Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Washing and "Felting" Wool

A reader had emailed me yesterday to ask a very good question. I did say back in this posting about "skinning the wool skirts" that I would give instructions on how I wash and felt the wool after I've broken it down from skirts and jackets.

The reader wondered where those instructions might be.

Guess what? I forgot to write about it!

It's about time, doncha think?
I should go down and take pictures of my washer and dryer but really, it's just a basic 25+ year old set that does all the work, so just imagine how it would look without pictures, ok?

So I have this pile of wool that used to be skirts and jackets and I need to wash it now to "felt" it. I need to felt it so that the fibers of the wool shrink together making the wool thick and soft and it stops the fraying. Wool fabric is woven, just like any other fabric, except the threads are of sheep/animal hair. Any animal hair, even our human hair, is "sticky", so to make it stick together even better, all that is needed is some hot water and soap and friction. Think of a dog's fur that is matted. That matted fur is felted fur. Dreadlocks on the human head is felted. Friction makes it felted.

Ok, let's felt that animal fur/wool.

Pour your regular amount of laundry detergent into the washer tub. I've read that Tide detergent keeps the moths away ... they don't like the taste of the perfumes. I imagine that any perfumed detergent would work just as well as Tide, so I use whatever is on sale and I've never had moth problems. (knocking HARD on wood right now).

Throw your recycled wool into the washer tub and set your water temperature to "HOT". I use a HOT wash cycle and a COLD rinse. I've heard that the cold rinse will shock the wool into shrinking better but honestly, there have been times that I've forgotten to change the temp setting and washed it warm wash with warm rinse and it's felted fine too.
HOT/COLD is the best though.

Now, to get that wool to felt even better, I add more FRICTION / agitation by throwing in 2 pairs of old mens jeans with the wool. Old towels can be used but I've found that men's jeans are rough with textures that beat that wool like nothing else.
Please be sure to use OLD jeans that will not ever be worn again, because the dyes from the wool will dye the jeans assorted colors and your hubby will NOT be happy with his pants or with you.

I just use the same jeans over and over for each load of wool that I wash and dry. They sit right by my washer when not in use.

Wash that wool now! If you have a stationary tub with a washer drain hose like I do, be sure to attach an old stocking or a filter of some kind on the end of that drain hose because wool, as it gets beaten in the washer, is shedding lots and lots of fibers and those fibers will clog your stationary tub drain.

The felting process will take as long as your wash cycle. It removes the lanolin from the wool too, so for those of you who are allergic to lanolin, the wool can now be touched without breaking out in a rash. ... or so I'm told. If someone who is allergic to lanolin wishes to be the guinea pig and report back to me on this, I'll be happy to admit to being wrong.

After the wash cycle is completed, remove the wool and throw it in the dryer. I don't use dryer sheets for this because I've heard that it puts some kind of invisible coating of something on the wool and I really don't know what I'm talking about here, but I don't take any chances with the wool so I don't add fabric softeners or dryer sheets. :)

Be sure to throw those jeans in the dryer with the wool because the drying cycle is just as important as the wash cycle for FRICTION. The jeans beating on that wool while it's drying, makes the wool soft and fluffy.

Your washer tub now has a coating of wool fibers throughout, so wipe it out as best as you can and then throw in a load of bathtowels or bedsheets ... something that won't hold onto those fibers after it's washed. If you throw in cotton sweaters or tshirts, you're just asking for lots of lint on your clothes.

After the wool is completely dry, be sure to clean out the lint trap because there will be LOTS of wool lint in there.
Your wool is now beautifully felted. Sometimes, if it's really thin wool or if it's loosely woven wool, I'll put it through the entire wash/dry cycle again, just to get it felted better. Also, if you feel like taking the extra time, the felting works really nice if you let the wool soak in the hot soapy water for a while before putting it through the wash cycle. That really saturates those wool fiber which makes it felt even better. After it soaks, drain the water, add a little more detergent and then fill the tub with fresh hot water. I usually don't take the time to do that though just because it takes extra time and .. we have well water here so I'm always careful with my water usage.

