Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Caring for Hand-felted Garments and Accessories

Wash felt items by hand with mild dish soap or shampoo - not Woolite - they've reformulated it for all types of fiber and now it's too alkaline for wool. (Ironic, isn't it) You don't want to wash a felted item in hot water, especially with soap or it will shrink. Similarly, do not "scrunch" the piece continually, since that will also shrink it. I recommend a filling a washbasin or large plastic bowl with cool to lukewarm water, and a few drops of soap, letting the piece saturate in the water, swishing it and turning it, let it sit for 5 minutes and then rinse.

Rinse in cool water til all evidence of soap is gone, several rinses if necessary, and add a drop of vinegar in the last rinse to neutralize the soap. You can put a drop of hair conditioner in one more rinse to make a felt garment softer. (conditioner is not recommended for Nuno (felt on silk) items.

You can roll the piece in a towel or put it in the spin cycle on your washing machine to remove excess water. Block to size, just like a sweater. I usually draw an outline around the piece on a piece of butcher paper before I wash it to help with blocking. After the piece is washed I put the butcher paper pattern under a sheet of 4 mil plastic on a large table and stretch, shape and flatten the piece to match the drawing.

After blocking, you can steam iron while it is still wet. Use the Wool setting to achieve a smooth surface. Do not iron a dry wool piece or you will scorch it. You can also just dry it without ironing. Nuno items can be ironed when wet, but it diminishes the nuno effect so it's not recommended.

Felted items can be hung to dry on a thick hangar without stretching and that's the fastest way to dry them. Be sure to have a towel or washbasin below to catch the residual water in the piece. Normally a piece that is hung will dry overnight. You can also lay the piece out on a towel to dry, which will take about 24 hours or so, depending on size.

Pilling and loose fibers:
All garments made of fibers will pill. That includes fine merino sweaters as well as man-made fibers such as "polar fleece." They will pill most where there is the most friction, under the arms and anywhere you handle the piece regularly. Felted items will pill over time as well. The best way to handle pills on a felt piece is to cut the pills off along the surface with fine scissors, like cuticle scissors. That isn't good advice for knitted items, since you are cutting strands of yarn and making the structure less stable, but felt has a different, stronger structure and will not be less sound once the stray fibers are cut. I don't  recommend pulling the pills off the surface of felt items, since it will loosen the surrounding fibers and soften the piece.

Pilling can also be a sign of a felt item softening, so that more fibers are available on the surface to catch and pull under friction. You can harden your piece yourself, by first cutting your pills and loose fibers off at the surface and then doing what I said above NOT to do - dunk it in hot soapy water and scrunch it around for a few minutes. Then follow the instructions to rinse and dry the piece, paying particular attention to stretching it back to size. (see suggestions above for blocking) Felt can be manipulated and stretched while wet, even long after you've bought it, so slowly pull it back into shape and it will dry good as new.

If you have any other questions about the care of your felted item, get in touch by email -

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