Fun with Felt: Patchwork Pillow

Patchwork Pillow from Simply Felt

For awhile now I've been collecting old wool sweaters that I find in thrift stores. I have vague plans for this pile of sweaters: maybe I'll unravel them and use the yarn for new projects; maybe I'll felt them and make coasters or potholders; maybe I'll wash them and give them away; maybe I'll put them all in a plastic bag and re-donate them to charity, and so on.

I recently found a great idea, though—a patchwork pillow from our eBook Simply Felt by Jane Emerson and Margaret Docherty. We have a winner!

It's made with machine felted wool, which is what I have materials for, and I love the color scheme. I have one cream sweater and one tan sweater and I think I'll use my knitting machine to quickly knit up some plain stockinette blue and dark gray pieces to felt. I use my knitting machine to knit yardage for felt more than anything else. I haven't mastered the machine enough to use it for sweaters. That's on my list.

Simply Felt has some great info on machine felting, which can be a tricky business. I've felted things perfectly and things very imperfectly using the exact same methods. Why does it sometimes work and sometimes decidedly not work?

The Machine Felting Process

Transforming an ordinary knitted or woven wool fabric into a fulled fabric is very easy—especially if you have a washing machine handy. The thicker the knitting, and the more fulled it is, the better its insulating properties will be. However, the machine-washing process is far from exact so it is not a suitable technique for items that demand careful measurement. It does work well for projects such as pillow covers, hot-water bottle covers, and pot holders, for example. If the knitting has a patterned stitch, the resulting fulled textile will also be interestingly textured.

Here's the how-to:

1. If you're using a ready-made garment, check the fiber content on the washing instruction label. Only pure wool is suitable, including mixed wool fibers, such as mohair, angora, or cashmere. "Washable" wools will not felt. The same rules apply to a handknitted garment. (Some finishing agents used by yarn manufacturers can impede the fulling process, too.)

2. Wash the piece on a hot wash (a 140 degree F/60 degree C with two tablespoons of soap) cycle and then measure the piece to check the degree of shrinkage. If it fulled down well, it is now ready for use. If not, put it through the machine on a similar setting and check again. The amount of shrinkage on any piece of knitting varies greatly, so you need to practice first with some old pieces to check the appropriate temperatures. Normally this will be about 140 degrees F, but it might go up to 194 degrees F (60-90 degrees C).

3. Ensure the piece is well rinsed; hang it out to dry. Once dry you should be able to cut the knitting without it fraying at the edges.

The two samples shown here demonstrate the effects of machine washing wool. A relatively open weave quickly becomes a matted, hard fabric, which can be cut without fraying. The degree of shrinkage depends on the program used. Tumble dryers will further felt wool, even in a relatively short time.

—from Simply Felt by Jane Emerson and Margaret Docherty

It seems like the key to successful machine felting is the temperature of the water. I think I've been setting my machine too low; I'm sure it's below 140 degrees. I'll try it hotter for the Patchwork Pillow felting.

My favorite thing about this pillow is that the seams are part of the design. It's simple but very interesting. I'll use a pillow form to make this an easy project, too. And I know from experience that I need a thick sewing machine needle to get through two layers of felt. I made some felt pouches a couple of years ago and broke several needles before I wised up.

If you like felting as much as I do, download the eBook Simply Felt. You'll be inspired by the beautiful felt knitting projects within!


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