Ever since the rivalry of the Sharks vs. the Jets in West Side Story there has not been a more fierce rivalry than wool vs. acrylic yarn! There are those who are loyal to a fault to one or the other. After being at the Craft & Hobby Association show teaching people about loom knitting I got in a teacher-like mood. I thought for this month’s column I would discuss the pro’s and cons of each fiber choice.
First let’s start with a definition of the two fibers:
Acrylic is petroleum based. It comes from oil. It was first developed in the mid-1940s but not widely used until the 1950’s. The fiber is produced by dissolving the polymer in a solvent and then it is extruded through the holes of a spinneret, similar to a spider spinning it’s silk.
Wool is of course a natural fiber. It is obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, and angora from rabbits among others. It has been around since.. well forever and is sheared or trimmed from the animal in question.
The pros and cons of each fiber.
- Warm even when wet; wool naturally wicks away moisture keeping you warm and dry.
- Fire retardant; it’s great for blankets and baby clothes, because it is naturally fire resistant
- Versital; very light weight wool is cool in summer because of its wicking properties, and warm in winter.
- Takes dye well and resists fading.
- It’s a natural, renewable resource.
- It has anti bacterial properties.
- Holds stitch definition better, can be blocked.
- Most wools need to be hand washed, unless you get a superwash version.
- Moths and insects like to chew on it.
- Some find it itchy and uncomfortable.
- It can felt if accidentally washed, ruining the item.
- Generally can cost more.
- Easy to care for, can usually be machine washed and dried.
- Costs less than natural fiber yarns.
- Easy to find in stores.
- Generally soft and nice to wear against the skin.
- Cannot be dyed easily.
- Does not breath well.
- Will not resist water, or keep you warm when wet.
- Is not fire resistant, will melt when it comes into contact with a heat source.
- Can be squeaky when you are knitting with it.
- Will not wick away moisture.
- Cannot be blocked, must be ‘killed’ with an iron in order to help shape the piece.
These are just a few of the main pros and cons I have found. What fiber do you generally use, and why? Next month I will be review a new yarn I found! It looks like the fashion designers are getting into the yarn game! Tune in next month to find out more!
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Here’s another Frequently Asked Question that I see over and over. What is felting? Or How do I felt my project? Or even Why would I need to felt? So let’s just start at the very beginning with the “what” then go on to the “how”. We will even cover the “why”.
What is felting?
Felting is a method of shrinking the fibers in the yarn after a project is finished so that the stitches sort of melt together and make a nice solid, thick, dense fabric. Ever had a helpful spouse or child put a wool or, heaven forbid!, a cashmere sweater in the washer by accident and have it come out 3 sizes too small? They successfully (if unintentionally) felted your sweater. And probably felted your wrath as well…
You may see some people refer to this process as fulling or being fulled. It is the same thing. At one time, fulling was the process that produced the felted material. But these days, the words have merged, and felting has become the dominate term.
Why would I want to felt a project?
Felting makes sturdy bags, warm hats, wonderful mittens, and comfy slippers. Also felted diaper covers have a wonderful waterproof, yet still breathable, property that mothers using cloth diapers prefer.
What fibers can I felt?
Animal fibers are the only fibers that will felt. No cotton, silk, linen, acrylic, etc. And there are a variety of animal fibers to choose from. But please note that if the label says it is superwash, then it will not felt. Superwash wool has been treated so it can be machine washed. Therefore it will not felt.
Wool from sheep is the most commonly used animal fiber for felting. Other animals fibers that felt well are cashmere, alpaca, llama, camel, mohair, yak, bison, and angora. I will say that angora will shed something fierce due to the guard hairs. The different fibers will felt a little differently so you may want to test the fiber by felting a swatch first before using it in a project.
The preferable percentage of animal fiber is 100% . While some will say you can felt 80% or above, any other addition that is not animal fiber, like acrylic or nylon, will keep the wool from felting as well as needed. And any blend of the animal fibers I mentioned will felt as long as they are not mixed with non-animal fibers like acrylic or silk.
