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Felting Knit Sweaters

Shrinking a Knit on Purpose

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Felted Sweater

This size medium purchased sweater shrunk considerably in the wash, making a nice, firm fabric for projects.

(c) Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

When you've put the time and effort into knitting a great sweater, probably the last thing on your mind is felting that sweater and using it for another purpose.

But there may come a time when you actually want to felt a sweater, shrink it down on purpose into a firmer fabric that can be used for something else.

Maybe the sweater is much too big or too small for its intended recipient and you don't know anyone the right size for it or you still want to make it into something for that person. Maybe the sweater has been stained, stretched or otherwise damaged, grown out of or abandoned.

It could be out of style, or it could be a find from the thrift store you couldn't resist but that isn't quite the right size, style or color for you.

What Kinds of Sweaters Can Felt

Any sweaters with these sorts of problems that were made with animal fiber such as wool, angora, alpaca or llama (silk is the only thing that comes from an animal that won't felt) can successfully be felted and turned into something else.

The key is that the sweater be mostly wool or another animal fiber. It's easiest to felt sweaters that are 100 percent animal fiber, but as low as 60 or 70 percent can work.

Felting a sweater involves a bit of guesswork just like felting other projects does. You never really know how much a garment is going to shrink, how long it will take or how firm the finished fiber will end up until you put it in the machine (sweaters can also be felted by hand) and see what happens.

Sweater Felting Tips

As with felting other projects, the keys to felting sweaters are choosing garments with the right fiber content, using hot water and providing lots of agitation.

I recommend putting your sweater in a zip-top pillowcase to collect all the fuzz that will come out of the sweater as it felts, which can be substantial. Throwing in some old towels or an old pair of jeans (that won't release dye in hot water) can also be helpful to up the agitation, particularly if you have a front-loading washing machine.

If you have a top-loader you can run the agitation cycle, stop the machine before the water drains and check your progress as you go, pulling the project out when you're happy with the look.

But if you have a front loader you can't stop the machine in the middle of the cycle, so choose a cycle with lots of agitation and minimal draining if you can. Remember that you can always run it through more than once if you aren't happy with the results.

Uses for Felted Sweaters

Now that you've felted a sweater, what to do with it? There are all sorts of potential uses for felted sweaters, which are basically just fabric you can cut up and use as you like.

Some ideas include:

  • Pillows
  • Toys and cat toys
  • Patchwork blankets, scarves and other projects
  • Cutout embellishments to be used on other projects
  • Bags, purses and other accessories

Once you start felting sweaters you'll come up with even more ideas for using these versatile pieces of strong, fuzzy fabric. You may even find yourself frequenting the thrift store so you don't have to wait until an abandoned handknit comes your way.

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