How I Felt: Machine vs Hand felting

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

Washing Machine Felting

When I first tried felting my knits, I followed the directions in the book I was following and tossed my work in the washer with a bit of soap and a couple pairs of jeans. It wasn’t until I tried felting smaller pieces and they got stuck under the agitator that I was motivated to try a new way tried felting by hand. 

Here’s a quick run down of how to felt in a top-loading washing machine. 

  1. Set the washer to hot wash/cold rinse and it’s longest wash cycle. 
  2. Set the water level to “low.”
  3. Add a bit of soap. 
  4. Put in your work along with a pair or two of jeans. 
  5. Close the lid and check your work every 5-10 minutes, stopping to check more frequently when the process is nearing completion.  
  6. You will probably have to turn back the dial to be sure the washer continues to agitate until the piece is felted. The longest time my washer will go is 17 minutes.

Benefits of using the washing machine:  

  • Less physical work.
  • Good for large or multiple pieces.
  • Good introduction to felting- the process is easy and magical, it's a gateway felting technique.

I’m sure there are more- my bias is already showing! Do you have any benefits to add here?

I would still felt in the machine for really large pieces that are simple shapes, but I am increasingly drawn to hand-felting. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I tossed something in the washer to felt it.

I’ll talk in detail about how I hand-felt next week, but for now, here are the benefits of hand-felting over machine felting.

Benefits of hand-felting 

  • Uses much less water
  • Gives you more control, including stopping to fix holes that may develop. Also, you can spend more time working on a section that may be slow to felt to ensure and evenly felted project. 
  • Yields a piece that is smoother and denser. I will talk about this more next week, but I really rub the piece firmly in my hands and I think the finished work looks better than the slightly “fluffy” results of machine felting. 
  • Best for small to medium pieces- which covers pretty much everything I design. 
  • You can see the magic happening as the piece felts. 
  • You can felt anywhere- outside, in the kitchen, with a friend. 

Do you have any additional reasons why you prefer hand-felting? Please share in the comments. 

OK finally, next week I'll talk about how I hand-felt.