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Exploits in Crafting

2 January 2007

My resolution for blogging this year is to start using the categories function of the “New Blogger.” Today, I inaugurate the “Exploits in Crafting” tag.

There is an ancient craft for making impermeable fabric. For centuries, when people wanted a thick winter cloak that would protect them from the vagaries of the weather, they’d use felted wool (fluffed and matted raw fleece). Today, any crappy fabric/crafts store sells squares of polyester “felt” in a variety of colors, but this pales in comparison to real wool felt. (When Galadriel offers the parting gift of Friendship Cloaks to the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring, that was real wool felt.) Many people have jumped on the felting wagon. (Really, what they’re doing is “fulling”—fluffing and matting already knitted fabric). On New Year’s Eve, I decided to give it a shot, myself.

You need real wool to start. I had some wool left over from a gift project, so I knitted it into a shape:

Looks like a hat, don’t you think?

Fulling involves agitating the natural wool fibers. This rubbing makes the individual fibers mesh and mat together, creating the thickened mass we call “felt.” Hot water helps, too. If you’ve ever put a wool sweater in an agitating washing machine, the resultant shrunken mass is felt (doesn’t make you feel better about ruining that $150 sweater, does it?).

Being the eco-friendly folks that we are, we don’t have a (water-hogging) top-loading agitating washer (the kind with the pole up the center that goes clockwise and counterclockwise, swishing the clothes clean), we have an (efficient) front-loading washer (the kind that goes around and around, swirling the clothes clean). So I needed to find an alternative method to felt my project.

First, I put hot water and a bit of soap in my standing mixer, added the knitting and two rubber duckies (for friction; the directions for a washing machine suggested adding a tennis shoe or two, so I just scaled down), and turned it on:

Result: Water everywhere, motor whining as the knitting and a duckie got caught between the edge of the bowl and the mixing paddle. (More than once.)

That wasn’t working, so I dumped the water, knitting, and duckies in a saucepan, clipped a candy thermometer to the edge (so I could keep the water temperature constant at 120 degrees [the temp of my hot water heater]), and brought out the hand mixer I bought for $5 at a church sale:

Result: Water everywhere, knitting tangled up in the mixer blades, curses all around.

The kitchen now had the unmistakable smell of wet wool. “Ummm, what are you making?” asked the Consort, delicately.

I kicked him out of the kitchen, dumped everything into a larger stock pot (no picture, I was no longer in a happy photo tutorial mood), added more hot water, a dab more soap, and for 15 minutes I agitated the mess with this:

A potato masher.

Result:

A felted bowl! (And the duckie says the finished product is so cool he forgives everything. He’ll even talk to his buddy and see if we can get some forgiveness and forgetness happening with him, too.)

I dried it upside down on a fluted dessert coupe, to give it a bowl-y shape. You can still see a bit of the knit ribbing. This means I could have mished and mashed a bit longer. But, considering my mood at the time, that wasn’t going to happen (I had a kitchen to mop up, after all).

I like it. I think I’m going to make a bunch of these bowls, in a variety of sizes, and use them in my Nature Table.*

*This is a project I’ll be talking about in another post, some day this week, I expect.

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