Saturday, July 29, 2006

Felting thoughts

Barbara's problem with felting intrigued me on several levels. What factors affect the felting quality of a particular yarn? If I were handspinning the yarn, what techniques would create the best yarn for felting? Barbara's experience would indicate that there's more to this than choosing 100 percent wool that isn't superwash. I admit it, I'm selfish. I want to skip the frustration and go straight to perfect felting every time. I've have a pattern for Fisherman's Boiled Wool mittens I'd like to try soon. The pattern's for handspun wool, and it's one of those older, less specific pattern that assumes one knows a lot more about knitting than I actually do. So before I choose which fleece to spin into yarn, I want to know which type is better, and what technique would mostly likely yield a suitable yarn.

My quest for information began with an email to an acquaintance from my years as a handcrafted soapmaker. I taught soapmaking at various fiber-related events in the Midwest, and Helen often taught her felting classes at these events. Helen felts with unspun wool and is an expert on the properties of wool.

Some general principles from Helen's email:

- The grade of wool makes a difference. Fine wools felt down harder. Blends of fine with other grades also work well in producing tight or hard items such as vessels.

- Commercial yarns can present more challenges because you never know how they were finished. Even if they're not superwash, they may still have been treated with processes that affect the felting qualities.

- In handspun yarns, a firm twist will felt down slower than one that's loose. (This tip led me to google color cards of various yarns mentioned. Kuro appears more loose. Outback has more twist.)

- For better felting results with knitted items, she suggested taking the item out of the washing machine during the last wash or rinse and use a washboard to 'full it.' Helen uses the washboard method with her unspun wool felting, and I can testify that her results are awesome. She said experienced felters can skip the washboard and full with just their hands.

An article at provided more answers, and a very good explanation on fulling, which is really what we knitters are doing when we 'felt' our knitted items in the washing machine.

So, I've narrowed down my options to spinning a loose singles yarn from one of the Shetland fleeces in my attic or the Babydoll Southdown wool from a ewe we expect to shear in the next few days. I may blend this finer wool with some Cotswold wool from a fleece I bought last year from a farm near mine. It should be an interesting experiment, don't you think?


Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

I just bought a Mason Dixon (or is it THE Mason Dixon) knitting book and it has these cool felted boxes in it. Now I'm all excited about a felting project and appreciate your wonderful research. Thanks for all the info!

7:31 PM  
Blogger Jean Brashear said...

Nancy, can you put up a picture of one of the boxes? I have a friend who adores boxes, and I'd love to know more about this!


9:59 PM  

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