June 15 2010
Every once in a while I get the urge to do what you’re not supposed to do with your knitted wool. Throw it in the washing machine! A magical thing happens when your knitted wool meets soapy water and agitation. The tiny little scales that make up the surface of each individual fiber begin to interlock and all those beautiful stitches disappear, matting up into something thicker, sturdier, and yes, smaller!
Felting works best with wool but other animal fibers like alpaca and cashmere will felt too. You cannot felt cotton and other plant based fibers, silk, or synthetics. And technically, that magical process that we put our knitted items through is called fulling. Felting refers to the process of matting the fibers by themselves, and fulling refers to the process of matting the fabric. But since most people know the process as felting whether it’s the fibers or the fabric, for practical purposes we’ll just stick with that term for now.
Wikipedia has a cool page on felt with it’s history and usage which includes things like piano hammers, puppets, and even the coolest yurt I have ever seen.
Ravelry has over 150 pages of felted projects to choose from. There are all sorts of things like super warm felted mittens, the Fiber Trends Felted clogs like the ones I made above, and loads and loads of cool felted bags like this one that I made for a friend. It has an Italian Greyhound image on each side which is applied using a needle felting tool.
So what makes felting projects so fun? Well, for me it’s a combination of being able to knit up something FAST (items to be felted are usually knit on large needles) and watching that magical process as that huge, floppy, odd shaped piece of knitting transforms into something sturdy and structured.
Check out before and after of this hat by Fiber Trends .
Most patterns come with instructions on how to felt your project. It’s not rocket science, really. You just toss your knitted item into a washing machine (preferably a top loader) full of hot water (usually set to the smallest load size), a little bit of soap, and a pair of jeans that will help the process by providing friction which encourages the wool fibers to interlock. The denim won’t leave unsightly lint on your project either! Be sure to keep a close eye on the process and check on your piece every five minutes or so to make sure that it doesn’t shrink too much. When it’s done, take it out of the wash, squeeze the water out, do a little shaping and let it dry. It’s that easy!
So go ahead, have some fun. Knit something up and then ignore those washing instructions on the yarn label. You’ll be amazed at the things you can make!