What most people call felting is actually the process of fulling. The difference between the two terms refers to whether or not the fibers have been worked up into a piece of fabric before being agitated in hot water. Fulling is shrinking a piece of fabric that has been crocheted, woven or knit, while felting is shrinking loose pieces of animal fiber, like roving. For the sake of familiarity, I refer to the process of shrinking crocheted fabric as felting (but at least now you know the real meanings!). The key elements of felting are heat, soap, water and agitation. The water must be hot and soapy to get the fibers to open up, and the agitation is necessary for encouraging the fibers to tangle and lock together.
The cool thing about felting is that it will completely transform a project from something big and loose and possibly unattractive into something beautiful and functional. It also hides mistakes. If you have a hole in the fabric or forgot to make a few decreases, it will all be covered up in the wash. After it’s shrunk to the desired size, you can stretch, smooth and shape most mistakes right out of the fabric.
What types of yarn will felt? You can only felt yarns that are made of untreated animal fibers, such as alpaca, sheep, rabbit and even dog fur. Wools that say superwash on the label cannot be felted because they have been treated to prevent felting in the wash. You can try to felt blended yarns containing only a percentage of animal fiber, but I recommend that you felt a test swatch first to make sure you’ll get your desired result. Note that not all yarns felt in the same way: some felt more quickly and others felt with more texture.
What if I’m using a different yarn than is called for in a pattern? If you need to substitute a yarn and the finished size of the project is important, always felt a test swatch of the new yarn. Some yarns yield drastically different results than others. Refer to the tips on designing your own felted project (see page 124) to learn more about making substitute yarn work in any project.
What size hook should I use? To have room to shrink, your stitches must be loose, so use a larger hook size than what is normally recommended for the yarn when you plan to felt your project. All of the projects in this book will direct you to the proper hook size for successful felting.
How much will the fabric shrink? The longer you wash the item, the more it will shrink. Generally I’ve found that crocheted fabric shrinks anywhere from 15 to 35 percent, and it’s unlikely that the width and length will shrink evenly. The only way to know how a particular yarn will react is to felt a test swatch.
Can I put a felted project in the dryer? Putting a felted project in the dryer may help remove excess water and shorten the drying time; however, the dryer may also cause warps or creases.
Can I felt lace or textured stitch patterns? Basic stitch patterns deliver the best results when felting. Lace and textured stitch patterns get lost in felted fabric. Remember to felt a test swatch when you’re using a new stitch pattern to make sure you get your desired result.
How do I keep edges from stretching? Open edges tend to stretch more in the wash than edges that have been joined together. To keep any unattached edges from felting unevenly use a cotton fiber either to loosely baste them or to work a row of single crochet along the edge.
Can I change the thickness of the fabric? The easiest way to adjust the thickness of a finished fabric is to change the stitch or yarn weight before you felt. Try working with a double strand of wool to create a thick fabric or working in the front loop only to create a thin fabric.
How can I find out whether my unlabeled stash yarn will felt? Wrap the yarn around your fingers a few times and break it off. Dip the loop in a bowl of hot water with a little soap and rub it quickly between your hands. If it gets fuzzy and tangled together, it’s good to go. If you can restore the yarn to its original condition, put it back in the stash.
Can I cut felted fabric? Yep. Cut, sew, glue, embroider, bead — whatever you want, it should hold together.
How to Felt
To felt your crocheted project in the washing machine:
1. Place your project in a zippered laundry bag or pillowcase and either zip it closed or close it tightly with a rubber band. Encasing the project in a bag will keep lumps of wool from bunching up in the machine.
2. Set the machine to the smallest load setting, the hot wash, and the cold rinse. Heat is essential to the felting process, so if you don’t think the water is getting hot enough, add a pot of boiling water to turn it up a notch.
3. Put three to four tablespoons of baking soda or a small amount of detergent in the machine and add an old pair of jeans, a shoe, or a rubber ball to increase agitation. Check the machine often (to keep it from moving on to the rinse and spin cycles) until your project reaches the desired size and texture. I leave the machine lid open so I can reset the wash cycle as many times as necessary until it’s done.
4. Remove your project from the bag and gently roll it in a towel to remove the excess water.
5. Remove any basting stitches and shape your project by pulling and smoothing out any warps or wrinkles. Insert a form if necessary to help the object keep its shape while it dries.
To felt your crocheted project by hand:
1. Using hot, soapy water, vigorously scrub the project until it’s felted to the desired consistency. To increase the agitation, scrub the piece on a bamboo sushi mat or washboard. Felt small pieces, projects with raw edges that have been cut, or spots that need extra attention by hand. Note that felting by hand will take a little longer than felting by machine and it will leave your hands in desperate need of moisturizer.