Monday, January 9, 2012

Make It Mondays! Tutorial: How to Felt Natural Fiber Sweaters..aka Washing Machine Felting 411

You've come across awesome felted wool sweater projects on the Internet, but aren't quite sure how to felt the sweaters? No more fears...this Make It Mondays tutorial will have you working with your very own felted "material" in just a few hours. :)

Items Needed:
A sweater of at least 60 to 65% natural fibers (wool, lambswool, angora, cashmere, alpaca)
An old pillowcase
A large rubberband
Liquid laundry soap

1. I like to felt several sweaters at once to save water, energy, and time. It works best if you load the washing machine with sweaters of similar fiber content. For example, today I am felting all cashmere/cashmere blend sweaters.

2. Place each sweater in it's own pillowcase. If you ever find the zippered ones, those are awesome. Otherwise, after placing each sweater in it's own pillowcase, fasten the pillowcase securely (two or three wraps) with a large rubber band. Your washing machine, your family members and everyone else except the washing machine repair person will thank you for using the pillowcase tip. Otherwise you may plug up your machine with fiber lint and lint from different sweaters will stick to other sweaters! This is a special concern with those lovely, but fuzzy angora/angora blend sweaters.

3. Pour your normal amount of liquid laundry detergent into the bottom of the washing machine and then load your pillowcases of sweaters. Set your machine on max water level and on HOT, HOT (or hot, and then the warmest rinse setting you have available.) LEAVE THE LID OF THE WASHING MACHINE OPEN.

4.Start your machine for the longest agitation cycle available. The reason you have left the lid open is that so your machine will stop after the agitation cycle. It is human nature to get busy "doing something else" and forget to reset the agitation.

5. After your machine stops, check how well your sweaters are felting. My general rule of thumb, from years of experience, is as follows: Coarse/rough wools will only require one agitation cycle while finer/more delicate fibers and blends will take two to three total agitation cycles. If your sweaters are felted nicely, then close the lid and let your washing machine finish it's entire cycle. If they are NOT felted yet, simply restart the beginning of the agitation cycle again, leaving the lid open until you're sure everything is felted nicely.
(Don't fret over this too much when you are just beginning to learn how to machine wet felt. If it is under felted, you can repeat the entire process.)

6. After the machine cycle is totally completed (spin and all), remove your sweaters from their pillowcases and determine if they need further felting. If they're felted well, then hang over your shower rod to dry. If you hold it up to a light and can still see lots of light through the knit, then consider placing the sweaters back into their pillowcases and into the dryer, checking frequently so that you don't over felt. (If you do over felt, these pieces will work well for rugs, oven mitts, etc.)

If you choose not to use the pillowcases in the dryer (for example, if you are just drying one sweater by itself), then be sure and empty the lint filter frequently. You don't want a lint fire! Don't throw away the lint....this is all from the sweater fibers and makes the best stuffing for stuffed animals, pin cushions, and other such projects.

Many people believe/state that you can ONLY felt 100% wool sweaters. Simply. Not. True. While it may take longer to felt blends of >60%, they usually felt up very nicely. :)

Now, the fun begins. After your sweaters are dry, you can begin to deconstruct the sweaters. Don't laugh, but I usually don't plan a project for a particular sweater until this point...the sweater will usually "talk to me" and a project idea will form. You can cut up the sweaters as if they are fabric, because they are! No unraveling, just delicious, recycled natural fiber fabrics.

EnJOY and have fun!

p.s. Please consider supporting my fiber art public art project at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/526090211/everything-but-the-oink-ecofriendly-public-art-pro

**Sweaters may be substituted with other natural fiber garments. When using woven suit blazers, skirts, and other such items, I find it is best to cut out the lining first and then wash/felt the article of clothing. Sometimes I will even deconstruct these items, cut the woven wool into pieces and THEN wash/felt them. I have found that these woven clothing pieces felt much tighter/smaller, but they work well for stuffed animals, pillows and other pieced projects.

Feel free to repost this tutorial as long as you give credit back to Everything But The Oink with a link to this blog.

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