Felting is a fabulous, funky way to transform a knit or crochet piece into something completely different. It makes a fabric that is dense, warm, and strong – perfect for bags or cold-weather items.
Yarns made of wool (non-superwash) and other animal fibers are perfect for felting. When the little fibers of wool are exposed to moisture, heat, and agitation, they cling and tangle together and – voilà – felt! But the felting process is a one-way street – once felted, you can never go back! Consider yarns like Fishermen's Wool, Lion Wool, Alpine Wool, LB 1878, LB Collection Organic Wool, and LB Collection Pure Wool.
The Felt Formula
Felting is not always a precise science. That is because it is achieved by exposing wool to water, heat, and agitation, and the amount of each of these elements plays a part in the way the piece felts.
Felting can be done in the sink, but washing machines can work great too, and they do the job much quicker. However, each washing machine is different, and the amount your machine felts a piece after one cycle may be different than your neighbors’. So, while it’s not hard, be sure to follow the specific felting instructions of the piece you are making, and check your piece a few times during your felting process to make sure you are getting the desired results.
Felting a knit or crochet piece makes it SHRINK. Therefore, the piece you knit or crochet will be much bigger than your felted piece will ultimately be. How much does it shrink? It depends since there are so many factors that go into the process – how hot your water is, how hard your water is, how much the item is agitated, the amount and kind of soap you use, what color the yarn is (really, it's a fact!), and so on. You can felt your piece more or less. If you felt it just a little (maybe by taking it out of your machine after half a cycle), you will still have stitch definition. If you felt it more, you won't. Basically, here are the steps:
1. Wash in warm water with soap.
- Why soap? It actually speeds up the felting process!
- Felting can often be improved by adding baking soda or washing soda to the water.
- What about the rest of the laundry? Throw it in! Though it may not be recommended in the directions for all felting projects, washing felted things with other laundry can speed up the process! Why? Agitation is another important element for the felting, and the rest of your laundry does just that (be sure to check out the TIPS below)!
2. Rinse in cool water.
- Rinsing in cool water "locks" the fibers in place. Most people have a warm wash/cool rinse setting on their machines (easy, huh?)
3. Air dry.
- If you are making a piece that needs to conform to a particular shape (say, a rectangle piece for a bag), it will likely be lopsided when it comes out of the dryer. Adjust it to the right shape BEFORE you let it dry (remember: once felted, felted for life) or pin it into shape on a blocking board and let it dry there – yup, blocking is important in felting, too.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT FELTING WITH LANDSCAPES:
Landscapes is composed of two fibers, a wool one that will felt and an acrylic one, which does not felt. Projects made with Landscapes that are to be felted should be processed as follows:
- Wash by machine on a long setting with hot water/cold rinse with detergent with several pieces of clothing to agitate.
- If your water is hard, add baking soda or washing soda to the water to improve felting. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the soda box. Washing soda is stronger than baking soda and only requires about half as much.
- Wash item several times if necessary with hot water depending on how quickly the project felts.
- To felt additionally, dry by machine on a regular setting until almost dry. Remove from dryer and lie flat to shape.
- WASHING: When washing your felted piece with other clothing, try putting it in a mesh lingerie bag – it will still get the benefit of agitation from the other clothes, but won’t get stuck!
- MORE WASHING: be sure the clothing you put it with won’t run (like colors), and they don’t pill (or the fibers that come off could wind up in your felt!)
- RELAX! Mistakes in your handwork won’t show up after felted, so relax!
- ONE OF A KIND: Don’t worry if you piece looks slightly different than the picture! So many factors go into felting that it is inevitable it WILL look a little different. But that’s the beauty of it – your piece is completely unique!
- GAUGE GRATIFICATION: Because felting is indeed pretty different every time you do it, gauge is extremely important. Sometimes, to help control the process, patterns will have you make a gauge swatch, then felt it and take measurements before AND after. That way, you know to work with your machine. If you need it to felt LESS, remove it from the machine earlier. If MORE, leave it in for longer – maybe you need to run it again!
- CHECK IT: Check your piece a number of times if felting in the washing machine to make sure it’s just right – not too much, not too little.
- FELTING FACTOR: It is a good idea to knit a swatch to see how your machine felts. Make a square swatch, then throw it in your machine. Check it a number of times before the end of the cycle to get a sense of your particular machine’s “felting factor.”
- CUT IT OUT! Since felting “fuses” the fibers together, you can do something with it you cannot do with knit or crochet pieces – you can CUT IT! Believe it or not, if your piece is truly felted, it won’t unravel. That means you can cut into the bottom to make a cute fringe, you can cut strips of felted fabric and weave them back together – the sky’s the limit!
- MIX IT UP: Mixing yarns is really fun with felting. Try making a swatch with one strand of Fun Fur and Lion Wool at the bottom, then switch entirely to Lion Wool. Now felt it. The results are amazing, because the Fun Fur won’t felt. Talk about furry effects! Try other yarn combos to see what looks coolest – remember, only the wool will felt, so you can create great textural differences with mixing.
- HAVE FUN: There's no limit to this cool craft, so play around and let your imagination be your guide!