This file is a collection of various messages having the common theme of
making felt using a washing machine, that I have collected from my reading
of the various internet fiber lists, although they are primarily from the
feltmaker's list. I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having
to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and
sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, most of the message
IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter. The comments made in these
messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy
of the information given by the individual authors. Please respect the time
and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status
of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from
these messages, please give credit to the orignator(s).
Pat Spark, Manager of the Feltmaker's List.
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*Feb. 7, 1996 In answer to the following question:
Caroline asks: I would like to ask is there any place for washing machine felt? The first piece I ever made I did like this and the result was very disappointing, I think it put me off for years, but I have heard of experienced felters who do use this method, perhaps someone could give me some hints as to the correct procedure, and what type of felt it is good for.
*Sue Krueger writes: In response to your question re felt in w. machine: I
find it helpful to do the first felting stage by hand and the hardening in
the machine. Also, I roll the soft felt up in a sheet, safety pin it and
stuff it in the leg of a pair of pantyhose. Of course, length of agitation
varies from machine to machine and also depends on how large your felt piece
is. The part of the felt that is on the inside of the felt will felt at a
different rate than that on the outside, so plan on reversing the sides and
re-agitating. The felt will shrink in the direction the piece is rolled.
The biggest piece I've had any luck with is about 3 feet by 4 feet.(1 meter?)
A lot of trial & error, but so what else is new! Try it again!
*Pat Spark answers: Caroline, There are some wonderful garment felts being made in washing machines. People usually use a front loader. There is a New Zealand felter named Jeanne Taylor who does very thin, even, merino felt for clothing Maybe you can take a workshop from her. I am not at my usual computer now, so I don't have her address available. I will try to post it to you later.
She has written about her technique for WEB magazine and for the North American Felters' Network newsletter. I can try to explain her method, but it is easiest to show. She lays out a bed sheet on a table. On one half of the sheet, or less, she puts two thin, criss-crossing layers of merino. I saw her use merino roving. There is at least 8 inches of sheet showing on three sides of the wool and half the bed sheet at the other side. She pours on water (with a little soap or detergent in it). Then she puts on soap gel and pushes down the fiber to get rid of the air. She works it flat with her hands for awhile. (Here in Oregon, she worked it using our favorite felting tool, the lid of a Tupperware juice container, which has more surface area than a hand and isn't too harsh on the wool by causing it to move about in the early stages of felting.) After a slight skin had started to form on the merino, she rolled up the wool in the cotton sheet. To do this, she folded the 8 inch sheet border in over the wet wool on the widest end. Then she rolled up the excess sheet (from the other side of the widest part of the yardage) to become a kind of inner, cloth core that the wool was rolled around. The ends of the rolled sheet were tied tightly at both ends (just outside the place where the wet wool ended.) Every 6 inches or so, she put a tie around the roll itself. These were wrapped loosely so that they wouldn't cause a crease in the felt, but the knots themselves were tied very tightly so they wouldn't come loose in the washer.
Then, the roll went into the gentle cycle of the washing machine for about 1/2 hour or so. It was removed and the roll was opened. The felt was straightened out and then rerolled from the opposite end. Back again into the gentle cycle of the washer. This was repeated until it was hard enough. The felt had a little final fulling by being kneaded in hot, soapy water. Then it was rinsed and blocked. You harden the felt slowly, through several gentle cycles. It is always possible to harden it more, but you can't unharden it once its too hard.
*April 28, 1996 In answer to a question about making pouches in the washer.
*Pat Spark wrote: A week ago, or so, I mentioned making pouches in the washing
machine. People inquired about how I do this, so here goes.
