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Tips and Tricks:  Felting Recycled Sweaters in a Washing Machine

When you decide to make felt from an old sweater, here are some things that you might want to consider:

  • Make sure that the sweater is made from 100% wool, if possible.  I prefer to use sweaters made from 100% merino wool, but most wools will felt.  The best assurance that the wool will felt is if it has a tag that says "Dry Clean Only."  Some wool sweaters are made using wool that has gone through a process that reduces the likelihood that it will felt.  You can identify those sweaters because they will usually say that they are Machine Washable or the tag will use the word "Superwash" somewhere in the description of the wool. 

  • If you are using wool that is not Superwash, the you can usually get a decent result as long as there is at least 80% wool.  You will not get as tightly felted fabric, but it will be suitable for most needs.  Anything more than 20% of a non-wool fiber is going to give you hit-and miss results.

  • When felting/fulling the sweaters in your washing machine, put the sweater into an old pillow case and tie the top closed.  You can wash a number of sweaters at the same time this way and not worry about excessive fiber migration.  Just make sure that the colors of the sweaters are close.  I basically separate my loads into darks and lights.  (Don't wash one white sweater with a load of black sweaters, but you can add a navy sweater to a batch of black sweaters with good results.)  The old pillow case will catch most of the fibers that come out of the sweater during the felting/fulling process so that they do not clog up your washing machine drain hose or pipe.

  • I use hot water for the wash and warm water for the rinse when I am felting/fulling old sweaters.  I use about 1/2 of the laundry detergent that I normally use in a load of wash.  Do not use fabric softener as it will interfere with the felting process.  Some people like to check their sweaters to see when they reach the exact level of felting/fullling that they are wanting.  I usually just run the entire load and see what I get out of it.  To me, that is part of the fun.  But, if you are knitting something with the intention of felting it, you may want to stop and check the item more often.  For this, it is nice to have a zipper closing pillowcase to make it easier to check as your item is felting/fulling.

  • I almost always dry the recycled sweaters in the clothes dryer.  I do not remove them from the pillow cases, again to try to trap as much stray fiber as possible.  I do not let them get completely dry.  When they are almost dry, I remove them and I shape them and lay them flat until they are dry. You can also take your sweaters from the washer and lay them out to dry on a flat surface.

  • After the sweater is felted, I then usually cut out all of the seams of ready-to-wear sweaters.  You can discard them, or save them to use as decorative cording.  I love to use the seams that I have cut from black sweaters to machine needle felt into other colors of felted sweaters to create a pattern.  I usually store the cut-out seams in a bag by color and do not worry about matching them to the exact sweater they came from.

  • When I have cut apart a sweater, I store the cut pieces of each sweater in a bag.  I then know that I have matching pieces when I want to assemble a purse or some other project.  When the amount of remaining felted sweater gets to low for a purse, I transfer the pieces to a bag with like colors.  I use these small pieces to embellish other purses or projects.

  • Don't be afraid to try sweaters that have patterns on them.  They can give you some really wonderful results regardless of whether the pattern is a result of color changes or fancy stitches.