Tuesday, January 01, 2008

How to Make Felt Hats

How to Make Felt HatsIf you're like me you know what felt is, have used felt plenty of times and could reliably pick it out of a line-up but haven't a clue on earth how felt is made.

Well today is your lucky day because I'm going to show one way it's done (and it's soooooo easy!) I found a book at our library: Hip Knit Hats by Cathy Carron which has terrific patterns for all kinds of knit hats--some felted, some not--and I spent a couple weeks knitting like a madwoman, making hat after hat in the middle of a flaming obsession. Carron's patterns are quick and easy so I could make one or two in a day and she has instructions for casting on with the "wrap" method that is perfect for making hats because it leaves no hole in the top which you would have with a traditional cast on.

Making a felted hat is extra fun too because the felting process covers a multitude of knitting mistakes. Even if your stitches are slightly uneven felting will be the great equalizer and the hat will come out looking remarkably professional and spiffy--no one will believe you've made it yourself. Unless of course they too read Scribbit, then they might believe you. Maybe. I guess.

At any rate, felt is made when natural fibers--either knitted or woven--shrink and tangle through heat and agitation to produce a denser, thicker texture and material. Have you ever accidentally thrown your favorite pink wool sweater into the washer only to find it big enough to fit your doll? That's felting. You can felt things in your washing machine or your can felt them with needles, pricking and tangling them by hand. Sounds easy, right? It is!

To felt a knitted hat by machine, the first step is to choose your fibers carefully. You need something that shrinks and tangles well so you'll need a yarn that is as close to 100% wool, or mohair, as possible. The patterns in Carron's book call for using a strand of wool and a strand of mohair together which makes a lovely, soft hat but I had a hard time finding 100% mohair. The closest I could find was 20% which just wouldn't be enough to felt properly--especially when matched with a 100% wool strand.

How NOT to Felt HatsSo make sure you're starting out with the right stuff. I bought a lovely sea green yarn from JoAnn's from their Sensations brand that claimed to be 100% wool but when I went to felt it it was immediately apparent I'd been scammed because not only did it not felt or shrink, it stretched into this enormous blobby mass that earned me quite a few mockings. You could cut holes for legs and turn that into a toasty set of granny panties it was so gigantic.

But I digress . . . once you've knitted your hat making sure all the yarn ends are woven back into the hat properly--and I warn you it will be big to allow for shrinking--you simply wash it. Here's what you do:

How to Make Felt Hats1. Set your machine to the hottest, longest, most agitating cycle.
2. Use detergent--even though the new hat isn't dirty the detergent helps to shrink the fibers.
3. Place the hat in a pillowcase secured with a rubber band to prevent the sloughed-off fibers from clogging your machine. One item per case to keep items from cross-dying.
4. Throw the bag into the machine and press "start."
5. When it's finished, shape the hat then let it dry (it'll take a couple days).

That's all there is to it. If you can wash a hat, you can felt a hat.

How to Make Felt HatsNow if, when your hat comes out of the washer, it's too big or hasn't been felted enough (assuming you've done it properly, not like my green disaster up top) you can throw it back in for another cycle which will shrink it more. Some machines just aren't as aggressive as others, mine requires double cycles to felt properly. If, on the other hand, your hat is a little on the small side you can stretch it and pull it to get a bit of extra room.

When you shape it, it's best to use the head that will be wearing the hat but if you don't happen to have that head around and don't own a hat form (who does??) you can shape it on your own head or as best you can, shaping it bit by bit, evenly all the way around. Here's what my favorite charcoal gray hat looked like before and after it came out of the washer.

How to Make Felt HatsOnce it's dry you can embellish it in so many ways. The top hat in blue that Lillian is wearing was embroidered with pink and white wool flowers, I have a cream colored bucket-style hat that I use to showcase my great grandmother's vintage pins that she gave me and I sewed pearls and glass beads to this gray pillbox hat Grace is wearing.

Oh the possibilities are endless. And if you don't knit I bet you could achieve interesting results with a crocheted item--has anyone had experience with felting crocheted things? If you're still too chicken to try this (I "call you out!") you can always go to my ever-present Etsy shop where I have a few hats left for sale but you really should give this a try. They make lovely presents and are fun to make--you'll feel so proud of yourself I promise.

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Congratulations to Janet who won the Redwood Forest Date book from Blissen in last week's Saturday Giveaway.

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24 comments:

chelle said...

I have fallen so hard for the gray felted hat ... I may just have to get knitting!

Great instructions on felting :) I never allow the knitted item to go through the spin cycle as it could leave creases in the project.

