While this isn’t the biggest pre-felted hat I’ve made, it’s among the largest. If you have never crocheted a hat with the intention of felting, it’s hard to imagine how large you can make it and still felt it down to the size of the average human head–though it will take some time and energy. For that reason, let’s start with a heat stroke warning:
!! Health Risk – Avoid Summer Felting !!
Hot summer days are not conducive to felting even if your house is air conditioned. Heavy duty felting, for me, is a cool-weather activity. Lack of planning, however, has resulted in me risking heat stroke by felting a stubborn creation in the July heat. I remember too late to pull my hair back, strap ice packs to my head and switch to a bathing suit–a real drastic measure due to blobbiness (see last post). As a woman of a certain age, spontaneous sweating is not a foreign concept, but imagine a Zumba class in a sauna or hot yoga (a near-death experience for me), and you have a taste of summer felting. I usually wind up in the middle of our kitchen stripped to my undies. Sorry for that visual.
OK, with that out of way, here’s your second health warning (and this is critical): Make sure your yarn can be felted before you start. For me, this mean’s 100 percent wool (not superwashed). I think (don’t take my word for it) yarn that is at least 80 percent wool will also felt, but you may not achieve the results you were hoping for and it may take longer, which is not what you want. Attempting to felt acrylic or a mostly acrylic blend will cause a nervous breakdown. I once spent a solid hour trying to felt a gigantic hat that I later realized was only 20 percent wool. This taught me to always put the labels back on half-used skeins of yarn. It sure looked like wool and was with my wool yarn stash, but it was not wool. I not only wasted an hour trying to felt the thing, but I wasted at least three times that amount of time crocheting it to start with. The good news: I probably lost five pounds trying to make it shrink.
With these two warnings under your belt, you’re ready to embark on a love/hate relationship with felting!
First, here’s what you’ll love:
- It’s very forgiving. Skipped stitches, uneven rows or inconsistent tension are all beautifully hidden after your project is felted. I even saved a hat that had a snipped thread in one row (mistake with the scissors). It fused back together with felting.
- You never know exactly how it will turn out. If you like things predictable and certain, this may make you nervous, but you can still felt! Consider it a safe way to just let go and see what happens. No one will be hurt, the world won’t end and most of the time, everything turns out OK despite your fears. Much of time, your projects will be better than OK–they will be awesome!
- Felted projects can be cut like fabric and endlessly embellished. This opens up a whole unexplored world of design possibilities. I’ve seen holes snipped into hats and bags and a cute fabric or a felted piece of another color placed behind them. Felted items are sturdy–perfect for attaching heavier buttons, charms, bows, etc. A felted purse does not need to be lined if you don’t have the time or skills for that. It’s easy to make beautiful and sturdy placemats, coasters, hot pads, potholders, tea cozies and other items for the home.
Here’s what you’ll hate, or what I prefer to call the challenges of felting:
- It takes more yarn to make a project that will be felted. Because it has to be bigger than normal, it will also take you more time.
- It’s often had to estimate how large you need to make something to get the results you want. At first (if I didn’t follow a pattern), I just guessed. After felting dozens of hats, I have a pretty good idea now of what size the unfelted piece needs to be. However…
- Every yarn felts differently. Different colors of the same yarn may not felt the same way. When I’m not feeling super adventurous, I stick with the same type of yarn in a single piece to avoid weird effects. I’ve had good consistent results with Paton’s 100% wool worsted, Paton’s 100% wool roving and Lion Brand Fisherman’s yarn. I’m sure there are other great yarns out there (and I’ve used others), so just go with the ones you like and see what happens. Most of the time, you will not be disappointed (really!). Remember, 100% wool (not superwashed). If the label says the wool can be washed without shrinking, it can’t be felted.
- You can never be 100% sure how something will turn out…and that’s OK.
While i”m not going to give felting instructions here, the typical approach involves natural fiber, heat (hot water), friction (rubbing, pounding, agitating in a washing machine) and time.
Here are some basic felting tips. (For detailed instructions, there are a lot of excellent books on felting as well as hundreds of online resources.)
- Depending on what you want, time in the water could range anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Patience is important. Allow yourself plenty of time when you start the felting process.
- Items can be felted by hand or in the washing machine. I usually felt by hand. It gives me more control over the degree of felting, plus you avoid creases that can occur if you inadvertently let your washing machine go into the spin cycle. I have an energy-efficient front-loading machine. This does not work well for felting. If you have a top loading machine that can be stopped before the spin cycle, this is an efficient way to felt. Just be sure to check on your piece every 10-15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t felt too far. Things that weren’t felted enough can always be re-felted, even after they have been dried and shaped. Things that have gone too far and are now too small can be made into coasters 😉 Unfortunately, these can’t be made bigger.
- If you are making hats, look for head forms (Styrofoam wig stands are good), bowls, plastic containers, etc. that you can put your felted piece on for drying. If the hat needs to have a shape, such as bowlers, fedoras or bucket hats, you will need put the hat on a form and periodically mold it into the shape you want as it drys. I’ve used old canisters, bowls, balls, and a glass head I got at a while elephant gift exchange. I always air-dry felted items. Putting a wet, felted item in the dryer to dry could result in creasing or other weird effects. These don’t come out unless you get them really wet. One of the hats I was working on got creased when it went through the spin cycle by mistake. After re-wetting and remolding, the crease was less visible, but still there.
Well, that’s all for now! I need to felt a hat or two and warm weather is on the way! Dang, poor planning strikes again. If you live in the area, I’ll see you at CyclopsFest this September in Yellow Springs, Ohio! In the meantime, find me on Facebook and etsy*.
*Because I’m a lazy bum (and have been busy crocheting), my etsy page is not super current. Contact me on Facebook if you are interested in a custom item.