Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Felted Potholder

Did you ever shrink a wool sweater by washing and drying it? I'll bet you didn't do it on purpose! Agitating wool fabric in hot water to shrink and thicken it is called felting and is one way knitters these days make hats, purses, and other items.

I've been wanting to try the technique, but find wool scratchy to wear. Making a potholder turned out to be the perfect beginner project: no itchiness issues, exact size not required, and I actually needed a new one.
I looked online and in a few library books, and came upon a pattern that included both felting and entrelac.

Entrelac is done by knitting rows of triangles and diamonds either with different colors (per row) or variegated yarn. I found some wool with long stretches of color, so many of the diamonds are mostly one hue, which really shows off the stitch, I think. Here is the potholder as knit:
And after felting:
Isn't this great? Look at the change in size! It turned out to be a good thickness, too--not too stiff, but thick enough to really be protective. Below is a close-up showing the pattern and texture.
I found the idea for this potholder here. Tamara used the instructions for a "garterlac" (entrelac in garter stitch) dishcloth from here (pdf version), but used wool instead of cotton. I used Universal Yarn Inc's Deluxe Worsted LP (long print) 100% wool, which has about 220 yards per ball, enough to make two potholders. Like Tamara, I used size 11 needles. I single-crocheted a border and loop. In retrospect, I don't think the border was necessary, and it did add a dark stripe to the light part of the potholder. No biggie.

The felting part of this project was so cool! Since it was small, I started out rubbing the fabric by hand in a sink filled with hot water (and a little soap). Ugh! Hot work, and it was difficult to keep a consistent shape. I soon moved everything to the washing machine, where a pair of jeans took over the rubbing and scrubbing. After checking every 5 minutes (a good excuse to sit with a book!) about 4 times, I deemed it "done" and rinsed, blotted, and air-dried my creation. It's almost magical to watch that big, floppy square shrink and fuzz.

Notes:
  • Use 100% wool.
  • There are lots of resources online and in the library to explain how to felt.
  • Here is another post about a felted pot holder done in garter stitch, which is simpler than the entrelac.
Historical note: I had thought that felting on purpose was new, but I was wrong. I don't how long it's been done (probably a very long time), but it's right there in Farmer Boy. Almanzo's mom makes winter clothes out of fullcloth--woven (vs. knitted) wool cloth that was shrunk:

"Butternut hulls had dyed the thread for his coat and his long trousers. Then Mother had woven it, and she had soaked and shrunk the cloth into heavy, thick fullcloth. Not wind nor cold nor even a drenching rain could go through the good fullcloth that Mother made." (page 3)

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