SUGARCRAFT INDIA said...

A very inspiring article ....feel like trying it out...

Thanks for sharing!!

jennwa said...

Those are very cute hats.

Geekwif said...

Well now I'm just going to have to go and try that. I'm a crocheter, not a knitter, so I'm interested in trying your theory. It doesn't seem that there would be any reason it wouldn't work as long as you use the right stitch.

Sassy Lucy said...

Beautiful hats.

MommyTime said...

Anyone who can knit should try this. I can't. But I am the proud owner of a gorgeous one made by Scribbit (courtesy of the excellent Etsy site). I get compliments all the time. Having toasty ears never looked so good.

And on the JoAnn's thing, I have to say that while they are often the only option around, their stuff is spotty at best, and if you have another store choice, I always say, use it!

Tammy said...

I found out the hard way that #3 on your list is very, very important!!! Our drain was clogged after I felted a purse. Oops!

Some wool yarn is labeled washable, even at 100% wool...that yarn won't usually felt (probably when you don't want it to it will! LOL

Amy said...

Those are so cute! I saw on Not Martha that she had been saving her old sweaters for projects like these. I am going to have to go through some of the old sweaters and start repurposing them. I had hoped to make some stockings this year, but maybe we will have more time next year!!

Thanks for the ideas!

Mer said...

This is so cool! I may have to get my knitting needles out again and try this. :0)

And, may I say, it is nice to see your young daughter smiling again. Hope the DVD thing worked out okay.

Marie N. said...

Your hats are adorable. I love to knit, and Ive felted bags and slippers, but I have never made a felted hat.

I'd like to follow up with what Tammy indicated. If a wool, even 100% wool, is labeled as a "superwash" that means it has been treated so that it will not shrink and felt.

Also, alpaca fibers felt beautifully.

Annie said...

Um, I guess I would have to learn how to knit to do this. I am totally all thumbs when it comes to knitting for some reason. The hat is ADORABLE!

Maria said...

Wow, I really like them! Thanks for the idea!

SabineM said...

I came by to wish you and your family a HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Love the hats, I might to have a go at it!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I can't knit =(. BUT, I've heard that you can do felting with old wool sweaters. I'm going to keep my eye open next time I'm at a thrift store for a colorful wool sweater.

dawn224 said...

And whatever you do - if you decide to try to make some felted balls for your kid to play with - do NOT just wrap up a bunch of balls of wool yarn and throw them in your washing machine ... you will teach your kid some awesome words as you cut wads of yarn off your agitator...

ames said...

those hats are so lovely! I got my mother all interested in felting this Christmas as we were ooing and aweing over my cousin's felted sweaters she made. One of my goals this year is to learn to knit more than just a scarf, and I can't wait to try out felting my creations too. Very thorough instructions, thank you!

Stacey@Look, Mom, Look! said...

I really need to find some time to do this. I also have a friend that uses older "preworn" sweaters to felt and use to make mittens. She lines them with polar fleece and adds embellishments. They are beautiful! I envy your creativity!

Lauri said...

Now I've got another item for my want to try this list!

Damselfly said...

I once actually entertained the idea of being a milliner. This method of making a hat looks great!

surfer said...

Hi, i love your site and your hats...I really need some help figureing out how big to make my hat before felting? or do i need a special pattern..I have been crocheting hats like mad AND JUST RAN INTO SOME YARN (JOANNES) AND IT SAYS IT WILL FELT WHEN I WASH AND DRY IT BUT IF I USE MY REG PATTERN IT WILL COME OUT TO SMALL...ALSO WANT TO MAKE A BABY HAT.JUST FOUND OUT I WILL BE A GRANDMA.. A FIRST!!!iT IS GETTING LATE SO I WILL BE CHECKING OUT YOUR SITE MORE TOMORROW..THANKS FROM A SISTER ALASKAN..bETH

Scribbit said...

Surfer--yes, you'll have to make the hat larger than a traditional knitted design to compensate for the shrinkage.

Hip Knit Hats, the book I mention in the post, has great patterns and was at my local library. Check your library for felting books and it'll give you an idea of how big to make it. These patterns usually called for multiple strands of chunky weight yarn.

narragansett said...

Great idea I would like a pink or red hat.

Loving Vintage Ladies Hats said...

I really enjoyed this blog post! I'm a big fan of hats, especially hats that I can make for myself or my nieces and nephews. I was just wondering if you had any knitting tips? What type of wool do you use and where do you get it?

Scribbit said...

So long as it's 100% it shouldn't matter.