Thursday, April 21, 2005

Felting, fulling, failure and a few other "F" words

One of many felted failures.

Felting and fulling may be the oldest textile known to humankind. This does not mean they are easy. Sure, on the surface it looks all easy-peasy. How many of us have not done an unscheduled experiment in felting when we throw a $250 mohair/merino sweater in the washer and it comes out too tight for a Barbie doll.

I’ve come to the conclusion that things felt much better if they are incredibly expensive, irreplaceable and/or are of a great sentimental value to their owner. For example, when I was much younger, my father did a UN peacekeeping detail in the Mid-East. Like most soldiers, he swapped gear and kit with soldiers from other nations. One of his prized finds was a sweater he had gotten from a British Army officer. It was, of course, olive drab in colour, but it was made of absolutely beautiful wool. It was thick but still soft to the touch and oh so very warm. It lasted all of one week back in Canada. Someone, who shall remain nameless, did up laundry and shrunk said sweater in the washing machine until it could only fit a 13 yr old. This was done entirely by accident; however, the suspicion lingers to this day.

Flash forward some 30 years and yours truly, the Odd Ball Knitter, decided to take up felting as an addition to the repertoire of “what all you can do with wool”. It’s been an struggle for what is so easily accomplished when you don’t want it to happen, cannot be replicated when it’s necessary.

It all sounded so very easy, didn’t it? Just use 100% wool, really big needles, make the item 30% larger than what you want as a finished size and wash in hot water. Wring, twist, agitate, shock with cold water and basically abuse it. Do ALL the things you’re not supposed to do with wool.

Not so fast. First of all, it shrinks less in width than in length. So far, in my items and samples, I’ve had between 20-25% shrinkage in width and between 25-30% shrinkage in length. This is enough to throw proportions of an item out of whack.

There is also no way I can figure on how to predict what the shrinkage is and to tell you the truth, I’ve been pretty disappointed so far. I’ve made a hat that turned out well, but was too small for me. Oneida inherited it. The picture above was supposed to be a small purse but it never felted properly, in spite of eventually being boiled and agitated by hand for nearly two hours. It also had been run through the washer twice before that. It would not felt fully and none of us can figure out why. All we did manage to do was knock the dye out of the yarn, which considering it is Briggs & Little, is saying something. That stuff is damn near indestructible. Part of that I blame on following someone’s Internet instructions where they said to add baking soda to the wash water. It’s the only time I’ve seen that ingredient in any instructions and it’s a mistake I won’t be doing again.

In spite of my continuing frustration with fulling, I’m too damn stubborn (stupid??) to give up. This time I made what I hope will be a purse out of unspun country roving. I knit it on 12mm needles (size 15 US). So far, it’s looking all right. It will have to be blocked and shaped before I have any firm decision on whether it worked or not. If it doesn’t work, someone was will probably hear my screams and there will be a pile of roving and really big needles floating down the Nashwaak River.

Talk at you’se all laters; thanks for reading.


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