Trouble-shooting machine felting

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We sell a great selection of yarns that are ideal for felting in the washing machine, but not all washing machines work equally well for this purpose. Sometimes you need to adjust the felting process to make it work in YOUR machine. 

Try this: If you are unsure whether your machine will felt your items well, use some left-over felting  yarn to knit up a tension square and experiment felting with that before attempting to felt your actual project. 

Felting happens in the washing machine in a full cycle at 40 or 60 degrees Celsius (check label of yarn, as some wools felt at 40 degrees, some at 60 degrees).

You need to use standard washing powder (not wool wash) and run a full standard or cotton cycle (NOT woollens/minimum iron or delicates cycle). It is important NOT to use any water saving settings, as the slippers have to SWIM IN WATER for this to work. Machine felting works really well in most machines, but sometimes a second or even third washing cycle may be necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

Please do not boil your felting yarn as this may result in a loss of colour.

Sometimes a second or even third washing cycle may be necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

Front loading washing machines with a temperature setting that allows for 40 or 60 degrees Celsius work best, particularly if the washing cycle runs for a comparatively long time.

Top loaders or machines with only hot/cold settings may require some extra steps to achieve the felting outcome. Some customers with top loaders have reported that their first attempt at felting didn't work well or that the item was felted, but still too big.

They found that running the machine for a second or third time did the trick.

Another possible solution is to add a couple of tennis balls or a pair of jeans to the washing machine to increase the friction during the wash cycle. It very much depends on how your machine runs and how vigorously it spins, so if it doesn't work straight away, you need to experiment a bit to find out what works best with your machine.

How does felting actually work?

The process of felting in the washing machine is called "wet felting". Wet felting only works with certain animal fibres (eg. sheep wool, Merino, Alpaca). Plant fibres and acrylics will not felt that way. Wool fibres felt because they are covered in tiny scales. This is similar to the scales found on a strand of human hair. When you apply heat, motion and moisture, the scales are forced to open, agitating them then causes them to latch onto each other. The result is felt.

Superwash wool (such as our sock knitting yarns) have been treated to prevent felting from occurring. Socks and garments made from superwash yarns can be safely washed in the washing machine at the recommended temperature and will not felt or shrink.

However, with our felting yarns we want to cause the washing machine to felt and shrink the items.

The quality of felting is determined by a number of things:

  1. The quality of your yarn,
  2. the tension of your knitting,
  3. the washing powder you use (the level of alkalinity impacts on the felting process, therefore you should not use wool wash or similarly "mild" detergents),
  4. the temperature setting in your washing machine and the difference between the temperature of your wash cycle and your rinse cycle,
  5. how long your washing machine takes to wash, and
  6. how vigorously your machine spins.

Most wool fibres will felt - something you may have experienced yourself if you have ever accidentally washed a woollen jumper in the washing machine. However, the outcome of the felting process can vary considerably. If you are just experimenting with felting, that is no problem. If you want a particular outcome, you are better off using loosely spun yarns specifically designed for felting.

Our felting yarns are specifically designed for felting.

If you choose one of our felting yarns, you have far more control over the outcome than randomly choosing woollen yarns.

Use the right tension and the correct needle size for felting

If you knit with different sized needles or knit more tightly than the recommended tension, the felting outcome will change. Our felting yarns are designed for 8mm needles. A slightly looser knit usually felts better.

Use the right washing powder for felting

Wool wash and similar detergents are designed to protect the wool fibre. We want the opposite in felting: we want to open the fibres and make them vulnerable to felting. You need to use standard washing powder, otherwise the felting will not work. 

Your washing machine settings are important for felting

Both the temperature setting of your machine and the temperature shock between washing (hot) and rinsing (cold) impact on the felting process. Front loaders with a clear temperature setting work best. Our yarns are designed to felt at 40 or 60 degrees (check yarn label for ideal temperature!). There are other yarns on the market that will felt at a different temperature setting.

If your machine is a top loader or does not have clear temperature settings or only "hot" and "cold", your wash cycle may not reach the required temperature and felting may not be as successful. Similarly, if your machine only runs for a short period of time (a full cycle on my front loader washing machine takes 90 minutes), then this may be too short for the felting process to be completed.

You can felt in any machine but you may need to experiment to find out what works best.

Do not despair, as you can still achieve the desired outcome, but you may need to experiment a bit to find out what you need to do to make it work in YOUR machine.

If the washing cycle is too short, run your slippers or other felting project through another one or two cycles.

If your machine  does not spin rigorously enough, it may be useful to add a couple of tennis balls and a pair of jeans or a towel to the wash to increase the amount of friction. Don't put anything else in, though, as your slippers still need to be fully immersed and "swim" in the water for it to work.

Felting is very rewarding. Watching the transformation of your project from knitted to felted is quite addictive and a lot of fun. Once you have worked out which process works for your machine, you will absolutely love it!

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