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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!