If you’ve ever accidently shrunk a precious hand-knit in the washing machine, then you’ll have a fair idea what felted fabric looks like. The knitted fabric gets smaller, and you’ll also see that the fibres change and cling together, making
a denser fabric with much less drape.
While this isn’t a good idea for your favourite jumper, felting (or fulling) works really well on small accessories where
the fit isn’t so important, such as bags, mittens or slippers (like the Arne & Carlos design seen in The Knitter issue 91, page 68). Once felted, the fabric becomes much more hard wearing, rain-resistant and windproof.
Using a washing machine is the easiest way to felt a knitted fabric, but it’s not always the most practical or predictable solution. Here in the UK most of us have front-loading washing machines that require us to complete a whole cycle, or to cancel it partway through and then drain the machine before we can have a peek at how the piece is doing.
Fulling by hand takes a little more effort, but allows us to have complete control over how dense the fabric becomes, giving us the option of concentrating more attention on certain areas - to avoid ribbed cuffs or little details, for example.
There are several ways of felting by hand. You could use a bucket in the bath with a (clean) sink plunger and some rubber balls to help with the agitation, or alternate between bowls of really hot and really cold water. Here we are going to look at the simplest method: using a basin of hot water, a little gentle soap and a lot of elbow grease.
Fill a washing-up bowl with water as hot as your hands can handle, and add a few drops of wool wash or a gentle liquid soap. Hold your project in one hand and make sure it’s totally immersed in the water, then rub the fabric against itself to agitate the fibres. Move the piece around, making sure all the areas you want to felt are rubbed for an even finish. Make sure you get all around and inside it, and you don’t end up felting one side to another or getting thumb-holes stuck shut. Depending on the yarn used, this could take some time; some wools will felt almost instantly, while others can take a little longer.
Keep checking your piece, comparing it with your pattern if necessary, and stop when the piece has shrunk to the required size. If you’re working mittens, you could try felting while you are wearing them, to achieve a really snug fit. When you’re done, rinse the soap out, give the piece a gentle squeeze in a towel, and leave it to dry.