Felt is a thick, matted fabric created by applying moisture, heat, and agitation to yarn from certain natural animal fibers such as 100% wool or a blend of wool and mohair. Machine washable wool (“superwash”), cotton, silk, and man-made fibers will not felt, but can be used along with a strand of wool to create interesting textures.
Here are some tips for planning a felting project:
- Yarn – choose a yarn that is lighter in weight than what the pattern calls for (because it will thicken up when you felt it), and make sure it is “feltable.”
- Gauge – work the design at a very loose gauge so the stitches are light and airy. You should be able to see space between the stitches. If your stitches are too tight, the piece may not felt well.
- Swatch first – it’s always better to experiment with felting on a small piece than to spend weeks or months working on a project only to be disappointed with the way it comes out of the washer.
To felt a knitted item, put it in a zippered pillow case (to catch the lint) and toss it in the washing machine. Set the machine for the smallest load size with hot wash, cold rinse, and heavy-duty agitation. Add a couple of tablespoons of laundry detergent or no-rinse wool soap, and turn on the machine.
Check the felting every five minutes. Some yarns will felt within the first few minutes, while others may take two or three cycles. When the fibers are matted and you don’t want the item to shrink any more, take it out and gently rinse it in tepid water in the sink. Roll the rug in a towel and squeeze out the excess water.
You can also let the rug continue to shrink and go through the rinse and spin cycles in the machine. Some people report that this results in permanent creases in the felt, but I have never seen this happen.