Felting 101

Felting 101

Have you ever accidentally tossed your favorite wool sweater into the wash, only to find it had shrunk so much it would fit a small child?  Shrinking that sweater may have been considered a disaster at the time, but it’s actually a common technique for making fabric called fulling.  Fulling is the process of shrinking knitted, crocheted, or woven projects and is often referred to as felting, a similar technique for matting together raw pieces of wool fibers. For the sake of mainstream terminology we will refer to the process of shrinking crocheted projects as felting.

Felting your project is a very simple process but it can be a little scary the first time you try it. The key elements to successful felting include a project made of wool fibers, heat, soap, water, and agitation. Wool fibers, like alpaca or sheep, are necessary because they have scales on the surface of the fiber that can open up and lock together.  Hot, soapy water opens the scales up and the agitation allows them to get tangled, filling in the spaces and causing the piece to shrink.

The resulting density and texture of your project depends on how loose the stitches are and how much time you spend felting it.  Loose stitches, using a larger hook, and tall stitches, allows the scales more room to mix and mingle.  Felting the project for a short time will result in a slightly denser fabric that won’t shrink very much and will retain most of its stitch definition.  Continue to felt the piece and the spaces between stitches will fill in, becoming more solid, until there is almost no stitch definition at all.

Felting can be done in the washing machine or by hand with similar results, but keep in mind that felting by hand will take considerably longer and leaves your hands in desperate need of moisturizer. 

Once your project is the desired size, you may find that it’s warped and wrinkly from all of that agitation. Simply push, pull, and smooth the fabric to block it and give it an even finish. Some projects like hats and bags may require a form to help shape it while it dries.  For hats and bowls, find a bowl that fits the desired finished size.  For bags, simply stuff it with plastic grocery bags, or books or DVD’s wrapped in a plastic bag.

Felted projects are durable and warm and there’s so much you can do with it, including cutting, sewing, embroidery, or beading.

While felting a crocheted piece could be accomplished with just water and a lot of scrubbing, there are a few proven tips to ensure your project is a success.

o       Using laundry soap, dish soap or baking soda will speed up the process. Use 1-2 tablespoons for small projects, like cords and hats, and ¼ cup for larger projects, like bags and rugs.

o       Always felt a test swatch.  There’s nothing worse than spending hours crocheting a project only to find the yarn you used didn’t shrink the way you expected it to. To make a test piece, work up a swatch that measures 5” square using the same yarn, hook, and stitch pattern as your project.  Felt the swatch, in the same way you plan to felt your project, and compare the texture, density, and measurements to the pattern.  Usually a pattern will indicate before and after measurements for gauge and dimensions.

o       Not all yarns will felt properly. Superwash yarns cannot be felted as they have been treated to prevent shrinking in the wash.  Acrylic and plant fibers also will not felt. Some wool blend fibers may felt, but it’s always best to test a swatch first to make sure you get the desired result.
o       Hot water works best for opening up the scales.  If you think your water isn’t getting hot enough, try adding a pot of boiling water to the machine.  If felting by hand, be sure to use rubber gloves to protect your hands.

o       Vigorous agitation will speed up the felting process. To add more agitation, toss an old shoe, pair of jeans, towels, or tennis ball into the machine. If felting by hand, scrub your project against something with texture, like a washboard, bubble wrap, bamboo placemat or sushi mat.

o       Open edges tend to stretch more in the wash than edges that have been joined in some way. To encourage open edges to felt evenly, baste the edge using a cotton yarn or thread.  Once the project is felted, cut and remove the basting thread.

o       Use a zippered laundry bag or a knotted pillowcase to keep chunks of wool fuzz from getting all over your machine.

o       Felting works great in a top loading washing machine because you can restart the cycle before it goes to spin and rinse.  Projects can be felted in a front loading machine; you’ll just need to allow it to go all the way through each cycle until it’s done.     

How to felt in a washing machine

What you’ll need:
  • Washing machine
  • Project made of 100% wool fiber (not superwash)
  • Soap or baking soda
  • Zippered laundry bag or pillowcase (optional)
  • An old shoe, pair of jeans, or tennis ball (optional)
Place the project in a zippered bag or pillowcase. Set your machine to the smallest load, hot wash, and cold rinse. Place the bag, soap (or baking soda), and an old shoe, pair of jeans, or tennis ball into the machine.
Start the cycle. Without letting it go to rinse, restart the cycle as many times as needed until your project reaches the desired size and texture. It usually takes about 2 cycles before your project begins to show signs of shrinking. 
Once the project has shrunk to the desired size, allow the cycle to complete letting it rinse in cold water to remove the soap. Remove your project from the bag and roll it in a towel to remove excess moisture.
How to felt by hand

What you’ll need:
  • Project made of 100% animal fiber (not superwash)
  • Wash tub large enough for your project
  • Soap or baking soda
  • Rubber gloves (optional)
  • Bamboo placemat, bubble wrap, washboard, or sushi roller (optional)
Fill the tub with hot water and soap (or baking soda). If the water is too hot to touch, wear the rubber gloves or add cool water.
Using both hands vigorously scrub the project against itself, and between your hands, rotating it often, until it felts to desired size and texture. For more agitation, roll and scrub it against a bamboo placemat, bubble wrap, washboard, or sushi roller.
Rinse in cold water to remove soap. Roll it in a towel to remove excess moisture.


Remove any basting stitches and shape your project by firmly pulling and smoothing out warps or wrinkles. Insert a form if necessary to help shape your project while it dries. Allow your project to dry fully before embellishing, cutting, or finishing.

Try one of these felting projects:
Embroidered Felted Backpack
Pike Place Market Bag
©2010 Julie Armstrong Holetz. All rights reserved. www.skamama.com