If 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.
So 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:
1. 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.
Now 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.
Once 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.
Congratulations to Janet who won the Redwood Forest Date book from Blissen in last week's Saturday Giveaway.
Technorati tags: hats, crafts, felt, knitting