DIY · DIY Crafts

You CAN felt not-100%-animal fibres

Right, I had to write this post because this is one of those things I’ve been wondering about for a while. Can you felt non-animal fibres?

It was one of those things that my head told me must be possible… but Google told me it wasn’t.

Well, I thought it was about time this conventional wisdom was put to the test. And now I’m ready to call nonsense on felting purists.

But why did I want to test this assumption? Lately my head has been turned by felted Norwegian House Slippers.

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DIY Easy Norwegian House Slippers (C) 2017 MommyKnows

I really like them and wanted to make a pair for my Dad. But as I’ve never tried felting before, I wanted to test them in some non-expensive acrylic yarn first. Cue hours of googling…

But you see, even after all this googling it just didn’t make sense to me. Yarn manufacturers now do such an amazing job at replicating animal fibres with acrylic. By spinning very thin acrylic fibres, they can achieve a result that looks very much like wool. Because the process of felting is merely breaking down those thin fibres so they fuse together and create a dense fabric, I just couldn’t see why this couldn’t also be done with acrylic “imitation” wool.

Hence the test:

I took yarn that was 80% acrylic and 20% wool (yes, yes, I know. It’s not 100% acrylic but the amount of wool in there really is negligible!)

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Winter Ombré Yarn from Schachenmayr: 80% acrylic, 20% wool

But the most important factor I looked for in this yarn was that it had delicate, fluffy fibres (you know, that LOOKS like felting wool). I then used single crochet to whip up a couple of 10 stitch x 10 stitch squares.

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I didn’t touch the blue square, but I then threw the purple square into a sink and added some hand soap and some very hot water. I used a potato masher to swish it around and mash it a bit, and then used my hands to rub both sides of the square. I ran it under cold water, then repeated the process a few times. I also found that if  I added soap directly to the square instead of to the water, the whole process was much easier.

The results:

So, can acrylic (well, 80% acrylic) yarn felt? YES it can.

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BUT there are a few caveats…

Shrinkage: I noticed that the whole item didn’t shrink nearly as much as it would have if I was using wool. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it means you can almost tell what size something will be after felting when it’s still at the crochet size. But it’s bad because it means there are a few “holes” in the fabric.

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Sturdiness: If something is truly felted, it should behave like a piece of fabric. So you should be able to cut it up as you please. So I cut through the crochet square and pulled it in lots of different directions to see how it would hold up. It wasn’t too bad but it definitely wasn’t as sturdy as felted wool would be.

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Points of improvement: Next time, I would change the following things to get a better result with felting (mostly) acrylic yarn.

  1. I would crochet the piece with a smaller hook than recommended to get a dense fabric first to make up for the fact the piece won’t shrink very much
  2. I would try felting the piece in a washing machine on the hottest setting OR in the dryer because I have heard this achieves a more “felted” result
  3. Perhaps a good compromise between economy and the best felted result would be a 50/50 wool/acrylic combination

But all in all, I was pretty pleased with the results of this experiment. Never again will I be put off from using a wool mix instead of pure wool for felting. And Norwegian House Slippers, here I come! 😀

Until next time…

Katie

9 thoughts on “You CAN felt not-100%-animal fibres

  1. This is interesting. The wool part felted and the acrylic did not. This is why, as you say, you really didn’t get a truly felted piece. 20% felted. In the process you also made the acrylic softer, which is how it responds to heat, hot water, and agitation (or ironing). Your idea about getting a yarn with higher wool content would get you better results but you should remember that if the wool element is superwash it won’t felt (superwash wool is actually processed so it will not felt). Also, it’s not good enough to get the results you would need from a felted pattern because 50% of the piece wouldn’t felt. This isn’t about yarn snobbery, it’s just science. There are other fibers that will felt, though, such as angora and alpaca. A wool-alpaca blend will felt nicely. Now, I think your method would be handy for someone that doesn’t mind altering a pattern. You could treat a swatch made of the blend you want to use, measure its before and after gauge, and then proceed to change the numbers in the pattern. Very useful! You can get the felted look without the felting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Tony. Of course it’s not entirely felted, but interestingly I’ve seen pure wool felted projects that have felted about the same amount. I’m going to throw another swatch in the wash and in the drier to see what result I get from it. If you want a totally fused, felted piece, acrylic is clearly not the way to go. But for a felted appearance where it isn’t completely necessary for all fibres to have fused, this is pretty good. It definitely yields a denser and sturdier fabric. Of course, as you mentioned there are plenty of other animal fibre options for felting. But what interested me more was how imitation animal fibres would behave under the same treatment. I think next time I’ll have to try 100% acrylic yarn to see what the result is. While it mightn’t technically felt, I suspect I could potentially get a pretty good faux-felted appearance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you decide to go with pure acrylic you might like to try heavily steaming it and picking at it with a comb when it’s wet. It won’t shrink, but you’ll get an interesting look!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I ❤ your experiment Katie!! I'm not a big fan of felting – only because I don't like the feel of felt, but I love that you wanted to try this. I also LOVE that even though the internet said no you figured out a way to get it done!! I really admire that type of creative stubbornness! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks Tami! I appreciate it 🙂 I’ve never been a massive fan of felt either.. but I was trying to think of a way to create a really sturdy pair of slippers for my Dad. He’s a farmer and the last pair I crocheted him weren’t sturdy enough to put up with his abuse 😀 so I was thinking that felting them would be a good way of making them sturdier. But also, because of the aforementioned abuse, I wasn’t super keen on forking out a lot of money for pure wool 😀 hence the project! I haven’t started on his slippers yet, but when I do I will definitely share the results! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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