Things don’t always come out in the wash

So I’ve been a bit obsessed with the honeycomb weave recently and decided to do a scarf to play with the weave more. The result is very elegant, but it’s not very honeycomb! This was a lesson in over-fulling.

To explain what fulling it a little too far did to the pattern, take a look at these photos…

One:

weaving on the loom
This is the cloth on the loom. Showing it’s spot-lace origins, you can’t see the honeycomb much at all

Two:

the cloth off the loom
Once off the loom the honeycomb pattern sprang to life! Though a lesson was that black probably isn’t the best weft colour for this weave

Three:

the cloth after washing
Notice how most of the warp has vanished in between the rows of lace? That’s not because the photo is blurry – it fulled and made a weft faced cloth!

Now I didn’t full this more than I usually do. The problem here was just that I really didn’t need it to full at all and should have given it a much shorter, cooler bath.

Of course this is why you should take your samples all the way through the process. I’ll admit I hadn’t washed mine! Still, the scarf itself has a great 3D texture and the overall effect is lovely.

Naturally there will be another attempt at this weave in the future. It’s just too cool not to try again!

How to felt wool

Felting is a remarkably simple process, though it does take time and therefore requires some patience. You also can’t undo it, so once your wool begins to felt you need to keep a close eye on it.

The essentials of felting are that you need something made of wool, some hot water and a way of agitating the piece. Very simple.

Some people put their wool into a pot and boil it, letting the bubbles do the agitation. Others put it in a bucket with the hottest water their hands can take and stir it. For more delicate felting you can apply hot water and then rub it by hand, with or without the addition of exfoliating gloves (or mesh like in the nuno method).

Oh, if you have the right kind of washing machine then you can felt that way too.

The basic formula for felting though is the hotter the water the less agitation required and the faster things move, but if boiling it appeals, remember that dyes can leach out and may not be great to breath! Also, you need to fish the wool out of the pot all soggy and dripping scorching water. If you’re me that probably means burns.

Whatever the method, it takes a while before anything starts to happen (the first sign is that the cloth will get looser). Once it does, the felting can happen quickly. The degree of felting you want will take a little practice to achieve, but the main thing to avoid is taking it too far when it’ll start to fall apart (or so the interwebs tell me).

How do you know when it’s actually felting? It’ll get a bit fluffy on the surface and visually the weave will start to blur. Though that’s just the start.

Really that’s it. Well, you do need to keep in mind that felting will cause the cloth to thicken and the further you take it the stiffer it will get. Of course that thickening also means it shrinks quite significantly (30% + isn’t unusual) and this is proportional to how far you take the process (thicker felt = higher shrinkage).

Not sure how much more felting I’ll do, but I enjoy thinking of it as extreme fulling!

A full bloom

You don’t need to do much reading about weaving before you come across people talking about “fulling”. This is what happens when you agitate woollen cloth in hot water; each strand begins to mesh to the strands around it creating a thicker, warmer, fuzzier fabric.

You control the amount of fulling with different temperatures and techniques. Some people full by hand, others in a washing machine or dryer, but you need to keep an eye on the process, as different yarn will full differently. Some yarns apparently get to a point where the fulling takes off and in no time they go beyond what you hoped for!

Traditional fulling was often done by walking on the cloth (the surname Walker comes from this) and pounding or hammering were also often used. Kind of makes me feel sorry for the cloth.

So what if it’s not wool? Well, other natural fibres don’t technically full, but many will fluff up and are said to “bloom”. Here’s a before ‘n’ after of my soya yarn sampler from the last post:

Fulling1
Look at how that fringe bloomed!

Obviously, some fibres don’t change much at all (particularly synthetics) and “superwash” wool doesn’t behave the same way as other wools because it’s designed for machine washing.

Don’t confuse fulling/blooming with the results that a nice hot, soapy bath will have on any fabric freshly off the loom… all cloth will relax and soften as the water helps the fibres settle around each other and washes away any additional chemicals in the fibre.