Yvonessa was asking about felting, so I am going to answer her questions.

Probably this is partly because my workshop yesterday was canceled. There I was, fully prepared to explain all kinds of things — Indian Removal, why the habitants were rotten colonists, the fascinating story of the only battle of the American Revolution to take place west of the Mississippi, how to use sentence strips to integrate history and math — and then the snow caused this cancellation, and I had no one to explain anything to.

I did consider explaining the fate of the dodos to The Empress, or possibly the connection between islands and flightless birds, but I think it highly likely that she would be bored by that. So instead I will explain about felting, and if you are bored, you can just leave. I’ll never know.

Felting is what happens when you subject woolen fibers to hot water, possibly soap, and agitation. The fibers all line up together and bond with one another to make long molecules. (The book Caveman Chemistry explain this properly, with equations and everything, but that is the part that I remember. It is like polymers.) The result is a firm nonwoven fabric. Yvonessa has done this with direct agitation of wool against a surface, to make felt.

This hat, modeled by a cooperative watermelon, was made by that method. #2 daughter and I shaped some hats like this on a Gertie ball and bounced them around.

You can see in the picture below that we took strips of wool roving and layered them with a bit of soap onto the ball prior to beating the stuff into submission. This gave it the round shape. We then wrapped it up and took it out onto the patio and bounced it. Thus we had the agitation.


This method of making felt was, according to legend, developed inadvertently by St. Clement, who put wool into his sandals. As he walked around, the heat and moisture from his feet felted the wool into tough shoe liners. There are similar stories about wool put under saddles. Chances are that this method was discovered independently and repeatedly all over the world by people traveling around on sweaty feet or animals. Hatmakers do it this way (without the sweat, of course), shaping their hats over blocks.

Also, commercial felt is done much like this, with batts of wool being put into fulling machines to produce flat yards of felt which you can then cut and sew into shapes.

But there is an alternative method, which is to knit the shape first and then felt that. The traditional Basque beret is done in this fashion; the “stem” at the top is the cast-off end. Or possibly the cast-on end. I have forgotten in which direction it goes.



Some further examples of this process include this knitted bag,  which is made from the “Sophie” pattern.

It was knitted and felted, and then sewn onto a ready-made handle.  

Since this is a modern felted thing, the agitation, moisture, and heat were all provided by a washing machine.

You put your all-wool knitted thing into a pillowcase (so your machine doesn’t get messed up by stray fibers) and run it through a hot water cycle with a little liquid soap. I use natural soap from Brambleberries.


Also this bag, which was made from a pattern in the book Simple Knits for Sophisticated Living. The red part is felted, and the fuzzy black part is not.

With this particular bag, the felting went a little further than the knitter (#2 daughter) wanted, so we wedged a DVD case into it to stretch it back to the desired size.

You have a little flexibility with felting. If you want great precision, you can do it entirely by hand, on a washboard or something similar. If you want a little flexibility, you have to remember to check the washing machine every few minutes to catch your felted item at just the right moment.


And here are two neck wraps from Felted Knits, or at least their middles. The one on the top is not yet felted, and the one on the bottom is felted. They were the same size to begin with.

These are the nice wooly things you fill with a muslin bag of rice, which you can then microwave for a cozy heating thing for your neck. This shows that felting makes things smaller. Which is logical. And since they are smaller, they are also denser and thicker.

Now Yvonessa asked how you get the shape. First, of course, you knit the thing in roughly the shape you have in mind. Then you subject it to hot water and agitation till it is about where you want it, checking it frequently. The you can manipulate it or mold it while it dries. Here is another Sophie bag, with a couple of books in it to make the shape. The green Sophie bag above was allowed to dry without forming, to give it a rounder shape. Slippers are often dried on the foot.

The Olympic bag was knitted in the round, and then I gathered the bottom together to make a pouch. I dried it over a cannister for shape, and then added the leather drawstrings. The result is a nice round little pouch.

If you wanted to make one of these for yourself, you could go to Artyarns and sign up for their free tutorial. I did this, but then did not actually do the projects. This is why I still knew nothing about modular knitting.

Anyway, make the headband from session 7, but do not cast off. Instead, repeat it about eight times.

At the end of the first round of the last repeat, you will be told to knit 8 stitches. Don’t. Continue with the last round. This will give you the self-faced petals at the top.

#2 son wants this for a climbing chalk bag. He is arguing that I should put in a waterproof lining and give it to him. I am thinking that it would be just the right size for the gym, whereas I now have to carry in a handbag, adding to my matronly “What’s she doing at our gym?” look. I might still want a lining, but it would hold my billfold, keys, and lip balm.

We could share it, of course, but I have seen what happens to objects #2 son carries around. They get that “I lead an exciting life” look which is so expensive in ready-made objects.

This might be a good look for the gym.