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An Introduction to Felting: Tips & Tricks

June 30th, 2013

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Felting allows you to take knit and crochet pieces and turn them into thick, sturdy cloth suitable for purses, hats, slippers and more just by throwing your wool items into the washing machine and dryer. This month, Jackie Smyth, our technical editor, gives some tips on felting.

An Introduction to Felting

What is felting, Jackie?
Felting is the process by which wool fibers are agitated and lock together to form a dense fabric. Wool yarn can be felted, but synthetics can’t, but you can change the look of a felted design by working a row or two with a non-felting yarn. If you’ve never felted before, it’s a good idea to read our FAQ about it: click here.

What are some of the benefits of felting?
Felt doesn’t ravel – so you can experiment with cutting shapes or fringes on a felted item. If your felted project doesn’t work out as well as you’d hoped — no worries — you can cut shapes from the felt – like flower petals or dots – and use these as embellishments on other projects.

Wow, you could probably make pins and hair barrettes out of those shapes too. So what are your recommended patterns today?
I’ve chosen these three clutches because they are small, making them an ideal beginner felting project, and because they really emphasize how much we love to embellish simple patterns with things techniques like color-work and embroidery.

So what are some things we should remember when felting, Jackie?
First, we strongly suggest felting your gauge swatch–to most accurately predict the finished size of your felted project. Measure your swatch before felting and make a note of the washing machine settings used and measure your swatch again after felting. But don’t worry too much about the evenness of your knit or crochet stitches if you plan to felt the finished item–the felting process will smooth the fabric.

Second, when felting in a washer and dryer, placing your knit or crochet item into a zippered pillow protector before felting will contain the fuzz created during the process. Also, you should remember that soap is necessary for the felting process–but don’t use too much! A tablespoon or so is plenty.

What about after the items come out of the dryer?
Remember that the felting process often provides unexpected results–just pull or smooth your projects to shape–and remember that felting isn’t an exact science. Also, wet wool items are easy to shape. Hats can be smoothed over a bowl, use empty boxes wrapped in plastic to shape a purse. Another useful tip is that a disposable razor can be used to shave off unwanted fuzz after felting.

Do you always have to felt in a washer and dryer?
For smaller pieces, felting can always be done by hand, rubbing the knit or crochet piece until the fibers lock together in hot, soapy water. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the hot water. A clean plunger can speed the felting process.

Any last thoughts, Jackie?
My final tip is to remember that felting is meant to be fun and somewhat experimental–a great way to create a one of a kind design!

A version of this article first ran in The Weekly Stitch newsletter. Click here to sign up for the newsletter and get articles, free patterns, and exclusive offers in your inbox each week. 

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  • Emily Ruth

    Thanks so much for these tips!

  • linda

    When you say soap is required, do you mean soap flakes??? Like from a bar of soap???? :)

    • Leslie Sharr

      laundry soap, shampoo, soap flakes – basically any type of surfactant. You need the soap because it makes the fibers slippery so they can rub against each other more.

      • Linda

        Thanks Leslie!

  • first time felter

    My knitting is very loose and there are “holes” in my scarf. Will I still be able to felt it or do I need to undo it all and use a smaller needle? Thanks.

    • Irishcreme57

      Somewhat depends HOW loose is loose. The hot water shrinks the fabric and so some of the holes will close up but if you are talking about something very lacey, you might not get the thread density to actually get a felted product. The threads have to touch to interlock. I’ve never tried felting something “lacey”.
      Why don’t you try using some of the same yarn and creating a large swatch.. try to get the same loose effect your got with the scarf. See how well the swatch felts before you try the scarf.

  • Althea

    How do I UNFELT a jumper – I hand washed but it still shrunk – I tried everything from Borax and hair conditioner to soaking in white vinegar, but it is still felted! Help!

    • Irishcreme57

      You can’t un-felt a felted garment. Wool fibers are coated in hook-like projections that interlock when you rub them together. They are microscopic and you just can’t manually unlock them. Sorry, but it’s gone. Of course, you do have a nice felted jumper now that could be up-cycled to something nice for.. a child? It might need additional felting to really make it cuttable, but you have some home felted fabric there to work with now.

  • Catherine

    Has anyone felted with a top loading HE washing machine? If so, we’re you able to do so?

    • Irishcreme57

      I don’t know what an HE washing machine is but I’ve used a top loader to felt without any discernible problems.

      • Judy

        Sorry to reply to an old post but I think she meant a high efficiency top loader, like the Kenmore Calypso I used to have. Can you use a front loader to felt?
        .

        • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

          Hi Judy, while you can felt using a front loader, I would only recommend it for items which you don’t need to be an exact size (for instance felt motifs for decor or toys), since you won’t be able to take out the item to check its progress in a front loader. Since felting in different washing machines may take different amounts of time, we generally recommend a top loader so you can take it out every 5 or 10 minutes to see how felted the piece is and adjust based on what you’re hoping to achieve as an effect (e.g. lightly felted so you can still see some stitch definition or more felted so the fabric looks fuzzy with no distinct stitches). Hope that helps!

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