How to Felt With a Top-Loading Machine

Knit felt
Janamunky/Flickr/CC By 2.0
  • 01 of 05

    How to Knit for Felting

    Unfelted swatches.
    Sarah E. White

    Felting has become very popular among knitters, and it's easy to see why. There's something magical about knitting something that starts out huge and awkward and ends up being a completely different fabric after spending some time in the washing machine.

    Just about any knitted object can be felted, from flat pieces like coasters and afghan squares to bags, belts, hats, home accessories, and more. But felting can be a little mysterious and intimidating to those who have never done it before. Here's a quick rundown on how to felt any knitted object using a top-loading washing machine.

    For your first felting project, you might want to start with some simple knitted squares, so you don't have to worry that you're going to mess up something you spent a long time working on.

    For this article, we knitted two sample swatches of about five inches each, casting on 25 stitches with Paton's Classic Wool and knitting until the swatch was square. Any kind of 100 percent wool yarn that is not labeled "superwash" will work. One sample was knit in garter stitch and the other in stockinette. It's a great idea to use a knitting needle a couple of sizes larger than the ball band calls for because the open spaces between the stitches actually make the felting easier.

    When you are finished knitting your swatch, make sure you weave in the ends very securely or they could come loose in the wash, making a hole in your felted project.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Getting Ready to Felt Knitting

    Put swatches in a pillowcase to make felting less messy.
    Sarah E. White

    Felting is caused by heat and agitation. You want to set your washing machine on the lowest water setting, the highest temperature and the longest agitation possible. Turn on the machine and let it fill with water.

    Some people add laundry detergent or baking soda to the water when they felt; we have not seen a difference between using soap and not using soap, other than without soap the process is a little less messy. If you want to use detergent, use about a quarter of the amount you would use to wash your clothes. You can also use a squirt of wool wash, which is what we usually do.

    Another point where felters differ is on the issue of bagging your items to be felted. Many people suggest using a zip-top pillowcase to hold items when they are being felted, while others say it isn't necessary unless you are felting very small items that could otherwise be lost in the machine.

    We think using a pillowcase is a good idea. If any fuzz is released while your project is felting, it will end up in the bag rather than in your washing machine, where it could cause expensive damage to your machine. Using a case also makes it easier to fish your pieces out of the water.

    When the machine is full of water and begins to agitate, drop your bundle in the machine.

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  • 03 of 05

    Set a Timer and Keep Track of Your Felting

    felting knitting progress
    Sarah E. White

    It's important to check on your project frequently to see if it is felting. Set a timer for five minutes and stop the machine when the timer goes off.

    Because you put your work in a zippered pillowcase, it will be easy to find your pieces. A pair of kitchen tongs will make it easier to pull the case out of the hot water.

    Pull out your knitted swatch and gently wring out some of the water. Take a look at what you've got. Spread a dry towel out somewhere, lay down your swatch, and grab your tape measure.

    This first time out of the washer, you might find that something really strange has happened. Instead of shrinking, your "felted" fabric might actually be getting bigger. That's because wool tends to relax when it gets wet, so it may stretch a little before it starts getting smaller. Don't worry, just put it back in and start the machine again.

    Keep setting your timer and peaking in on your work every five minutes or so to see how the felting is going. You might need to reset your machine to start the agitation cycle again once or twice, depending on the length of the cycle and how the felting is going.

    Every piece of knitting is different in terms of how it will felt. Some colors of the same brand of yarn felt differently, and it's a common experience that white or very light colored yarns are more difficult to felt.

    It is important not to let your washer drain or spin during the felting process, so make sure you keep an eye and an ear on the machine and reset it when it starts to drain. Just stop the machine and turn the dial back around so it begins to agitate again.

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  • 04 of 05

    When Is Felting Done?

    finished felting project
    Sarah E. White

    After a few of these five-minute sessions, you'll start to see that the individual stitches are disappearing and the fabric is getting smaller. Again, different yarns will felt at different rates, and some shrink more than others.

    The fabric will start feeling more firm, solid and somewhat thicker as it gets closer to being done. Once you start seeing the stitches disappearing, start checking the pieces more often, every one or two minutes, to make sure you don't take the felting process too far.

    If you are working on a felted project from a pattern, the felting is done when the piece measures the size that the pattern called for.

    If you're doing something like a swatch or making a project from scratch, it's a little less scientific. The felting is done when it looks and feels done. Stitches shouldn't have definition and the fabric should be smooth, solid and somewhat firm.

    When you decide the felting is finished, let the machine drain and turn it off. Rinse your pieces with cool water and wring them out gently. Place them on a thick towel.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    How to Finish Your Felting Project

    Blocked felted pieces blocked and ready to dry
    Sarah E. White

    Once you've felted and rinsed your piece, the final step is to block the project. This is done in basically the same manner that any other project is blocked when wet.

    If you're working with flat pieces, stretch and pin them to the desired shape. If you're working with a finished piece like a bag, hat, or bowl, you'll need to shape it to the proper shape and size and leave it to dry.

    Anything can be used to help block pieces into shapes. Bowls are good for hats and bowls, while boxes and books can be used for things that are square or rectangular shaped.

    Let the piece dry thoroughly before unpinning or removing the work from whatever you're using as a mold.