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What is knitfelting or fulling anyway?
Wool fibers have small scales. When the project you knit with wool yarn is wet and then agitated and exposed to heat, the scales become interlocked. This creates the appearance of shrinking as the project pulls together. Knitfelted fabric can become very dense and doesn’t unravel. It can even be cut and rearranged. Although the process is called knitfelting, you can use it on both crocheted and knit projects.
Knitfelted fabric is great way to make projects like bags and cozies more sturdy without sewing in a lining. This dense fabric also makes cozy winter wearables, like the cowl shown in this tutorial. Because it can be cut, knitfelted fabrics are also great for creating appliques and other decorations to sew onto other projects. You may also choose to knitfelt wools that are “itchy” to soften them for direct-to-skin wear.
Getting started with your knitfelted project
Start by choosing a wool yarn that is not marked “superwash” or “washable.” (Those wools have been chemically treated to prevent fulling). Some other natural animal fibers, such as alpaca, can also be knitfelted.
Since your project will shrink in size as it felts, you will need to crochet or knit it to be larger than the finished size. Knitfelting is more of an art that a science, and there are many factors that impact how much the final project will felt. For your first knitfelting experiments, choose projects like bags where exact size isn’t critical. As you gain confidence in your knitfelting abilities, you may choose patterns like hats that need to be felted to specific dimensions.
To prepare your finished project for the washer, weave in any yarn ends. If you want the seams to be felted, join them now. If you’d prefer to have an embroidered or overlock stitch appearance, knitfelt each piece separately and join any seams afterwards.
Gather your materials
You’ll need your project, a lingerie bag, and several pairs of jeans. (If you don’t have any jeans that need washing, choose other items that will not shed or pill, such as a cotton quilt, t-shirt, cotton undies, etc. Unless you want to spend the rest of your weekend removing fuzz from your project, do not include other knit fabrics.)
Place your project in a lingerie bag
Before you get started, remember that you can always felt more, but you can’t felt less! So take your time as you knitfelt your project. Both agitation and heat can help a project felt, so start with agitation alone.
Place your project in the washer
To increase the amount of agitation without damaging your project, wash it in a half-full load. Choose a delicate spin cycle with cold water (often called the “woolens”). Using a small amount of detergent will stimulate the felting process, but remember to adjust your detergent since you aren’t washing a full load.
If your machine has an option for extra spin cycles, use it. (On my machine, this is called “super cycle.”)
Check your project
After the project comes out of the washer, examine it to see if it has knitfelted enough for your preference. It will probably be all crumpled up, like this, so smooth it out to examine it.
Place your project in the dryer
Don’t forget to return the project to the lingerie bag before placing it in the dryer.
Choose the low heat or delicate setting.
Take out your project every 10-15 minutes, checking it until it reaches the desired size and density.
After you have felted the project to your desired size and density (either through the washer alone or with the aid of a dryer), be sure to block the final project to shape. If it is still wet, simply pin it to a blocking board or foam mats.
If your project is completely dry, spritz it with water before pinning. Knitfelted projects can also be ironed on the wool setting if there is persistent wrinkling.
With these simple steps, you can felt, or full, any project you crochet or knit with wool yarn.