Felting TechniquesThere are many ways to felt wool. But there are a few considerations for ones felting/fulling projects. First of all only natural animal fibers will felt. If your yarn is part wool and part synthetic, odd are it won't felt well if at all. And as long as we're on about details technically, taking a knitted wool project and applying heat and agitation is not felting, but fulling. Whatever. Pirates do not have time for the niceties! On to the yarn-torture.
Basically most pirates living ashore in houses felt by use of their washing machines and dryers; this is due to a lack of cabin boys and handy mates to abuse the wool by hand. If you have a front loading washer you'll have problems with the most widly touted technique, and will have to use a laundromat or a different method entirely. If you don't have a washer, I suggest the laundromat, I have an alternative (I hope you have a cabin boy or foremast jack to do the work for you but if not you can do it yourself).
- knitted item to be felted
- towels/jeans other sacrificial laundry (it might get bled on stained or shrunk choose wisely Warning: These are going to be washed in hot water with cold rinse don't use your favorite pants!)
- zippered pillow case (optional)
- 2tbsp of laundry detergent (or some other tiny amount)
- ctually washer, or dryer, or big pot and bowl, as required by your chosen method below
- something to block your finished item on (I've used my head for hats, or feet for slippers, or bowls or shoeboxes covered with plastic grocery sacks. It just needs to be the right size and shape for your finished item.)
- rubber dish gloves (optional)
The "Normal" (top loading washer) Method
- Check your knitted item to make sure all the ends are woven in.
- Set your washer for hot water wash, with cold water rinse mine says (HOT/COLD), use the smallest load size, and as long a cycle as it has. Now is NOT the time to use that delicates setting you use for yer danties.
- Throw in your towels, and your knitted item, if you used especially shed prone or furry yarn you might want to stick it in a zippered pillow cover.
- start the hot water flowing and add a little soap
- close the washer and let it run for 6 minutes or so
- check the item, is it felting? is it shrinking? is it hot and soapy? good then things are going ok. You can kind of wring it out and see how much it's shrunk at this point. It may not be too much yet. from here on out you'll be checking on every few minutes. If you miss the end of the hot cycle and it rinses and spins that's fine. If it's still to big you can always wash it again.
- when it's the size you want let the washer finish it's cycles and rinse
- put the item on a blocking device to dry
The "Dryer" (front loading washer) Method
- Soak the item. Give it a good wetting soak in water. All the way wet. The wool will tend to shed the water, and you have to get it good and bedraggled and wet.
- Put it in your dryer. I have a front-load dryer with a good light, which is lovely, but any dryer will do. You can put it in with other clothes, as long as they don't have sharp bits that would catch the stitches, but I found it did just fine on its own.
- Turn the dryer on to some kind of heated cycle.
- Check the item every 15 minutes. Mine took about an hour, but this will vary by dryer. You will know you're getting close when you lose stitch definition and it no longer comes down to your shoulders.
- When it is the size you want, or a little smaller, take it out of the dryer. It will smell sheepy, but not as much as it would soaking wet.
- Block and dry the item by wearing it, or putting it on the bowl(or whatever).
The "Hard Boiled" (no washer or dryer) MethodThe Hard Boiled washer free method provides the most control over the felting and shaping of an item as you're in near constant contact and providing all the agitation by hand. This method will work to shrink things that didn't get small enough by either of the other two methods. Using a combination of this and the normal toploader method, I made myself a hat that is so dense you can use it as a bucket, compressed the fabric is half an inch thick. Handy for those winter trips around the Horn.
You're really going to want the gloves for this method, and probably tongs, and you'll need some other tools including a stove (or fire) and a big pot (like 5-6qts) and a great big bowl.
- Start a big pot of water boiling
- Get a big bowl and fill it with ice and water.
- Soak the item to be felted in ice water, then gently wring it out so it's only mostly cold and wet not dripping
- Toss the item to be felted in the boiling water for a few minutes till it's good and hot, then wring it out
- Rub the item between your hands. (See I told you you'd want gloves.) It should start getting fuzzy and you will begin to lose stitch definition.
- Repeat the previous three steps leaving it in the hot water about 4-5 minutes at a time and the cold water about a minute at a time until the item has felted sufficiently far.
- Block it on something to dry