Felting with a Washing Machine
This method presumes the reader to have some prior experience with hand felting and would be no good for beginners. Beginners are referred to my instructions on how to felt for beginners.
- Front loading washing machine
- Synthetic Satin. Allow an extra 20 cm each side of your laid out fibres and 50 cms at each end, then double it .
- Clothes washing detergent
- Felting supplies - Divine Wooltops, o and/or Felbi Wool Batts
- Large waterproof sheet size of the table you are using
- Elastic ties about 30 cm long(old stockings or afbric strips would work)
- Olive oil soap
- Netting or terylene curtains(also known as curtain sheer), to cover your dry work
- Plastic water container with holes in the end for spraying water(milk bottles are good)
- Good music
- Preparedness to fail and improve by trial and error
Place waterproof sheet on table.
Cover with one sheet of synthetic satin, shiny side down.
Cover with second sheet of synthetic satin shiny side up.
Lay out your dry design on to this base in exactly the same manner you would when hand felting. This can include a base of Felbi Prefeltts, Divine Wool Top or even a layer of fabric if you are intending to nuno felt. Allow at least a 20 cm gap between the sides of your design and the edge of your synthetic satin, and a minimum 50 cm at each end.
Cover your dry design with curtain sheer and wet down with water.
Drag the bar of olive oil soap systematically over the curtain sheer, remembering to anchor your work to the table with your other hand to keep the design stable. Olive oil soap seems to have a lower suds rate which you need because front loaders are notorious for frothing up…
Rub the design until all the fibres are saturated and have become flat. This process of saturating all the fibres is not necessary for the felting process. It is more a technique to eliminate creases in your wet work when you roll it up which may then become permanent when felted in the machine.
Carefully remove the curtain sheer.
Leave the water proof sheet on the table. Start at one end of your work and roll up the synthetic satin tightly so that you have a good core of it before it hits your work. If you don’t have enough excess satin for a core, try using a light weight towel, laid at the start of the satin, so when you begin to roll the satin, the towel becomes the core. I have found a core inside your roll helps to keep the majority of your felt work on the outer of the roll so you get a more even felting rate with your work. Continue rolling up until you reach the end of the satin. Don’t be too concerned about how tightly or evenly you can roll it or you’ll never have a go. People get quite anxious about what is happening to the design of their work at this stage but be brave and continue on! Using the elastic ties(or old stockings or strips of torn fabric), tie the work off in about 20 cm sections, making sure the two end ties are very secure. I tie each section so that it indents the work a bit but not so tight that it might cause permanent creases when it felts. Your ties have to be slightly tight so they don’t slide off when the piece felts(shrinks) in the machine.
Washing Machine Settings
- water temperature: cold cycle
- normal wash (not delicates or woollens)
- washing powder. About ½ a teaspoon.
Place roll in the machine and let it proceed through the wash cycle only of a normal wash. Mine takes about 20 minutes to do this.
I then have the ability with my machine to skip the rinse phase and proceed to a short spin. The spin is not essential. I just prefer to then take it out and handle the wool spun and damp rather than wet and soaking.
I return to the table and unroll. Inspect the work. I find at this point I can still (sometimes) add or remove from the prefelt, or stretch out the odd crease in the felt which may be developing. I re-roll the work from the opposite end and then tie it off again.
I return the piece to the washing machine for another wash cycle and spin.
My outlet for my machine is not plumbed in but hangs over into my adjacent laundry sink. This allows me to collect the spin water in a bucket and reuse it by opening the door and tipping the water back in for use in the second wash cycle. I feared the water would jump back out at me due to water levels but in 2 machines I have used, it held the water in no problems. I catch this water again after the second spin and reuse it again for massaging the felt in the bucket during the final fulling process. I don’t add any extra detergent for this cycle as I reuse the already soapy water
When I remove the roll from the machine after its second wash and spin, it is in an advance prefelt stage which is my preference as I like to do the fulling myself. This only takes about 10 minutes and allows me to finalise my shape and edges to the degree I want.
I full the felt by massaging the piece in a bucket of water(the spin water from the machine), rubbing and tossing.
Finally I do a final rinse in a bucket, roll in a towel to absorb excess moisture, then lastly a good hot iron onto the damp felt to dry it off and give it a good finish.
I have shared with you my own explorations of how to felt in a washing machine. Each machine is different and everyone felts differently so you need to be prepared to experiment with different approaches. I hope my experiences might encourage you to have a go. We learn through our mistakes.
This is a strong disclaimer regarding using a washing machine in this manner. It is advised you seek the advice of a washing machine mechanic or manufacturer to ensure you do not harm your machine. I have not tried top loaders, nor will I, as it is a very different type of agitation, but I have heard of people who use one.
© Chrissy Lauritz, Fibre Fusion. Sep 2007