Felt Making with Knits Ideas from Crystal
Palace Yarns - Straw Into Gold
Why Does Wool Felt?
Recently I was reading various online sites about felting and about
making felted purses and I was amazed to see a felted bay designer
explaining that wool felts because it has a spiral structure and the coils
get tangled and that makes felt.
This is an incorrect explanation of why wool felts, so I decided I
should write a little about it.
As someone who has taught spinning and fiber classes since 1970 I have
always explained felting this way:
Wool fibers have tiny microscopic scales along their surface. Some types
of wool have larger scales than others. The types of wools that are coarser
and smoother and have the highest sheen to them (such as Lincoln, Leicester,
Wensleydale) have larger scales and reflect more light off their surface
leading to the sheen. Finer wools (of which Merino is the main example) have
much, much smaller scales and do not reflect light and have a more "matt"
look to the surface of the yarn or finished knitting.
When wool fibers are shocked by temperature and rubbing the little scales
lift up and as the fibers rub against each other they lock down on nearby
fibers and form a tighter and tighter mass and form felt. Felt can be made
from "just the fibers" unspun, or as many knitters are discovering, from
knit pieces that are felted after knitting.
Many unhappy owners of fine wool sweaters have discovered felting by
accident when a (usually well-meaning) mate or child dumps a wool sweater
into the washing machine and out comes a much smaller, thicker sweater.
Superwash wool is a wool that has been treated by one of several
processes or surface treatments that smoothes or "glues down" the little
scales on the wool so that they do not lift up and lock down on neighboring
fibers. Some treatments are more stern and really lock the fibers (with
often a textile "glue" made from a nylon type solution that will dye
similarly to the wool) and these treated wools can go through both a washer
and a dryer. Most Machine Wash yarn labels, however, mean you can do a
gentle wash cycle, but dry flat and NOT put in the dryer.
Remember, however, that machine washing will eventually soften the
surface and lift fibers - even if the garment doesn't actually felt - and
your handknits will look their best the longest if you do as much
handwashing as possible, even on Machine Wash labeled yarns. I also
recommend using a Lingerie Wash bag for washing machine washables (and many
also use them for felting for a less fuzzy surface.)
See information here.
Here are some links to see the wool fiber under a microscope (I used to
have a small microscope I took to classes I taught to show students wool,
cotton, alpaca, etc. under magnification - great fun!)
This page shows microscopic views of various wools & a lot of information
Why wool shrinks - this article refers to the scales as "shingles" on the
Electron Microscopy of Wool - see page 6 of this PDF for a CLOSE View!
Comparing Alpaca fibers and structure to wool
I've been experimenting with making felt using the printed colors of our
Labrador (thick-thin spun yarn) and Iceland (smooth spun soft wool) and the
interesting patterning and texture of the surface of printed colors adds an
additional fun aspect to felting.
With both Labrador and
Iceland being bulky you can knit
up the piece for felting quickly on size 15 needles.
Here some before and after felting swatches using Labrador (with
Above knit on 15s in garter
using Labrador wool
stitch using color Picnic #7263
with a little stripe of solid
color #1219 fuchsia Iceland
6" x 5.5"
Above after felting*
4.5" x 4.5"
Above knit on 15s in rev Stst
areas on 15s with Iceland in color "shadows" #7268
100% soft wool
5" x 5.5"
Above after felting*
4.5" x 4"
* For felting these - I put the pieces in the washing machine with a small
load of bath towels and did a 5 minute wash cycle. Since they were not felted
as much as I wanted, I put them in the dryer with the towels and took them out
when the towels were about half dry (10-15 min.)
SEE also photos of
Iceland felted with Blippity yarn here.
Retail shops in the USA should contact CPY Wholesale for information on
purchasing Crystal Palace Yarns.
email: cpyinfo -at- straw.com (change the -at- to @)
or write to:
Crystal Palace Yarns, 160 23rd Ave, Richmond, CA 94804
phone: 510-237-9988, fax: 510-237-9809