Felting with a Front-Loading Washing Machine

Eco-friendlier Felting

Stripy felted tote bag on chest of drawers and balls of wool
Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

I was excited when my husband and I decided to buy a new front-loading washing machine, but I was a little worried about my prospects for successfully felting in a front loader.

More and more people are choosing these machines for their eco-cred (they use a lot less water than a conventional top loader), but it seems to be a popular misconception that it's too difficult to felt in such a machine and thus we shouldn't bother.

The truth is it's not any more difficult, you just need to bear a few things in mind when felting in a front-loading washing machine.

Top-Loader Versus Front-Loader: What's the Difference?

First, a few definitions. Most people in America at least have top-loading washing machines, meaning the machine lid is on the top and clothes are loaded into the machine from the top.

These machines have an agitator that sticks up into the cavity of the machine, which makes felting in a top loader really easy because the machine helps rough up the knit fabric, which is one essential to effective felting.

Front-loaders, on the other hand, typically have a door on the front that opens out. They don't have an agitator in the cavity; it's just a big empty space where you put your clothes.

The barrel of the machine rocks back and forth to agitate the garments; it also uses a lot less water and clothes are never fully submerged.

What This Means for Felting

That all sounds like bad news when you're used to felting in a top-loading machine. Without fully submerging a project in hot water and giving it tons of agitation, how does it felt?

Another issue that sometimes keeps people from wanting to felt with top loaders is that they usually lock when in operation so you can't check your project in the middle of a cycle. That makes the whole process that much scarier and out of your control.

You don't have to worry too much about either of these "problems." In fact, other than the inability to check your project partway through, felting in a front loader is pretty much identical to felting in a top loader.

How to Felt in a Front Loader

Here's my method for front loader felting.

  1. First, knit the piece as you normally would for any other type of felting. That means using a bigger knitting needle than the yarn calls for, and making the project bigger than you want it to turn out. To know exactly how much bigger, you'll need to make and machine felt a swatch in the same manner you plan to felt the project itself.
  2. Weave in all ends securely and do any sewing that needs to be done.
  3. Put the item to be felted in a large zippered pillowcase (or a case tied closed) and add to the machine. I didn't add a towel or anything else to the load to up the agitation, but if you find that felting is really slow going in your machine, you might want to try this (I never did it with my top loader, either).
  4. Add a tiny bit (like, maybe a teaspoon) of wool wash to the detergent dispenser.
  5. Run a short cycle with hot water and a cold water rinse. My machine has an option to drain the machine without spinning, so I use that, but a gentle spin shouldn't be a problem. On my machine, the whole cycle took about 30 minutes.
  1. At the end of the cycle, remove the item and decide if it's felted enough. If not, run it through again in the same way. If you're done, roll the item in a towel to get out as much water as you can, then use fresh towels to hold the piece to the shape you want as it dries.

My piece ended up with a bit more stitch definition than I normally like; it's also not as small as I expected (I didn't make a gauge swatch since I'd worked with this yarn before in a different machine). I could have remedied both with another cycle, but I really like it just the way it is.

That's the beauty of felting: you can always keep going by hand or by machine until you get the look you like (so long as you don't take it too far).