Felting is an ancient craft that is still popular today. The felting process transforms wool into a dense cloth by bonding and shrinking the fibers together. And although there are three types of felting—wet felting, needle felting, and commercial felting—this tutorial focuses on wet felting.
Wet felting is a great way to create a soft and dense fabric out of woolen knit, crochet, or woven projects: great for slippers, bags, mittens, and more. The process uses heat, agitation, and moisture to shrink and bond the wool fibers together. Don't let this description scare you away from trying wet felting. All you need is some yarn, a pattern, and a washing machine!
Equipment / Tools
- Felting pattern
- Tools required in your pattern
- Pillowcases or pillow protectors
- Top-loading washing machine
- 100% animal fiber yarn for your project
- Any other materials listed in your pattern
- Small amount of mild detergent, soap flakes, shampoo
When choosing yarn for a felting project, make sure the yarn is made with 100% animal fibers such as wool or mohair. Check the laundry care symbols or instructions indicate hand wash only. Washable wools such as those labeled "superwash" will not felt.
If you are following a specific pattern, use that as a guide as to what brand, type, and weight of yarn to buy. Fibers will felt differently, depending on these characteristics.
Use the same brand of yarn for the entire project, even if you are using different colors. Rather than creating your wooly item from scratch and then felting it, you can also use an old store-bought wool pullover or hat. Many people are accidentally exposed to felting when a favorite sweater gets mixed in with the other washing!
Choosing a Pattern
Choose whatever craft you enjoy doing the most as you search for a felting pattern. These resources for knitting and crocheting might be helpful:
If the project you find comes with felting directions, follow them carefully. A well-written pattern has been tested by its designer to ensure the finished project will turn out correctly. The slipper you see here was knit from the Felted Clogs Made Easy pattern.
If you find a pattern you like that was not created especially for felting, you may be able to adjust it for felting. During the felting process, you can expect the piece to shrink about 15 to 20% in width and 25 to 40% in height.
The best way to prevent felting surprises is to make a test piece. To do this, create a swatch, knitting or crocheting a square measuring about four to six inches square (you'll get more accurate information from a bigger swatch). Run that square through the felting process described below to see what kind of results you get. Using those results, adjust your pattern as desired.
Preparing To Felt
While it's possible to felt wool projects by hand, the process is easier, quicker, and even safer if you use a washing machine.
- Following your pattern, make your wool project.
- Place your item in an old pillowcase and tie or zip it shut. The pillowcase can end up covered with stray bits of wool on the inside, so you may not want to use the ones you sleep on!
- Put the pillowcase in your washing machine. You can also add a pair of jeans to create more agitation if you want.
If you're creating more than one felted piece, you may want to place each one in its own pillowcase. When those items need to match, such as with a pair of slippers, you should felt both at the same time, so they felt equally.
Add a few drops of mild detergent to your washing machine. Set it to run on a short cycle with hot water, at a low water level.
- During agitation, check on the felting progress every five minutes. If you want it to felt more, place it back in the hot water and reset the wash cycle so it continues to agitate. After one cycle in a front-loading washer, the slipper here has just begun to felt; you can still see the outline of knit stitches.
Continue to check it about every 5 to 10 minutes until it is the desired size and texture. It can take several cycles to lose the stitch definition and for the fibers to blend together.
Once you determine it is done, simply let the washing machine finish running it through the rinse cycle. Do not let it run through the spin cycle, or your piece may cause permanent creases.
If you prefer, you can remove your piece and hand rinse it in cold water and gently ring it out and pat it with a towel.
While your piece is wet, take some time to stretch and manipulate it into shape. Do not put it in the dryer, or you may end up with just a clump of wool fibers.
To dry your felting project, lay a clean, dry towel down on a hard surface, away from bright sunlight and direct heat. Lay your project down flat on top of the towel. Depending on the item, you may want to hold it in place by covering it with a second clean, dry towel and then setting heavy objects on top. Or if it's a hat, stretch it over an appropriate size bowl or ball.
Check your piece often to make sure it is drying into the shape you desire. Turn it over occasionally to let air at parts of the project, speeding up the drying process. Typically it takes a couple of days to dry.
Once your felting project is dry, it is done! But you may need to tidy it up a bit. Trim off any pilling or longer fibers that were caused by the felting process with sharp scissors. If you felted an old wool sweater, you can cut through the felted material and sew with the newly made felt!