I have a heavy plastic form made from a type of plastic that looks a lot
like corrugated cardboard. In our area, this material is often used for political
signs. It can be purchased at sign companies. Or sometimes, after an election,
the losing side will let you have one of their yard signs. (In the USA, it
is against the law to remove one of these signs from someone's yard before
I cut out a rectangle, approximately 7" X 9", and round off the bottom two
I dip the form in my soap gel so that it has a kind of soap glue on it. I lay bits and pieces of colored yarn or fleece against the form to make a design. The soap helps to hold it in place. I take wool batts or roving and begin wrapping wool around the form. I try to keep the wrapping even and after I have wrapped a layer all of the way around the form in one direction, I wrap another layer in the opposite direction. I put flexible, nylon mosquito netting around the wrapped wool/form bundle. (To do this I lay the bundle in the middle of the net and pull up the net to gather it on the top. The top is the place where the hole will eventually be cut into the pouch for its opening.) I dip the net covered bundle into my soap gel and then quickly into hot water. I do not want the whole thing saturated with water, just the outside wool. I hold on to the gathered net with one hand and rub gently with the other hand. Since I use fast felting wool, it takes a couple of minutes for a felt skin to begin forming on the outside of the bundle. I undo the net and carefully move it so that the gathered part is at the other end of the pouch bundle. Usually, the wool under the gathered net is wrinkled and cannot form a nice skin because of the net's gathers. By moving the place where the gathers are located, I can re-dip the net covered bundle into soap and then massage the area that was formerly under the gathers. I keep doing this until a felt skin has been formed on all parts of the pouch. This takes maybe 10 minutes or less. I move the net so that it is again gathered at the top of the pouch. I use plastic covered twist ties to secure the net around the bundle. Then I take the toe of an old nylon stock and slide it over the net-covered bundle, with the toe covering the gathered, twist-tied part of the pouch. I pull up the nylon stocking so that it is tight and then twist tie its opening. This bundle goes into my washing machine along with my laundry, using that amount of detergent and type of water setting that the laundry requires. (I do several of these bundles at one time.) Sometimes, if I do not have enough laundry, I will gather together the dirty tennis shoes from my family and put a couple pairs into the washer. Since there are always dirty towels in my house, I put a couple of them in also. I use warm water and enough detergent to wash the shoes and towels. After the wash is done, I remove the pouch bundles. Take off the nylon stocking. Remove the mosquito netting. Cut the top edge of the pouch. Turn it inside out and rebundle it with the net and stocking. Wash again. Remove the stocking and net. If the felt isn't hard enough, I will run it through again, usually leaving it design side out. But after the first two washings, I can usually remove the mosquito netting, and just use the stocking. BTW, I use the net and the stocking, because otherwise the wool felts so hard into the stocking that it is difficult to remove it. As it is, I often need to really tug to get the mosquito net off. I have a flat drying rack next to my furnace, and I lay out the pouches to dry there. After they are dry, I line them with a lining that is long enough to come up over the top edge of the pouch (which is often irregular) and fold over it to make a binding. I sew this binding in place, which also secures the lining. I sew on a cord for the strap and attach one of those clip-type things that allow the length of the strap to be adjusted.
It's done. The lining/binding thing helps save time and it looks great. Plus, I think the inside of the pouch looks better with a lining and when people put things into the pouch, their stuff won't get all hairy from the wool.
*Jan. 18, 1997.
Wanda asks: I am intrigued with the idea of felting large pieces in the washer - but I don't have a front loading machine. Is it possible to felt in a regular top loading machine with the central back & forth swishing action? I have tried this a couple of times, with not very satisfactory results. My tidy felt bundles tend to come undone and become quite untidy pieces of felt! Any suggestions would be appreciated.
*Sue Pufpaff answers: Wanda and all, Being a very lazy felter and too cheap
to buy very many special, felt only tools, I have experimented with
a number of washing machines. ( I have a friend in the used appliance
business). A front loader, in addition to being a more economical way
to do the family wash (less water and soap needed) is the most effective
way to make evenly fulled large pieces in a washer. If the family top loader
is the most available machine. Here are some suggestions. 1)If the pieces
are smaller, single hat size or equivalent, they will more effectively felt
in the washer because they have more tumbling room. More than one piece can
be done at the same time. 2) Make sure there is enough water in the washer
to let the piece freedom of movement. 3) Stop the washer and turn the piece
around about every 2 or 3 minutes to get all parts of the piece hit by the
agitators the same way. 4) When ever I felt in the washer, I always tightly
bind the felt in a rolled up piece of fabric. The effect is more like rolling
the felt. 5) A front loader's tumbling action does not require as much attention,
but a top loader is not impossible to use. 6) Don't forget, most towns have
a local laundromat and most laundromats have the large blanket washers (front
loaders). When doing very large pieces, this is the most effective way to
use a washer anyway because then the wear and tear isn't inflicted on your
home machine. Home machines are not usually built to survive lots of large
piece felting, remember I have a very good friend who repairs my machines
on a regular basis.
*Sue Pufpaff answers another question about felting in the machine:
I don't know if you were on the list when I talked about the rug and blanket I made for my son in the washer. The technique I use sounds like what you are looking for. I don't get my hands wet. I don't get the floor wet and I don't baste, I bind, and all the felting and fulling are done in a front loading washer. I offered the instructions to anyone for $2.00 to cover copying and postage. I'm also giving a workshop on the technique near Chicago in February. I call it the modified Mongolian technique. I use a flexable "tent" pole and my pony is named Laudromat. I gave up basting after the first try, I'm too lazy to go to that much work that then has to be removed.
*June 19, 1997.
Sue Pufpaff answers a question about using the washing machine for fulling knitting.
