How to Felt by Hand

  • 01 of 06

    Knit Up

    Unfelted swatch
    An unfelted swatch. Sarah White

    Most people prefer felting by machine if they have the option, but felting can also be done by hand, in your sink, a bucket, a washtub or even the bathtub. Depending on the size of the project, felting your project by hand can still be quick and easy.

    Felting a knitted swatch before knitting up the full garment is the best way to make sure the fabric felts the way you intend. For the purposes of this demonstration, I knitted a four inch wide and 5.25-inch tall swatch.

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  • 02 of 06

    Materials Needed

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  • 03 of 06

    Swish and Swash

    The swatch in the sink
    The swatch in the sink. Sarah White

    After you've knitted your sample swatch it's time to get the felting started, all you need is some hot water and some agitation. For small projects like a swatch, you can easily felt in a clean sink. If you have a bigger project to felt, you might want to try using a bucket or wash basin, or even your bathtub, though that would take a lot of water.

    Fill your receptacle of choice with enough hot water to comfortably cover your soon-to-be-felted item as you swish it around, but not so much that you'll splash the whole room with water.

    Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid (not laundry soap) to help open up the fibers and make your piece more receptive to felting.

    Use your hand or a stick to swish the piece around in the water. Use your knuckles for added oomph, and rub the piece along the bottom of the sink to get a little more agitation action.

    Wearing rubber gloves not only protects your hands while you do this, it can also add an extra bit of roughness if you have gloves with slightly textured palms.

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  • 04 of 06

    Checking Your Progress

    Taking stock of the swatch
    Taking stock of the swatch. Sarah White

    After a couple of minutes of swishing and flipping your swatch, pull it out and gently press out some of the water. Spread it on a towel and give it a look.

    This picture was taken about five minutes after I started. The swatch laid out flat in that time and was already beginning to get fuzzy. The height shrank in this time to about 4.5 inches, while the width stayed about the same as the original swatch.

    If you're not making good progress on getting your swatch to felt, shock it with a cold water rinse before returning it to the hot water. This seems to help the fibers come together a little more easily.

    Remember that every yarn, even different colors of the same yarn, can felt differently, have patience if your yarn isn't felting immediately.

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  • 05 of 06

    Declaring Victory

    Finished felting
    Fishined felting. Sarah White

    One of the hardest parts of felting is knowing when to quit. The answer is really a personal choice. Things can be felted gently so that the stitch definition has just started to go but the piece looks solid, or they can be felted quite harshly, where all semblance of individual stitches is completely gone.

    Naturally, it takes much longer to completely erase the individual stitches when you're felting by hand, so you might decide you don't want to take the felting as far as you might if you were felting by machine.

    One great thing about felting by hand is it is very easy to check your work so you can stop exactly when you want. Felting by hand is also a great choice when you're trying to get to a specific dimension.

    I decided my swatch was done when it measured about 3.75 inches all the way around. Most of the stitch definition is gone, though you can still see the stitches right on the edges, and the swatch has gotten quite fuzzy.

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  • 06 of 06

    Blocking Your Work

    Blocked felted swatch
    The blocked and felted swatch. Sarah White

    Once the felting process is complete, there's one more step you need to do in order to make your felted project come out right: blocking.

    Blocking helps make your finished project the shape that you want it to be. In the case of my swatch, that's a square. If you were felting a bag or another large project, you might block it by stuffing it with newspapers until it is the shape you want and allowing it to dry.

    Blocking a swatch is much simpler. Simply pin down one corner, then stretch gently until the sides are square and pin down the opposite corner. Repeat with the other two. Pin down the sides if necessary.

    Allow your swatch to dry and celebrate successfully felting without a machine!