Felted wool fresh from the dryer is so nice. Try it, you'll see!

Ok, I have to have at least one picture in my posts, otherwise it's just too boring. I'm more visual myself so pictures catch my attention, making me want to read.

So this is what I'm currently working on. I've this need to make something with neutral colors ... whites on whites is so nice. I used my really nice thick wool for this. I coffee dyed the background color. The picture doesn't show it but it's nicely mottled. The trick to mottling that wool is to resist the urge to stir the wool while it's in the dye pot.
The trees are the natural white undyed color. I lightly coffee dyed the #5 thread too.

I want to keep this design simple so it's just going to be plain trees with scattered french knots for snow. I think it would look really nice with a plain white candle with a white spray of something in a candle ring. I plan to use a vintage off white linen fabric for the backing.

For those of you who like to see how my ideas are born, here is my birthing paper. I keep scrap paper by the computer so that when I have an idea, I can quickly draw my ideas. This one was created last week while I was talking on the phone with my sister-in-law, who was filling me in with the latest of the family gossip. :) The tree design is right there on the bottom left of the picture ... Right under the note to myself to get powdered sugar and marshmallows at the store and right beside the note that Rachel is flying Southwest airlines to get to St. Paul and has a stopover at Chicago Midway airport.

Ok, this has taken a LOT of time to write. I'm done for now.

Happy day everyone!


Pat said...

Good explanation of the felting process...I got some old wool skirts at a thrift shop and didn't know how to proceed with them. Now I do! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I knew about felting my wool but never thought about old jeans to help the process. I'm glad I sat and read through your process..and why not as I LOVE your work. I've got some wool given to me and was told they felted it. Some of it is "loose" so I think I will be sending it all through again...with jeans! Thanks!!

Country Wings in Phoenix said...

Oh Cath...
I found your blog tonight while blog hopping. I am so thrilled to be able to read about the felting process for wool. I have found several skirts at GW and was wondering about the process, as I want to cut them up for crafts. I love recycling clothing most of all.

I love the way you sketch your pictures. I usually sketch in my head, but I love the way you put it all on paper.

I have signed up to follow your blog. I can't wait to see what you share next. Please pop over and say hi. I would so love the company. I would be honored if you would sign up to follow my blog as well.

Country hugs sweetie...Sherry

Mary on Lake Pulaski said...

Thank you so much Cathy for the great felting info and also the insight to your creative journey.

paulette said...

Thanks Cathy!
I've got to round up some jeans!! Thanks for the tip- I was doing everything right except for the jeans...it make sense.
I found a huge 100% wool wrap skirt and a wool jacket on the $1 rake at The Thrift shop today so I was thrilled! Nice brown checks...so fire up the old washer, grab those jeans...thanks for the lesson and loved seeing your creative side! Take care!

carolyn@primitive~devotion said...

Cath, thanks for taking the time to post these instructions. And they are very detailed and clear and I so appreciate that!
Your designs are always so pretty and well thought out. And your work is second to none!
One of these days, I am going to attempt doing this. I keep finding old wool army blankets at Goodwill. Can they be felted too? That would be a lot of wool if it works!
Enjoy the rest of your week!

Buttonchief7 said...

Just read your jean tip and was so surprised. Didn't know about the friction which is needed. Ingenious! I'm the one who compared it to skinning squirrels, pulling the linings and all. This old dog is happy to learn some new tricks. Thanks. Peggy

Linda said...

Thank you so very much for your help. I hesitated to buy used clothing, didn't know I had to was it anyway. Now to get busy creating. You do beautiful work, and I'm so glad I found your blog. Thanks for sharing.
Linda @ Kindlelight Blessings

Anonymous said...

Do I have to felt the wool that I bought off the bolt at JoAnn's? Are felt squares feltwool? Need to search out some old jeans. I cut up 4 pairs of slacks and a skirt yesterday.

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