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Fun with Felt: Patchwork Pillow

Dec 12, 2011

Patchwork Pillow from Simply Felt
For awhile now I've been collecting old wool sweaters that I find in thrift stores. I have vague plans for this pile of sweaters: maybe I'll unravel them and use the yarn for new projects; maybe I'll felt them and make coasters or potholders; maybe I'll wash them and give them away; maybe I'll put them all in a plastic bag and re-donate them to charity, and so on.

I recently found a great idea, though—a patchwork pillow from our eBook Simply Felt by Jane Emerson and Margaret Docherty. We have a winner!

It's made with machine felted wool, which is what I have materials for, and I love the color scheme. I have one cream sweater and one tan sweater and I think I'll use my knitting machine to quickly knit up some plain stockinette blue and dark gray pieces to felt. I use my knitting machine to knit yardage for felt more than anything else. I haven't mastered the machine enough to use it for sweaters. That's on my list.

Simply Felt has some great info on machine felting, which can be a tricky business. I've felted things perfectly and things very imperfectly using the exact same methods. Why does it sometimes work and sometimes decidedly not work?

The Machine Felting Process

Transforming an ordinary knitted or woven wool fabric into a fulled fabric is very easy—especially if you have a washing machine handy. The thicker the knitting, and the more fulled it is, the better its insulating properties will be. However, the machine-washing process is far from exact so it is not a suitable technique for items that demand careful measurement. It does work well for projects such as pillow covers, hot-water bottle covers, and pot holders, for example. If the knitting has a patterned stitch, the resulting fulled textile will also be interestingly textured.

Here's the how-to:

1. If you're using a ready-made garment, check the fiber content on the washing instruction label. Only pure wool is suitable, including mixed wool fibers, such as mohair, angora, or cashmere. "Washable" wools will not felt. The same rules apply to a handknitted garment. (Some finishing agents used by yarn manufacturers can impede the fulling process, too.)

2. Wash the piece on a hot wash (a 140 degree F/60 degree C with two tablespoons of soap) cycle and then measure the piece to check the degree of shrinkage. If it fulled down well, it is now ready for use. If not, put it through the machine on a similar setting and check again. The amount of shrinkage on any piece of knitting varies greatly, so you need to practice first with some old pieces to check the appropriate temperatures. Normally this will be about 140 degrees F, but it might go up to 194 degrees F (60-90 degrees C).

3. Ensure the piece is well rinsed; hang it out to dry. Once dry you should be able to cut the knitting without it fraying at the edges.
The two samples shown here demonstrate the effects of machine washing wool. A relatively open weave quickly becomes a matted, hard fabric, which can be cut without fraying. The degree of shrinkage depends on the program used. Tumble dryers will further felt wool, even in a relatively short time.
—from Simply Felt by Jane Emerson and Margaret Docherty

It seems like the key to successful machine felting is the temperature of the water. I think I've been setting my machine too low; I'm sure it's below 140 degrees. I'll try it hotter for the Patchwork Pillow felting.

My favorite thing about this pillow is that the seams are part of the design. It's simple but very interesting. I'll use a pillow form to make this an easy project, too. And I know from experience that I need a thick sewing machine needle to get through two layers of felt. I made some felt pouches a couple of years ago and broke several needles before I wised up.

If you like felting as much as I do, download the eBook Simply Felt. You'll be inspired by the beautiful felt knitting projects within!


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Lulu5156 wrote
on Dec 18, 2011 2:18 PM

I wanted to let you know that I postend your felted pillow tutorial on Craft Gossip Felting :)


keri ann wrote
on Dec 17, 2011 9:34 AM

Once those wool sweaters are felted, how about making a purse!  I have several already felted in my "gee, I really want to do this" pile.  Cut the sleeves spiral-wise and use for handles/strap,      Also, I'll volunteer to help you master your knitting machine to make sweaters.  I'll be in Spokane in February.   ???

on Dec 12, 2011 6:54 PM

Thanks for the warning, Shawlmaker! I can get really hot water if I set my washer to "sanitize." I'm going to try it and see what happens—I have a tote bag on the needles, but I think I'll knit a swatch from that yarn and see if it felts well with the hotter water before I try the whole bag.

Vicsknits: I felt in my front-loader. I just turn off the power when I want to check the progress. The problem with my washer is that it drains all the water when I do this, so I waste a lot of water when I felt things. Hopefully the hotter water will felt in one go-round so I don't have to check more than once.

Bonnie: I have the Ultimate Sweater Machine, which I got at JoAnn's. It's the plastic one, but it's not really flimsy. Brother makes metal machines, I think, and I'm sure there are others. Those higher quality machines are at least a thousand bucks. Did you Google "knitting machine"?


shawlmaker wrote
on Dec 12, 2011 5:47 PM

Kathleen, here is something for your felting notes, and hopefully, you can use your pulpit to warn other hapless consumers. I have learned that rarely does the consumer find out how the "energy saver" washing machines save energy before purchase. Well, I found out the hard way that ENERGY SAVER WASHERS SAVE ENERGY BY NOT ALLOWING THE USE OF HOT WATER  - - the kind of hot water that we have been used to expecting form our equipment. This I learned from the manufacturer of my machine and from my plumber. People will call the plumber because they think there is something wrong with the machine, (if they ever figure out that they are'nt really getting hot water.) To get hot water from the new machines they have to be equipped with a "sanitizer cycle" which comes on the high end models. In my case, my plumber has allowed me to stand there and to turn off the cold water valve at the wall, so the machine only will get hot water, but that is not safe for all situations. A lot of the new machines have electronics that would be completely ruined by doing that. Additionally, if the plumbing in the wall is not limed up pretty good, the pipe joints can loosen over time causing leaks. Check this out for all of the would be felters out there. Thanks for the chance to blow off some steam about this (no pun intended.) I've been furious about this for a long time.

Bonnie@25 wrote
on Dec 12, 2011 12:52 PM

You mentioned that you have a knitting machine. I've been in the market for one but I'm coming up blank. Michaels Craft Store has a plastic one but its too flimsy for me. Also, once you buy it you can't return it. That didn't inspire confidence in their product. Where do I get one? Are there auctions for them? I'm not getting anything online.



KatieB@8 wrote
on Dec 12, 2011 9:36 AM

Vicsk its73, front loader felting can work too. I make sure to use a sweater bag and to add a couple of old towels for friction. Adding some baking soda directly to the tub seems to help also. Setting the timer to check every 5- 10 minutes is wise since things can change quite rapidly in there! Do clean the pump filter more often to keep your front loader happy.

vicsknits73 wrote
on Dec 12, 2011 7:12 AM

I like to felt. However production has come to a stand still since purchasing a new front loading washer. Any suggestions?