Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Felt Week: Got Sweaters?


Felt Week

I hope you guys are enjoying Felt Week! I've been learning a lot about needle felting, a craft that Angel has told me about for years but that I finally discovered for myself this week. More on that tomorrow... For now, I'd like to focus on a different kind of wool felt: felted old sweaters!

Wool and felt come in so many forms and are used in a variety of ways in the worlds of craft and fashion. One super cool aspect of the felting process is that it can allow you to re-purpose old woven or knitted wool items that would otherwise sit in a closet and feed moths.

Got some sweaters? Throw them in the wash. Enjoy your new felt. Yes. It's about that simple!

Felted sweaters 4
My box o' sweaters (and other knitted stuff)

Wikipedia provides a great overview of felt and the various processes in which it is created. They clarify that felting woven or knit items, such as sweaters, is actually called "fulling". But lots of people still call it felting. Just so you know.

Once your item is felted, you can cut into it and sew it just like fabric. The fibers will be matted together and will not unravel. I think it's actually more forgiving than fabric: you don't need to worry about the edges.

Here are basic instructions for turning an old wool sweater (or scarf or an item you've knitted) into felt:

1. Check the label. For best results, it should be 100% wool or other animal fiber (cashmere, alpaca, etc). 90% and up is usually okay.

Felted sweaters 3

2. Deconstruct your item if needed. You'll want to cut out the major seams and all labels and linings, aiming to keep the largest amount of "fabric" as possible. Open up the sleeves, cut out pockets, buttons and embellishments, etc.

Felted sweaters 1
Waiting for the wash

3. Launder your items in a top-loading washing machine, set on Hot and Small load size (similar colors together so they don't bleed). The heat, water, detergent and agitation will cause the scales of the fibers to open up and lock together. The result will be shrunken, dense and soft. If it doesn't seem felted enough, repeat step 3 until you're happy with the result.

4. Dry everything in the dryer set on low. Press with a steam iron on wool setting if needed.

Felted sweaters 2
Knitting gauge samples that I felted, perfect for small projects! I think these may need another run in the wash, though.

If you want to go hard core, you can felt your old sweater in a tub of hot soapy water. You will need to scrub it against a washboard (I've heard bubble wrap works too) and basically provide as much agitation to the fibers as the washing machine would.

The most important thing to remember is: just do it. Seriously. There's nothing to be afraid of. Forget everything your mama taught you about laundry, you WANT it to shrink. And shrink it will. It may take a few tries or a bit of stalking the washing machine, but after a little while and very little effort, you will have felt in your hands.

So head on over to the thrift store, raid your husband's closet (if he's like mine, there's probably a pile of wool sweaters gathering dust in there), get some sweaters and get ready to felt!

I'd love to hear about your experiments with felting, whether you've done it before or are about to do it now. Any tips to share? Anything I forgot in this overview? Please tell us in the comments! (And don't forget the awesome giveaway from A Child's Dream this week! Go enter here.)

Angel-mini-button Great post Jen! I use a front-loading washing machine for all my fulling, and it works pretty well. Your main issue is the spin cycle, you don't want the high speed spinning to create permanent ridges or bumps in your felted piece. So I just turn my spin cycle off (or to low) and then roll the wet piece in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture. Works like a charm!


  1. ok...good info! and thanks for the tips on using a front loader angel!

  2. I found cutting sweaters apart before washing them creates too much fibers in the lint trap and on other sweaters in the same load. Just wait until after washing & shrinking to cut apart. Then use a hot iron with steam to flatten everything out.

    You can tell when a sweater is felted enough when you can no longer see the individual stitches of the yarn. Keep washing again until that happens, typically 2 or 3 washes will do it.

    sometimes there are sweaters that just don't felt up correctly. Could be because of coatings or additives on the wool by the manufacturer. Don't sweat it, just move on to the next sweater :)

  3. Jenny, can't wait to hear how it works out for you, I hope you'll share!

    Char, thank you so much for these additional tips!

  4. My tip - if you put everything in a fine mesh lingerie washing bag (or I have heard of folks using a pillowcase and I guess tying it closed?), it will catch the excess fibers that are released. Also, you can toss in a pair or two of jeans with the wash to help the agitation along.

  5. FWIW, technically this is not felting, it is fulling. felting is done with raw wool that has not been woven or knitted.

    the three elements that cause wool to full are: rapid and extreme change of water temperature from hot to cold--agitation--and some lubricant. the hot water causes the curled fibers to relax--the agitation causes them to mesh--the lubricant allows them to slip easily around each other--the shock to cold causes them to regain their initial curled state so that they lock together, forming a fabric. usually the lubricant is soap but it can be detergent or even just oil.

    if all three elements are present in adequate amounts, the wool will full very quickly. if any one element is missing the wool will not full, or will full incompletely, and it will take a long time for it to happen because you have to make up for the missing element by giving it more of the other two (for example, if the water temperature change is not fast enough, or not a great enough variable, then you have to have much stronger/longer agitation and more lubricant to make the curled fibers slip around each other more easily).

    save the lint that comes off when you full--you can use it to make felt. :)

  6. Thank you Kate and Rowena!! Loving all these tips!

  7. I use a top loading machine but it has no agitator so basically it's top load but acts as a front loader (make sense). I put 1 sweater per pillowcase, use an elastic ponytail holder to tie shut, throw it in the wash, hot water cycle and I usually put in 3 -4 sweaters at a time and maybe a couple of towels. But the sweaters will bleed so make sure they are similar colors. I don't check them at all during the cycle. When done, I throw them in the dryer, still in the pillowcase. and dry them on HOT. if they come out creased, you can rinse them and dry flat or use a steam iron. or just rewash if they didn't felt enough the first go 'round.

    check out my blog or flikr to see some of my felted wool items.

    Wool sweaters are so much fun!

  8. Once you do this can you use the wool for rug hooking and cut into stripes?


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