff of a mitten is not felting as quickly as the top, place it in a sink of hot water and rub the cuff section between your hands to accelerate the felting process there so that it matches that of the other parts of the piece.  Also, keep in mind that felting occurs because the fibers are rubbing up against each other, so when you are knitting, remember to leave room between the stitches for this to happen.  In other words, do not knit too tightly, even when knitting cuffs or other areas of trim.


8.  Save the fringe for after felting.  Pretty strands of yarn hanging out look great until they are felted.  Then they turn into thick, weirdly twisted dreadlocks.  But hey, you may like that sort of thing.  We sure do.


9.  Most things eventually need cleaned.  Wash your felted item the same way that you would an unfelted sweater; cold water, by hand, mild soap, no agitation, dry flat, etc.  That is, unless you want it to felt further.


10.  Last but not least.  If you really couldn't care less, throw the blasted thing in a full load of laundry (still inside a pillowcase; let's not get too carried away), wash on hot and dry in the dryer along with the rest of your clothes.  See what you end up with, warts and all.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  Or, you could ruin the bulk of your wardrobe in one fell swoop!  Yep.  Sometimes wool leaks excess dye, especially when exposed to hot water.  Please consider yourself warned.


Now we reach the end.  After your piece is felted and dried, you can give it a little "haircut" to clean up any unruly bits.  This is necessary especially if your yarn contains any amount of mohair, which can result in long, scraggly hairs sticking out all over.  You can also comb the piece to get it into shape.  If you absolutely hate what you have made, don't despair!!  Felted pieces of wool can be cut and resewn, without the fear of unraveling.  Cut out cool shapes appliqué them to other knitted items, whether or not those items felted.  If your bag is too big (we have made a few boats in our time), you can cut the pieces down, and sew them together with a decorative stitch to make a smaller version.  If all else fails, remember that felted wool is very warm.  Give it to the dog.


So, here's how we felt things at LusciousGraciousStudios, condensed into a nutshell:

Put the item in a zippered pillowcase into a small load on the "HOT" setting with a pair of jeans and two tennis balls for agitation, along with about a teaspoon of Ivory Snow liquid.  Agitate for 5-10 minutes at a time until the item achieves the size and texture that you like.  Rinse all soap out in a sink with cold running water, roll the piece in towels to remove excess moisture, and manipulate it into the desired shape.  Let dry.


Now it's your turn.  Go for it!


Kiki and Steve - Phoenix, AZ - 2005


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