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Felting is huge. From books to patterns to projects and blogs, it seems that nearly every knitter has caught the felting bug. Or have they?

Felting, in the eye of the fiber arts purist, typically involves unspun wool/fleece that is turned into usable fabric by repeated stabbing with something known as a felting needle, which could double as a torture device. Felting needes are very sharp, come in a variety of thicknesses/gauges, and have many barbs on them [sort of like a fish hook with lots of points ]. Felters accomplish their task by holding their intended target over a felting block or form [typically foam] and taking out their frustrations and bonding fibers together by pushing the top layer into the lower one and interlocking the fibers with this barbed needle. That's not why we're here today.

It turns out that what most of us who are knitters are doing is technically known "fulling", which uses spun yarns to created a dense, durable fabric. The yarns of choice are made from animal hair that is not treated to be machine washable [superwash]. This type of project is typically accomplished by knitting at a very loose gauge, usually with a needle around 2mm larger in size than you would normally use for the thickness of yarn [e.g. using a 6.5mm needle with a worsted-weiht yarn instead of a 4.5mm]. This produces a completed knitting project that is up to double in size than the ultimate finished object. The shrinking is most often done in a washing machine, taking advantage of temperature, agitation and time. The warm water lifts and softens the scales of the fiber, and the friction helps them interlock and form a firm fabric [just like your hair will form dredlocks with heat, moisture, and friction]. You can also hand felt in your sink with a good bit of effort and patience [and tolerance for dishpan hands]. Some call the finished fabric "boiled wool", but I don't recommend simmering your knitting in a pot on the stove - I've seen it done and the result is typically misshapen, not completely felted, and the colors bleed off in an unusual manner.

Yarn selection is key to the look of your finished object. The most popular choices for felting include yarns made from wool, mohair, alpaca, angora, or llama - or a combination of these. Each animal fiber lends a different characteristic to the finished fabric, so keep your end result in mind. Wool [from sheep] typically felts [fulls] into the most smooth fabric, but sometimes a little mohair or other type is a nice addition. For a slightly feral, haloed look, turn to a yarn with a bit of mohair in it, such as Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride or Mountain Colors Mountain Goat. For a supple, yet solid, fabric, try something with some alpaca or angora in it. And for a felted yeti look, the more llama in the yarn, the better [Cascade Yarns Pastaza makes great textured felt].

Color and dyeing significantly impact the end result of your felted item. White, natural, or brightly colored yarns may go through a bleaching process where some of the scales that are important to the felting process are chemically burned off. This may render the yarn unable to felt or cause it to felt very strangely. Some brands do have neutral shades that will felt, but experienced felters are your best source for "the skinny" on which brands and colors may be good to use or avoid. Always test felt a swatch when using multiple colors, even within the same line of yarn. Different shades felt at different rates, as do different brands of yarns.

Tweeds, marls, and heathers produce amazing fabric, as sometimes the felting process causes different colors or textures to "come forward" in the finished product. But sometimes a great yarn, which might have amazing pops of color in it when knitted, may blur and the color nubs may either disappear or fall out during the washing process.

How to felt

The actual felting process - taking your knitting for a trip to the Maytag hot tub - is no slam dunk. In over two years of making and felting accessory-type items [hats, clogs, bags, scarves, vests, sweaters, and more], I've collected a few nuggets of wisdom to share with you here. Start with a tablespoon of soap [any laundry soap works equally well], your lowest water setting [smallest load], the roughest agitation ["soiled" as opposed to "regular" or "delicate"], and a hot wash cycle. The hot water out of your tank is typically hot enough for our purposes, and adding a kettle of boiling water only opens up the opportunity to scorch yourself - in transit or otherwise. Don't do it. Some advocate placing your knitted item in a pillowcase [zippered protector type] or in a mesh lingerie bag, but I abandoned those long ago for a dip straight in the water. The bags are recommended to keep loose fuzz from accumulating in your washer's water pump, but there are ways around that I'll share shortly.

