Wool Felt With a Front-Loader Washing Machine
Many people think that it is not possible to felt properly with a front loader. However others have done it very successfully and so obviously it can be done. There are a few things that have to be done differently though.
The process is basically the same (heat, agitation, check, shape, dry) ~ but due to the fact that you cannot open the door of the washing machine mid-wash, there are a few 'tricks' you have to employ to successfully wool felt with a front loader.
- pillow case - zippered or you can tie 'mouth' during wash
(make sure your case/bag is large enough so that the project can more or less lie flat and move around during wash)
- soap - mild laundry detergent, or baking soda, or mild shampoo, dish soap
- agitator helpers - old jeans, tennis ball(s), boots, thongs - anything that can take the heat
Because a front loader does have have the central upright post as does a top loaded ~ which also acts to provide agitation during wash, the agitators helpers are even more important when using a front loader.
Pillow case: this is to hold your item to be felted during the wash. Zip up or tie up the mouth will keep it in the case. The case will prevent loose fibers from clogging up your machine and causing damage to it. For this reason, many advice not to use a lingerie netting bag or other laundry net bags with holes. The fibers can 'escape' and might clog up and damage your machine. Also if you have other garments etc. in the machine at the same time, escaping loose fibers will stick to them and be very difficult to remove.
Soap: use only a small amount - like a teaspoon. Make sure it is mild, preferably unscented and undyed.
Some people use more accurate measurements than others as to how much soap they use but the core consensus seems to be *mild and *very little.)
Agitator Helpers: Felting occurs under heat when the fibers rub against each other. Woolen fibers have tiny scales on the surface. They open up when wet and when hot and are rubbed against each other, the scales close, bond, and irreversibly interlock.
So to felt an item, the more the agitation, the better the felted result. Throwing in an old pair of jeans, tennis balls, etc. together with your felting project increases this essential agitation process. Some throw the tennis balls into the pillow case together with the item to be felted. Basically, anything that can stand the hot water and will increase the agitation of woolen fibers against other will help.
This is also why you want to have looser stitches than normal when you knitted/crocheted up your project. Tight stitches have less change of rubbing against each other during the vigorous wash.
Washing Machine Settings
- Lowest water setting (or small load setting)
- Highest temperature.
- Longest or Highest Agitation but ..
- Shortest Cycle
- Cold Rinse
- Preferably No Spin, No Drain
(side note: some felters have managed to do this with spin and still had good results, so don't worry too much if you cannot eliminate the spin cycle)
- If it must spin, make sure it is Regular spin ~ not fast spin
- Put your pillowcased-project (you might also want some tennis balls in the bag as well as outside) into the washing machine.
- Throw in the agitator helpers you have (pair(s) of old jeans, thongs, rubber balls, rubber boots, etc)
- Close door, use a tiny amount of mild detergent only, start the machine.
- Do not let it go into spin or drain mode if possible. This will halt the felting process.
- After its short cycle, take the project out. (you might have to turn the knob to get it towards the end of a cycle so that you can open the door)
- Squeeze (not wring) out excess water to check.
If you should notice your piece is getting looser rather than firmer, don't worry. Initially some yarns will do this. This is a result of the yarn "relaxing" ~ the little scales on the woolen yarn opens up when wet.
- Each time you check, check for creases and whether the pieces are felting together. Smooth out creases because they will become permanent once felted. Use your hands to separate sides (e.g. for a hat or bag) as you don't want to end up with one that is fused shut. Reshape with your hands if needed.
- Put your project back into the machine for another very short cycle.
You need to check because once it starts felting, it can happen very quickly and you don't want your piece to be over-felted and too rigid.
- Check, smooth, reshape and put back in and continue until the project is felted to your satisfaction.
- Once you are happy with it, take it out and squeeze (not wring) out excess water.
If you feel it needs a bit more felting, you might want to Felt by Hand for the rest of the way.
- Then plunge it into cold water. The drastic change in temperature helps to set the felting process. Rub and rinse out soap from the garment in the cold water.
If the rinsing and rubbing with your hands causes additional felting, don't worry about it. It will be insignificant.
- When thoroughly rinsed of soap, again squeeze as much water out as possible. No wringing.
- Roll up in some thick toweling to absorb even more water. Do this again if you have to.
- When you have gotten out as much water as you can, it is time to dry it.
- Flat pieces of work, you can stretch and block for drying.
For shaped pieces, reshape it. Use anything appropriate to its shape ~ bowl for round shapes, blocks or books for rectangles, or stuff it with something that will help define its shape during drying.
Let it dry, reshaping or turning it inside out if appropriate.
Depending on your climate and the project, the amount of drying time will vary.
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