Felting In A Washing Machine

Before and after felting in a washing machine

Have you ever thought about felting in a washing machine? It's absolutely, without a doubt, the easiest way to felt a project, as the machine does all the hard work for you. It supplies everything (with your help, of course)...the soap, hot water and agitation.

In the picture above, both samples were crocheted with the exact same yarn and hook. The sample on the right has been washed twice in a washing machine as per the instructions below. There's quite a difference, isn't there?

Of course there are pros and cons for each of the felting methods.

Although felting in a washing machine is the easiest way to felt your woollens, you do give up your control of the process when felting in a washing machine. IT controls...

  • how much agitation the project gets
  • the heat of the water
  • the length of the cycle (though you can remove your project before the end of the wash if you have a top loader)

Don't forget, also, that felting only works with animal fibers. Any wool yarns labeled "Superwash", or those which contain less than about 50% wool or animal fiber, or any wholly man-made yarns (acrylic, polyester, etc.) WILL NOT FELT.

Let's get a little more precise here. Let's say you have a finished project you want to try felting in a washing machine. I'm going to say it's a purse, for example, knitted or crocheted, with no added embellishments. This is how you would go about felting in a washing machine...(a top loader)

  1. Be sure that your purse is completely finished. What I mean is, be certain that all your ends are finished off, as you won't be able to weave in ends once the purse is felted.
  2. Pop your purse into a mesh laundry bag or pillow case and fasten it up. It should stay inside a bag to make sure that it doesn't get "rubbed" too much against other items (should you choose to put other items in your felting load).
  3. Set your washing machine to "SMALLEST LOAD", "HOT WASH, COLD RINSE" and "LONGEST CYCLE" and start your washing machine. (The heat helps to open up the scales on the fibers, the cold helps to close them up and set the felting, and the longest cycle? Well, to make sure it's felted enough).
  4. Add a small amount of wool-friendly detergent - this detergent must not contain enzymes, as enzymes damage the wool. Just use a small amount, as you're not cleaning your purse, you're just aiding the felting process (allowing the fibers to slide against one another more easily).
  5. Wait until the detergent has dissolved, then add your purse to the wash. I have found that my projects felt better alone (on the whole), but some items may need extra agitation. For example if you're felting samples, or your project is particularly small. If you need extra weight in your wash, add a pair of well-washed jeans to your load. They should be well-washed so that they don't bleed color into your project. Be sure they're not 'raggy' though, as the loose fibers can rub off and attach to your purse - not ideal!
  6. Now - you can do one of two things here, if you have a top loader washing machine.
    • You can walk away and leave it alone - OR -
    • you can time say 5 minutes of the washing cycle, then take out your purse and keep checking on it if you want it to stop shrinking/felting at a certain size.
    If you've done your homework and swatched, or if you just want it to felt as much as it can, then just walk away put your feet up until the wash is done.
  7. Once the wash is complete, remove your purse and see if you like the results. If you don't (maybe you can still see the stitch definition), then repeat the whole felting in a washing machine cycle as many times as you need to until either you're happy with the results, or it won't shrink/felt any more. This can take as few as one or as many as 10 cycles. Don't be alarmed. Your results can depend on several factors...
    • How you made your purse - knit or crochet
    • the size of the needles or hook used
    • the thickness of yarn used
    • the fiber content - how much or little wool or animal fiber
    • whether you used additional yarns held together with the animal fiber yarn

Now, the option to check on your purse whilst felting in a washing machine disappears if you have a front loader washing machine (as they generally lock shut until the end of the cycle), BUT all is not lost.

If you want a certain size of project, then you MUST swatch and test BEFORE you start your main project, or you may not be happy with the outcome.

If in doubt - TEST!

  1. Work a swatch of a certain size.
  2. Measure it carefully and note the dimensions before the initial wash and after each subsequent wash.
  3. Write down what you do with it...
    • the amount of soap used
    • what you put in the wash with it
    • how long you washed it?
    • measure it after each wash
    • how many cycles?
  4. Once you have the swatch to your liking, you can work out the stitch numbers you need to get the size you want.
  5. Make up your project and wash it to the exact same specifications you noted with your swatch. Oh, and be sure to use the same yarn for your project as you use for your swatch! Sounds like a silly thing to say, but...well, anyway.

So - all in all, an easy process. It just depends how precise you want to be when felting in a washing machine. I'm a "walk away and grab a coffee" kinda gal, but what you do is entirely up to you!

Have fun felting in a washing machine!

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