Sunday, October 28, 2012

Felting Sweaters

I saw something in the Summer '11 Art Quilting Studio that I just loved. Roben-Marie Smith's felted cuff bracelets were featured in the "Art Quilt Walking" article, and they are just gorgeous. Since felting ("fulling" is the proper term) old wool sweaters is something I've been dying to try, this really lit a fire under me, and the other day I went to Goodwill and bought 4 sweaters for this purpose. One is 100% lambswool, so I am positive I'll get what I want from it. Unfortunately, it's also the drabest in color: charcoal grey. The other 3 are wool blends, with lambswool, angora and cashmere (woot!). Two of them are 30% viscose, which according to this guide, might not work out as planned. The final one has only 10% nylon, so I think it'll be fine.

Two have cable patterns, two are basic rib-knit. The pink one has a small hole,
so this was a good sweater to recycle.


My hope is that the brighter ones all end up being suitable for me to make bracelets for my daughter for xmas. I love the color combination of green/aqua/pink, and think that these cuffs would be perfect for her. Smith's cuffs are ivory, tone-on-tone, lovely monochromatic mixes of texture and fibers with lace and vintage buttons. Lovely as they are, white, even off-white, is not a good color choice for my daughter or me. (She tends to wear her jewelry until they literally fall apart, and ivory would show grime fast, and I just tend to be messy.)

Right now, the sweaters are in the dryer, still in the pillowcases. Because the felting process can shed fibers, it's a good idea to protect your washing machine from all those fibers that can clog the hoses, as well as the dryer (for the same reason). When I removed the pillowcases from the washer, I didn't see any evidence of fiber in the drum, so hopefully that worked.



Naturally, I am dying to see if it worked, but I'll let the dryer go for a bit longer before I check. My biggest concern was seeing the pillowcases flowing freely in the washer; not enough agitation might have prevented the felting process. If I have to run them through again, I'll use less water. One site I read suggested putting a pair of jeans in the wash with them to "beat" the fabric up a bit, but I don't wash jeans in hot water (which is required) because I don't want to shrink them. We shall see...

-----

Well, it's definitely working. All 4 sweaters have shrunk, and the knit is tighter, but they're not quite felted yet. The green sweater was a ladies medium, and is now small enough for a 5 year old. I think it was probably washed before, because it was too short already, but now it's teeny.


The pillowcases are all full of "pills" that would be in my washer if not for them. I think they will be something I can use on the bracelets, as little felted bobbles. I'm washing the sweaters again, in less water this time, and hope the agitation is greater, producing better results.

-----

Two of the pillowcases came open in the second wash. I'd opened them to see how things were coming along and retied using two corners rather than twisting and knotting like I had initially (see pic above). The washer had some pills in the drum, but not as bad as I feared. I think after this drying I'll be all set. If it turns out that the 2 with only 70% wool content still aren't quite fulled, I'll stitch to reinforce any cut edges.

The two I retied came untied in the dryer, but the lint filter was not badly clogged up. Don't use the corners to knot the pillowcase; an overhand knot works better!

Whether it was the second wash and dry, or the lesser amount of water in the washer (and more agitation) I couldn't say, but they definitely look felted now. The charcoal sweater, a man's extra-large, is now more like a child's medium. Something I didn't notice about it when I bought it: holes in the elbows, one of them more a tear than a hole. I feel better about buying it now, since I was potentially taking a useable sweater out of the hands of someone who needed it. But seriously people, really? Taking sweaters that damaged to Goodwill? You're buttheads...

ANYway. I have them on drying racks on the table to finish drying and collected all the little pills. Unfortunately, I don't have as many of the blue and green, since those were the ones that came open, probably washing away a lot of them. They're on the flattish side, which means I bet I could even use them in some papermaking projects.

Not sure why the pink one produced so many more pills. Fiber content most likely.
-----

Once the sweaters were dry, I turned them inside out and cut all the seams off. I saved them, too, because I'm me. Now I have a bunch of pieces and scraps that I can start playing with.

One site I read suggested using the seams as cording.
The ribbed necks I think I'll use as necklaces (choker-length).
Here's what the knitted patterns look like after their second wash. They shrunk up nicely, but the pattern is still visible, if fuzzier.

After two trips through the washer/dryer.

There's enough felted material to make several cuffs. I'll go through my fabric scraps to find bits and pieces to coordinate with these colors, dig in my yarn stash, and try to track down some interesting buttons (holy crap -- vintage buttons go for way more than I wanna spend on ebay!), plus I have a ton of beads. I think they'll be awesome.

2 comments:

Sharon said...

Sounds pretty! I guess neither she nor you inherited my wool issues.

Wendy said...

Not that I've notices! (Besides, haven't I inherited enough from you?) ;)