I have not done much fulling of knitting in the washer ( at least not on purpose) but I have tried a number of different types of washers to full felt. The action of the washer makes a BIG difference in how even the fulling will be. Front loading washers which tumble the clothes during the wash cycle make the most evenly fulled felt or cloth (I have fulled some woven items). Top loading washers have a number of different agitation styles. The plunger style which pumps up and down with not much around action, actually does the poorest job because the item tends to stay in just one place in the washer (which would explain Shelly's funny looking hat. The jiggle in the round style does a fair job if there are not too many items in the washer so they have LOTS of room to roam around in the water. Then there are the "modern washers" designed to gently wash your clothes which don't do much of anything and don't full very well either. I have both a White/Westinghouse front loader and an old Maytag wringer in my home and I have found they both are useful fulling tools. The front loader does a nice even job of felting a variety of sized items and the the Maytag wringer washer works well for fulling smaller items like mitten, hats and boots. The nice thing about the Maytag is that the water doesn't leave the washer until I dump it so I can stop and start the machine multiple times to adjust the items being fulled and reposition them in the machine if needed.
Just a bit of information I just found out today. Maytag is coming out with a new front loading washing machine. It is scheduled to hit the sales rooms in July. My friend, who really is a Maytag repairman, said that anyone in the market for a new washer who can afford the approx $900 price tag won't be disappointed. Maytag builds machines to last. I know I am going to be saving my pennies for one.
*Sue Pufpaff, Feb. 24, 2002.
There is another way to make washing machine felt that requires no stitching and gives more control. Instead of stitching it between layers of cloth, put the fiber to be felted between the layers of cloth and then roll the "sandwich" around a rolled up towel or something similar. Bind the roll with string, old stockings or anything else handy and throw it in the washer. If using a top loading washer, the "snake" will need to be turned frequently to insure uniform felting. If a front loader is used, the tumbling will make great felt without needing any manual turning. I find its best to do the felting in the sheeting and then after a good felt is started, the covers can be removed and the fulling can be done without any covering. This gives a nice flat felt with a pebbled texture to the surface. I have also used the same technique with partially felted angora rabbit shearings and cotted sheep fleeces to create "animal friendly pelts" I call this my "modified Mongolian" felting technique. Consider the towel like a tent pole.
*Maris Krasnegor, Dec. 2, 2002.
I'm usually mostly a reader of the list, but have been meaning to take some time to recommend the washing machine to list members who may not have given it a thorough try. So - - - another point of view on 21st century feltmaking in the washing machine!
For quite a few years (12?) I've used a top loading machine for almost all my feltmaking. I do everything from vests, heavy shoulder bags, small rugs, delicate bags, bracelets (embellished with embroidery) to very fine rice-paper like - scarves & shawls. Finer stuff is mostly merino with alot of silk fiber & bits of yarn and thread on top. I lay out as usual, on top of well-worn cotton sheeting, cover with fine nylon curtaining, wet down carefully & then roll off excess water with a thick wooly paint roller. Once evenly wetted but not soggy, the whole piece (minus the nylon) gets rolled up in the sheeting - around a core roll of fabric an inch or more in diameter. Roll carefully, avoiding potential fold spots. The finished "sausage" is tied tightly at both ends - with a few safety pins added along the edge of the sheeting for safety.
The other important thing is to keep very careful records of time in the machine for each type of end product. For example, with a very fine merino scarf, I might begin with 5 minutes in the washing machine, usually at regular speed ( I put it in with a couple old sneakers & a towel, often 2 or 3 pieces of felt at a time to conserve water. After 5 minutes or so, I take the scarf out, unroll to see how it's going & straighten or make adjustments to design if necessary. Then I re-roll in opposite direction & put back for another 5 or maybe a bit more, depending in how it looks. Usually it's done after two short stays in the machine & then I harden & adjust shape on a glass washboard - and/or throw a few times into a corner of the sink. I'd say the key to keeping control is to check on it often, especially while you're building up experience with the method.
If the design has hard edges, I'll needle felt the batt and its surface design (before wetting) to flatten it down so it keeps its dimension & detail. Or else I'll work with a prefelted base & needle details into that before wetting down.
Thicker felt usually requires more time in the machine. Again, felt for short periods of time, unroll & check. Keep careful records of time & also of shrinkage amounts. I find shrinkage is usually somewhere between 20% and 30% for the merino, corriedale, romney, & occasionally icelandic or wensleydale carded wool (plus mixes thereof) that I use.
While I will occasionally hand roll smaller pieces, I can't imagine felting without the washing machine. I can't say I didn't have some disasters when I first started, but I would really encourage you to experiment with the possibilities of this useful modern tool!
updated on 03/17/2003