I have to admit – I do get rather excited by knitted felt! I just can’t get over the transformation from that loose, open knit structure to a strong, soft and extremely durable textile.
It’s easy to do, if you know a few basic facts….
We’ve probably all done it once in our lives- reduced a favorite lambswool jumper to a small garment that even the teddy bear refuses to wear, but whilst intentionally felting your knitting might seem a little daunting at first, once you have mastered the process it is sure to become a staple in your knitting repertoire.
Here are a few FAQ’s
- So what exactly is felted knitting? Felting occurs when you subject your knitting to hot temperatures, vigorous friction and soapy water. The fibres become matted together, the knitting shrinks and it becomes much thicker and denser. When the knitting has completly felted the stitches are no longer visible, and you can cut the fabric without it unraveling.
- Can you make felt from any fibre? No. Natural felt is made from 100% pure wool. All wool fibres will felt to a greater or lesser degree, depending on breed. Yarns described as ‘superwash’ will NOT felt as they have been chemically treated to prevent them from felting in the wash.
- What about ‘craft felt’ – that’s not wool is it? No it isn’t. Craft felt (the type that comes in pre-cut squares and is commonly found in craft shops) is generally made from a mixture of fibres – mostly synthetic, and the fibres are bonded together, not naturally ‘felted’.
- Doesn’t felting involve lots of rolling and pounding by hand ? Yes, that’s one way of doing it, but any 100% wool fabric can be felted in a washing machine too.
- But won’t that damage the machine? No, it’s no different to washing a woolen garment. There will be some slight shedding of fibres, so if you intend to do large amounts of felting you could sew your knitting inside a pillow case, then put it in the wash.
- Can the process be reversed? No!
- So how does it work? It is the scaly surface of the wool fibre that holds the secret. When wool fibres are subjected to heat, moisture, pressure, friction and alkali (present in soap) the scales eventually hook together making the fibres densely matted. This process can be done by hand, but these conditions are all present in a washing machine too –
- Why can I still see my knitted stitches after felting? You need to give your stitches space to shrink – which means you need to knit at a much looser tension than usual.
- Can I hand felt wearing rubber gloves? Not recommended – but possible, I’ve never tried!
- But I’m allergic to soap! Then I suggest you use a washing machine for felting.
OK, here’s a little project to get you started.
What Do I Need?
- A small amount of 100% wool yarn (any weight – the thicker the yarn, the larger the ball, obviously!!) We chose our British aran and DK merino yarns especially for their fabulous felting qualities.
- Knitting needles. Choose needles at least one whole size larger than you would normally knit this yarn with.
- Wool needle for sewing
- A small amount of polyester filling.
- Soap, washing powder, or washing up liquid.
- Hot and cold water.
Pattern for Knitted Felt Balls
Cast on 6 sts
Row 1: Knit through the front and back of the stitch (kfb) to end of row (12sts)
Row 2: (K1, kfb) to end (18sts)
Row 3: (kfb, k2 to end (24sts)
Row 4: K to end of row
Row 5: (kfb, K3) to end (30sts)
Rows 6-10: K to end
Row 11: (K2 tog, K3) to end (24sts)
Row 12: K to end
Row 13: (K2 tog, K2) to end (18sts)
Row 14: (K1, K2tog) to end (12sts)
Row 15: (K2tog) to end. (6sts)
Cast off by threading the end through last 6 stitches.
When you have finished knitting stitch the seam, gathering the top and bottom edges, and stuff with a small amount of polyester filling. Try not to over fill – remember the ball will shrink by around 30% when it’s felted.
If you are felting by hand; immerse the ball in hot soapy water, squeeze out most of the water, then roll vigorously in your palms. Remember you are making a BALL, so try not to squash and flatten it as you roll. You want to start without too much pressure, then gradually increase the pressure as you feel it begin to harden. Aim to keep the work hot, or at least warm, as you work, so keep dipping it in the hot water, and squeezing out.
Felting should take anything between about 5-10 mins. If NOTHING is happening after 10 mins – it’s unlikely that your wool will felt (it may be treated to prevent it felting). If it is starting to felt after 10 mins, then you just need to work a bit harder!
If this all sounds like too much effort- pop it in the washing machine, with a very small load, on 50 degrees and let your washing machine do the hard work…..
When you are satisfied that it has felted (it will feel much harder) rinse it in cold water, squeeze out as much water as you can, and allow to dry naturally. It will look quite fuzzy at this stage, but the fibres smooth down as it dries.
And you’re done!
So now you understand the principle why not try something a little bigger?
We’re got a free pattern for this simple little felt bag in Issue 14 of The Mercerie Post. You can subscribe here:
Or you could try one of our Felt Bag Knitting Kits like the lovely Nautical Bag.