Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Mouse to Flower

When you were a kid, do remember the felt that you used to make Christmas crafts at school? Did you make a reindeer with a red nose, or some stripey candy canes? Do you remember cutting the shapes with your round edge scissors, sometimes ripping the last little piece apart because you couldn't get it cut?

I was always really confused by felt. I mean, I didn't sit at my desk with a perplexed look on my face when it was placed in front of me. I just didn't know what it was. Why felt? Why not cloth? What's so special about this stuff?

Well, the stuff I would've used as a kid was probably made from acrylic or viscose, leftovers from plastic manufacturing, which is probably how all those bright colours were created. It was only a few years ago that I understood from where felt actually originated: the matting together of wool fibres to create a dense fabric. Sometimes, this is done by laying it out damp and rolling it over and over, sometimes it's done with needles, and, in the case of the Mad Hatter, it is done by chewing the fibres together. The resulting fabric is strong, retains its hygroscopic properties, and is now resistant to shrinking (since it has already shrunk once).

I did my first felted project this weekend, but I didn't chew it (in case you were wondering).

The felting I attempted (and I say attempted because I think I could have done it better) is technically a type of felting called fulling. It's where you knit or crochet a piece in wool yarn, and then you commit three cardinal wool sins to it:

1) You dunk it in really hot water.
2) You agitate the heck out of it.
3) You shock it with cold water afterwards.

This encourages the fibres to splay out and then mat together to create a more dense fabric with less stretch. It shrinks down so that there is no air in it, and if you do it long enough, you should lose the definition of each stitch.

I based my project on a pattern from this Michaels project page. I finished knitting them on Sunday night, and then decided I'd try to felt them then.

The majority of the instructions I found used a washing machine. That kind of bothered me, because these were tiny little pieces, and I didn't want to use up a bunch of water to try to accomplish this in my washing machine. Surely someone had attempted this before the invention of washing machines...

I had to search a while until I could find some instructions for felting by hand. I filled a basin with hot water, added a little dishwashing liquid, and dropped the pieces in. I got out a metal slotted spoon and starting sloshing and stirring, humming a little tune until I'd agitated for about five minutes.

I pulled them out, and they didn't look much different. More agitation, I thought. I dunked the pieces in some cold water to shock them, and then dropped them in again, along with some decorative glass marbles I have sitting in a jar in my dining room.

Slosh, slosh, rattle, rattle...

Not much change after another five minutes. Cold water shock, refreshed the hot water, did it some more...

After another ten minutes, I could see some progress being made. There were more fuzzy fibres, and some of the definition starting to blur. Ok, now we're talking, I said.

After another fifteen minutes, I'm ashamed to say that I ran out of patience. I took the pieces out and rinsed them in cold water and examined them in the light of the bathroom. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder what would happen if...

I picked up two of the pieces and started to rub them together, right sides together. The fibres started to separate and fuzz. I rubbed them more vigorously for a few minutes, and when I pulled them apart, I had two pieces of felt. Hey, cool, I thought.

Ten minutes later, after rubbing these pieces together with each other, front and back, I had some felted petals.

Well, kind of, anyway.

I left them to dry for a day and a half, and there was some shrinkage, which was good.

I sewed the pieces together last night, then pulled out some of my old jewelry-making supplies and sewed on some beads. I attached a hair separator to the back of it, and voila:

New shawl pin for me!

I think the next felted project I do should be bigger, so I can feel ok about using a washing machine on it. I might get a truer felted object. I'm still really pleased with this, even if it's a bit lopsided.

I have to admit, though, I was tempted to bring one of those mouse-like pieces to work and to leave it in someone's drawer. Think of the screams! Ha!

I'm not that cruel. Well... maybe I'm just not that brave. Who knows what the retaliation would be...?


  1. You are so crafty! (Meant in the best possible interpretation of the word.) The shawl pin is lovely.
    I use a couple of my first practice knitting items as pot holders after I fulled them on purpose. They are my best pot holders so thick that I never worry about getting burned. I will have to show them off in a blog post one of these days. I used the washing machine with a full load to full them. I was not concerned how they would shrink, a misshaped pot holder still works. Now I feel comfortable just throwing them in the machine when they get dirty.

  2. Yeah, I think felted potholders are an excellent invention. I may try my hand at those, too. And felted seatcovers... basically, anything that doesn't need to be a particular size that I don't have to worry about ruining!