Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blanket Felting Lesson #2 - Washing and Cutting the Sweaters

This is my sweater stash, or my candy store.  These are sweaters that have been washed, pressed and cut up; some of them already into squares.  The takeout containers hold scraps that I use when I'm sewing up a small test or are used to embellish a blanket.  Order can go out the window pretty quickly which makes the design process a bit overwhelming so I do try and keep a certain level or organization - I don't always succees. 

1. Sort the sweaters broadly by color keeping in mind that in the washing the sweaters release some of their fibers which will find their way to other sweaters in the load. This isn't a big problem but I have noticed that some colors aren't as clear when they come out as they were going in.  There is a tip I'll share with you later in the post.

2.Washing the sweaters is pretty straightforward.  However, if you go crazy like I did initially and buy 30 sweaters I would suggest you take them to your local laundromat, at least for the first wash.  A lot of fibers are released into the wash water and could clog up your washer if you do too many at one time.   My husband and I actually tore apart our old washer at one point because I had washed an abundance of sweaters and the poor dear choked.  Laundromats are made for heavy duty use.  When I do wash sweaters at home though, about half an hour before I throw the load in I kick up the thermostat on the water heater so it's quite hot.  If you have a washer with an agitator you're in luck as it helps the felting process.  So, you want a hot wash and a cold rinse.  You don't need a lot of water because you want the sweaters to rub against one another instead of floating around.  Likewise you need a little soap to help with the agitation and opening of the scales on the wool fibers but not so much that they slide past each other.  I'm making this sound more complicated than it is, but it helps to know what's going on.

Your goal is to make the stitches disappear.  The tighter the felt the easier it is to work with as it will hold its shape and seams better.  Having said that, I've made many a blanket where I could have felted them more and the blankets turned out fine.

As you can see from this picture the shrinkage can be quite significant!!  You may have to wash them several times to achieve this degree of shrinkage and don't make yourself crazy if they don't.  To dry them you can either hang them on the line or toss them in the drier - they dry surprisingly fast.  Just don't lay them flat on a towel - they'll take forever to dry.  Don't forget to clean the filter on your drier as a fair amount of fiber will collect in it.

TIP: If any of the sweaters have zippers or button plackets cut them off first as they distort in the washing and you may want to use them again - they make for fun pillow fasteners
3. Cut up the sweaters along their seams.  Before you actually do this though hold them up to the light and look for any holes you might not have seen before and mark them with tape so you don't forget they are there.  All you're doing now is cutting off the sleeves, collars and necklines.  You'll have to decide whether you want to use the ribbing or not.

TIP: If the sweaters show any signs of pilling or some of them have excess fibers on them use the d-fuzz-it comb I showed you in the post on tools. This is a short demo of the comb (my first try at video on the site) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1eWPGB0vz0  

4. Press the pieces. Your iron should be set to the wool and steam settings.  The pressing continues to help with the felting process and the wool seems to develop an even softer hand.  I usually cover the pieces with a linen cloth as I press so they don't develop a shine.

Some people like to reverse steps two and three and cut the sweaters first.  This does make sense to me so I'm going to try it on my next batch.

The next step is to throw the sweaters on the table to get a sense for how big the blanket might be - it will help in the design process. Just place all the pieces on the table without too much concern for the design - you're just trying to size the material. 

Lesson #3 on design to follow shortly


  1. Your work area is way too organized! Great information, especially the bit on finding the holes and marking with tape. Would never have thought of that.

  2. so it looks like you use a zigzag stitch with no seam allowance, is that right, I am making one right now