About five minutes after agitation begins, check the status of your items. They will actually have gotten larger, as they will have relaxed in the heat of the water. This is perfectly normal, so don't be wigged out. Back into the wash for another 5-10 minutes [I always make regular checks on the progress] and you can then stop the agitation, drain/wring out your item, and see how it's coming along. Now is when you can pull it back into shape if it's twisted, or you can separate pieces that are sticking together and shouldn't be. You may notice some color shedding, as well - do not be alarmed. Most items will "crock" a little bit, and reds, blues, and black are notorious. Keep checking at 5-10 minute intervals until you have reached felted nirvana, which may take multiple wash cycles [do not run the entire machine cycle, but just rerun the wash portion]. Then it's time to tidy up before finishing.

If you used a pillowcase, there will be lumps of sluffed-off fiber in the bag so clean up is a breeze. If you did free-range felting like I do, you'll have woolen masses in the tub that need to come out before the spin cycle. Dip in with your hands or use a mesh strainer to remove as much of the loose fiber as possible. This is nasty stuff for your water pump and will cause problems - we've burned out two pumps so far with all of our felting. If some does manage to slip through the system, it may well pass into the pipes and be gone. If not, you'll end up with a mass stuck in the water pump that requires removing the back panel to your washing machine, removing the exit hose [and fighting the water that spews out], and extricating the wad stuck inside. I've pulled many a wharf rat out of our trusty washer.

If you notice, during the felting process, that a certain area isn't felting quite as fast as the rest of the surfaces, you can spot-felt by hand by rubbing and abusing that specific area. This is especially common when combining different brands of yarn in the same project [which I don't always recommend]. Again, felting a test swatch may well reveal any potential issues like this, so I strongly suggest you do one when mixing and matching yarns.

If your item is resisting felting or stops shrinking before you'd like it to, remove it from the washer, wring it out, and a quick plunge into an ice water bath and back into the tub will work wonders [especially with yarns like Noro Kureyon, which can resist felting form time to time]. If you think extra abrasion would help, toss a couple pairs of old jeans [never NEVER use towels] in with the felting wannabe and see if that speeds the process.

Once your wash tub is free of furry flotsam, spin out the water [take your item OUT of the tub before this step] and get ready for a cold water rinse. When the basin fills again, dunk your felty goodness in the clear water and slosh it around to remove any traces of soap. DO NOT let it agitate in the rinse cycle, as additional agitation will cause additional shrinkage. Then you're ready for a final spin. Some folks don't recommend letting your felt go through a spin cycle, as it may leave a permanent crease in your garment. I have never had this happen, and I spin every item to remove as much moisture as possible. If you don't care to risk it, roll your felt up in a large bath towel and squeeze it to remove the water. Then it's on to blocking.

How to block

Wet wool items, even felted woolens, are extremely malleable. It's time to make the most of your felted beauty and shape it exactly as you want. Block hats over head-sized bowls or other items that will form them as you would like. Shape your bags with boxes for sharp corners or shove them full of plastic grocery bags to achieve the perfect style. Stuff your slippers or clogs with plastic cups for a round, attractive opening. And let them dry completely [as much as two days, depending on the weather] before removing the blocking forms. Finish with a light brushing or a trim with scissors or a beard trimmer [to remove excess hairiness] and you've finished your own amazing accessory.

I asked several knitters why they feel drawn to felted projects, and the most common responses centered around how it was new and different and that it allowed them to make something both decorative and very useful that typically garnered comments and compliments. Felted projects are uniquely you - from color to size to embellishments and more. And the process is enticing - both the knitting and the felting of the knitted item. One even mentioned that she was drawn to the warmth and durability of the finished garment, and that she could make something so wonderful for a fraction of the prices seen in stores.

Why not try it for yourself. Come on in, the water's fine!


Cranley, Maddy [1996]. Fulling Around With Felting: A Maddy Laine Handbook. Penguin Lane Press: Pointe Claire, Quebec.

Galeskas, Beverly [2003]. Felted Knits. Interweave Press: Loveland, CO.


Rob and his partner, Matt Waldrop, run their own yarn shop - ThreadBear Fiber Arts Studio. He blogs about this and life in general in Columbus, Indiana [yes, Indiana] at BlackDog, which is inspired by their black Lab, Connor [with a little help from her new brother, Tate, who adopted them in July].

Rob was dubbed "Felting King" by Kathy Wortel this past summer, a title he proudly wears [without the ermine-trimmed robe, thank you].

The current phase of his felting and experimenting involves taking hot water and agitation to a variety of fibers and blends, including silk and wool and mohair as well as combining non-felting yarns like cottons and man-mades with woolen fibers just for the texture of it all.