How to Felt
Animal fibers such as wool seize up and shrink when immersed in hot water and agitated. The craft of felting takes advantage of this. The dense and heavy finished fabric is perfect for making pillows, stuffed animals, pot holders, purses, electronics cases, and all sorts of other interesting things.
There are two methods to making a felted piece. One involves using a washing machine. The other is done by hand. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and both will be discussed.
What should you felt? If you knit or crochet, you can make something. If not, you’ll need an item made from 100% wool which you could find at a thrift store. To make sure that the item or yarn has not been treated not to felt, check the washing instructions. If you are warned to hand wash in cold and lay flat to dry, the item should felt.
Felting Using the Washing Machine
You will need a zippered pillowcase, some laundry detergent, and a couple heavy items along with the item or items to be felted. The pillowcase is to keep bits of wool from coming off and clogging up your machine. The heavy items are to help agitate the item to be felted, so they should be old, like jeans or towels.
Set the washing machine to a normal (not delicate) cycle, using hot water and the longest agitation possible. Put the item to be felted into the pillowcase, zip up the pillowcase, and place in the machine with the heavy items. Put in a little detergent, and start the machine.
You will want to check the item from time to time to make sure that it hasn’t shrunk too much. (If you have a machine that you can’t stop in the middle of the cycle, you won’t have this level of control.) Stop the machine and fish out the pillowcase. A pair of tongs will help. Check the item. Has it shrunk enough? If not, put it back in and start the machine again.
Once the machine goes into the rinse cycle, the felting is done, so you may want to give your item more time. You can reset the machine as many times as you need to get the item as small as you want. When it’s the right size and consistency, pull out the item and let the machine finish the rest of its cycle.
Felting by Hand
This is an option if your washing machine won’t let you check it during the felting process. It’s also great for getting out your frustrations. You will need a bucket, hot water, soap, and some sort of tool for swishing around the wool item.
First, put some soap in the bucket. You won’t need a lot. It can be laundry soap or any other soap you have on hand. Then fill the bucket with hot water. It doesn’t have to be too hot for your hands to handle, although hotter water is better. Then add the item that you’re going to felt.
Next, your job is to agitate the wool item so that it will felt. A tool of some sort will help. Basically, knock the item around as much as possible. Squish it. Hit it. Knead it. Beat it up.
If the water cools down, replace it with more hot water. You may be at this for a while. It will seem like nothing at all is happening at the beginning, but the more you work at it, the more the fibers will seize up.
Since you will be “hands on”, you’ll be able to tell the moment that the piece has shrunk down to the perfect size. That’s when you take the item from the water and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. If you wish (though it’s not necessary) you can rinse it with cool water.
Once the item has been removed from the washing machine or the hot water, it’s time to let it dry. This is best done by laying the item out on a couple towels (there will be a lot of moisture) for a couple days. Make sure to shape the item as you want it while it is still wet. Then just leave it alone.
After the item has fully dried, you will be able cut and sew the resulting fabric. You can make a bag or a purse, or you could take advantage of how dense the fabric is and use it as a pot holder or placemat. There are so many great projects that use felted fabric. You are only limited by your imagination.