How I Felt: What is felting good for?

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

Why felt your knits? 

Felting changes the nature of your knitting. It becomes stiff, solid and can support itself. The knitting shrinks, becomes much denser and the stitch definition disappears. Sometimes you almost can’t tell how the piece was constructed by looking at it- it looks like it could have been wet-felted 

Just as there is alchemy in turning string into fabric with two pointy sticks, felting brings additional magic to the fiber artist’s repertoire, it’s just a matter of finding or designing patterns that best use the characteristics of this material.

What is felt suited for? 

Felt is not really well-suited for garments as it lacks drape and I think it would be tricky to calculate the rate of shrinkage for something like a pullover that has so many different measurements (though I do dream of making a slim, zippered felted vest someday) but it shines for smaller projects like accessories and toys. Search by "felting" attribute on Ravelry, and you'll see a lot of good examples. 

Felt is very sturdy, so it works well for something that will get a lot of wear, like a favorite toy or pair of slippers. The knitted and felted toys I made years ago still look nice after enduring much play and I think plain knitted pieces would not look so nice, as they would certainly have pilled by now and might be loosing some stuffing. Also, I think knitted toys that are not felted tend to fall into the "stuffed animal" camp. Which is fine, but limiting to me as a designer. Felting allows you to make things like the horses I designed that can stand on their own or my Nesting Blocks that can sturdily stack.

Felt is thick and smooth, so it would work well for rugs, mats or coasters. If you need something that's nice and flat, felt works well. It has way more heft and visual presence than a piece of plain knitting. Also, felting makes knitting much denser, so it’s good for mittens or super-warm hats. 

Felt has great body, so if you want a bag that will stay standing up when you set it down, or you’d like a bowl to hold your jewelry, it’s a good choice. Hats are also something that work well when made from felted knitting. They hold their shape, but are still lightweight and warm. This quality really adds to the functionality of felt, and it's one I'd like to continue to exploit in my designs.  

I began to explore the many options of embellishing felted knits in my book. Because it’s a smooth, even surface, it’s much easier to add embroidery, beads, needle felting or even sequins after you knit and felt. This opens up so many amazing possibilities. Yesterday, I stenciled paint right on to a felted mason jar cozy, another awesome way to bring a new dimension to my knitting. I’m really excited about exploring these options more with some of my self-published designs. 

What yarn works best for felting? 

Any non-superwash wool yarn or mixed-fiber yarn that has a majority percentage of wool is worth trying to felt. 

I have a few favorite yarns that produce predictable, even felting results. 

Cascade 220 makes a solid, supple piece of material when it’s felted. I particularly like the way the 220 Heathers look after felting. The colors are more complex and interesting than solid yarn. Plus, Cascade comes in a bajillion colors (except for the perfect shade of orange) and is readily available to me locally.

Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsed is another favorite of mine. The bit of mohair makes it fuzzy, but sometimes that suits the design. Alternately, you can shave off the fuzz with a disposable razor. It makes fabric that is thicker than light-worsted yarns like Cascade 220. There are also some really nice heathers for this yarn too. 

Manos Del Uruguay Wool Clasica is a favorite of mine if I want to design something that has a bit of color-variation but is still pretty much solid. Also, the thick and thin nature of the yarn makes felt that is a bit more rustic looking, which is nice sometimes.

Many, many other yarns work well for felting, so it’s worth experimenting outside the “standard” worsted wool offerings. For example, I had fun working with Brooklyn Tweed’s Loft, a fingering weight felt-able yarn to make a tiny pair of baby Mary Jane’s for my book. It is the thinnest knitted felt I’ve made and I have plans to try some more felting with this special yarn. 

Next week I'll talk about washing-machine felting versus hand felting, and which method works best for different projects.