How to Felt Wool Quickly and Easily with Your Washing Machine
This is the simple technique that lured me into the wool felting world. It’s easy (and addictive!) I’ll explain how to get started and make felt with your washer, plus give tips and illustrations along the way.
Projects that you might want to felt include hats, bags, fashion or hair accessories and mittens. Felted adds a firm and fuzzy unique look to your pieces.
Before You Felt – Materials
What can be felted:
You can felt pieces made from wool yarn – knitted, crocheted,woven, knotted, etc. The type of yarn used to make them is important – some yarns will felt, some won’t. Here’s the what to look for….
100% pure wool yarn should felt very well. Not every yarn that has ‘wool’ in it’s name is pure wool, so look at the the label to see if it really is a wool. It may look and feel like wool, but again, check the label. You might be surprised what is not pure wool!
Blends of wool and other man-made fibers might felt.(The higher the percentage of wool in a blend, the more likely it will felt, but there’s no guarantee, so I suggest you test felt a swatch before spending too much time on an unfeltable yarn)
Superwash is great for knitting sweaters, but…
The other thing to watch for is any wool labeled “superwash”. This is a washable wool …….meaning it won’t shrink……..meaning it won’t felt!
Any feltable wool will instruct you to handwash in cold water on the label. If your label says it can be machine washed warm, it won’t work for felting.
Natural fibers other than wool might felt too, but I’ve only used wool until now, so experiment if you like and let me/us know
Felt wool sweaters! That’s right! You can felt old clothing – it’s already knitted for you! And it’s a great way to reuse and recycle sweaters that have been accidentally shrunk in the wash or just aren’t wanted anymore. The same rules apply as above (for yarn) for whether they will felt. It just depends on what it’s been made out of. Test felt a small piece if you’re unsure.
Felting the easy way
Your Magical Felting Machine Awaits!
Felting is when the fibers of the wool lock together into a stable, dense mat.
This process needs heat, agitation, a little soap, and water.
What to do? Hmmmmmm……
Enter stage left……
It’s your washing machine!!
(Let it do all the work for you)
Put your item or items in the washer with a pair of jeans or some similar heavy non-shedding fabric to help agitation.
They can be placed in a closed bag (a zipped pillowcase, for example) to keep any shed wool from plugging the washer’s drain.
Add a little soap and run on a hot wash cycle.
Knowing how long to wash is really a matter of trial and error – there is no set rule. It’s always a good idea to felt a test piece.
By checking your piece often in the wash cycle, you can stay more in the trial end of things than the error! Always Remember ….. It’s easier to underfelt and give it longer, than to overfelt and try to stretch it back out.
Some pieces will be just right after a short wash, others might need two long cycles and even a short stint in the dryer to get there.
Of course, only you can determine what “just right” means!
See What Happens
A simple knitted rectangle
I used a bold variegated yarn to show the results better
before felting in the washing machine
Crochet hook for size reference
Felted Wool Knit After 1 Wash Cycle
Here it is after 1 short wash cycle
You can still see the stitches
This piece has a tighter top (cast off edge) than the bottom (cast on edge) and you can see how this affects the felted shape – the bottom is wider than the middle or top. So how you cast on and off affects the felted shape.
Felted Wool Knit After 2 Wash Cycles
After another cycle, the piece is smaller still, and the individual stitches are much harder to make out. It is quite dense now.
Note how this piece has shrunken more by length than than by width. The bottom is quite ruffled – an effect you may or may not want!
Next: What to do after felting.
Take a close look
The knitted piece looks quite different after the process of felting. It’s much more solid and dense. I enjoy seeing the effect when I use variegated yarns – the colours merge and blend. If you want to make distinct bands, you will have to make the bands quite wide, and use single colours. By knitting in rounds – like the hat top in the picture – you get a fabulous spiral effect.
This part’s fun!
Depending on your project, or the success of your felting, you may need or want to “work” your piece when it’s out of the washer.
While it’s still wet , it’s pretty pliable – stretch it, roll it, fold it, mold it, whatever you want.
When it’s the size and shape of perfection, let it dry thoroughly.
Oh yes, add embellishments for the finishing touch!
THE GOOD NEWS
This process is forgiving.
Many “errors” can be sorted out with reworking while wet.
Even if a project has dried, you can try carefully steaming (with an iron) for small fixes, or soak in hot water and reshape.
I did this with my first hat which sat for two years as an example of a piece felted waaaay too much (it was tiny). I managed to reshape it into a respectably sized ladies hat
If it felts, it shrinks!
How much, and in which direction is variable. There are so many factors involved – the gauge of the knitting, the type of wool or fiber (or brand), the water temperature in your washer…. and so on.
This means, your prefelted piece has to be bigger than the finished size you want. The more dense you want the end result to be, the larger you must knit the piece. (Even several times the size of the felted result)
I take notes of each piece, including label details, measurements before and after washing, wash cycle length, brand of soap, brand of yarn, needle size, number of stitches and rows, etc.
In this way, I can adjust patterns to get the correct finished size (next time!)