How I felt: What is felting?

::Techniques, patterns and inspiration about hand-felting your knits from a felt-centric designer.

Last week I introduced this new series, check out that post for the whole schedule of posts. 

What is felting?

Felting transforms wool fibers into a firm, dense and new material. Other types of fibers can be felted, particularly animal fiber like mohair and alpaca. But I have most experience with wool, so that’s what I’ll talk about here. Also, there are so many experts out there who talk about wet-felting roving, so I’m just focusing on felting your knits.

Wool fibers have tiny scales that permanently lock together after being rubbed together. Heat and soap expedite this process.

Heat + Agitation/Friction + Wool = Felt

is a the standard equation but I’d add-

Heat + Agitation/Friction + Pressure + Wool= Felt in way less time

I’ll talk about the benefits and results of hand-felting under pressure in a future post.

Felting turns knitting from this:  

Into this:

In a couple weeks I'll show the best way I've found to hand-felt and finish knitting. 

Things to remember about felting:

1. It’s permanent

Once you felt something, there is no “undoing” it. The felted fibers are not ever going to unlock and go back to being yarn.

2. Stuff shrinks

As a result of this process, your knitting will shrink considerably. From 30-50% of the height and 20-30% of the width. Each yarn behaves differently, so if the size of your finished piece is important, it’s best to do a gauge swatch and measure the rate of shrinkage.

I wish I had felted this cozy a bit more.

3. Your work can almost always be felted more

I’ll talk about this more in a couple weeks, but felting can produce a range of results depending on your preference and how much work you want to do. You could felt something so it ever-so-slightly shrinks and still has relatively normal stitch definition, or you could keep going and felt the smithereens out of it until you have something that’s so dense and monolithic, it’s impossible to tell it was even knitted. (I prefer the second approach which is more labor intensive but is more magical…)

 4. Some yarns don’t felt well

I have this perfect almost-neon yellow yarn that I love. It’s 100% wool and a brand that I know felts like gangbusters. I tried to design a felted slipper using this yarn and it never worked. That yarn would. Not. Felt no matter how much I worked. Some light colors of yarn have been bleached or otherwise chemically treated and their fibers have been altered in such a way that they will never felt all the way. This is another good reason to felt your gauge swatches.

What do you know to be true about felting? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Next week I’ll talk about  these things:

  • Why felt your knits?
  • What is felt suited for?
  • Choosing yarn for felting.