What causes animal fiber to felt?
The fiber has microscopic scales on the surface. Ever seen a picture of hair under a microscope? It looks like is has cracks in it. That is scaling. Different animals or breeds will have different size scales. The combination of temperature change and friction will cause the scales to stand up and interlock with neighboring scales causing the shrinking and thickening of the fabric.
How much does felting cause a project to shrink?
The percentage of shrinkage will depend on the fiber and how long you leave it in the washer. The longer you run it, the more it will felt.
Can I felt any finished project?
No. You will need to make sure you have used the right fiber for felting, have made it larger than you want the finished item to be, and have worked the stitches loose enough. Always plan for felting before working your project. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Can I use my washing machine to felt or do I have to felt by hand?
While you can felt by hand, it is very hot and tedious work. I prefer using my washing machine. On that note, when using a washing machine, it is much easier to use a top loading washer since you will be stopping and checking the item on a regular basis. It can be done in a front loading washer, but you would need to drain the tub each and every time you check. So if you have a front load washing machine, you might want to find a friend with a top loading washer who is kind of enough to let you use his or hers or go to a nearby Laundromat.
Why does the white wool not felt as well?
White, cream, and other shades of white may not felt as well as darker colors. This is because the chemicals used to bleach out any color has damaged the fiber. It will still felt. Just not as much.
How do I felt my project?
First you need to gather the items you will need.
You will need something to put the item in like a zippered pillowcase or lingerie bag. This will protect your project from catching on anything.
You will also need a helper for the agitation. You need that extra friction. Old jeans that are no longer worn work great. You will need 2 pair. You can always buy a couple of pairs from a thrift shop. I would not suggest towels due to the fuzz they leave on the item.
You will also need wool wash or baby shampoo. This will help open up the scales and aid in the felting. Also helps with the wet animal smell. You will only use 1 – 2 tablespoons.
Rubber gloves are nice to have as well since you will be dealing with very hot water.
A top loading washing machine is preferable as previously mentioned.
And last but not least, the project to be felted.
Set your washer to small load and hot water. Start your washer. If your washer is by a sink, I would suggest running the hot water in your sink to get it flowing so less cold water will go into the tub when filling.
Put your item in the zipper bag and place in washer with the 2 pair jeans. Add 1-2 tablespoons of wool wash or baby shampoo.
Run the wash cycle for about 5 minutes. Stop the machine. Wait for it to stop then get the bag out. You will want to wear your rubber gloves for this since the water is hot. Unzip the bag and take the item out. If you can still see the stitches or it’s still too big then it’s not ready. Put it back in the bag, zip it, and put back in the washer. Run for another 3 minutes and check again. Repeat until you get the size you need or until the stitches seem to disappear.
Be very careful when felting hats, mittens, slippers, or anything where size matters. You do not want to over felt the items and make them too small. I have done that before with a hat. Now my daughter has it…
DO NOT run the spin cycle. This will cause your work to have creases and be misshapen.
When you take the bag out after you have it fully felted, you can then run the rest of the wash, rinse, and spin cycle for the jeans.
Take the item out of the bag. Rinse the item if you used baby shampoo and squeeze all the excess water out without wringing it. You will not need to rinse it if you use wool wash. You can then put the item between 2 towels, roll it up, and squeeze as much water out as you can. I like to put it item between the towels on the floor and stand on it. Nothing like gravity and my weight to finish squeezing out the excess water…
Now you will want to shape you item. Use a plastic covered box the right size or just stuff the item full of plastic grocery bags. Pull it into shape. You do not want it to dry until it is in the correct shape. Once you have it in the shape needed, let it dry for about 2 days out of direct sunlight.
DO NOT put it in the dryer to dry. This will cause your item to dry out shape and felt it further than you need.
Here is a bag I recently made and felted.
This is before I felted the bag…
You can see the difference in the size. I used KnitPicks Wool of the Andes for this bag. Wonderful wool for felting and lovely to work with as well.
Well I hope this has answered your frequently asked questions regarding felting. Good luck with all your felted projects. Happy loom knitting!