Wool: knit to felt

Remember, before Christmas we made a textile run at the local antique shop. Among our booty was a Pendleton “100% virgin wool” throw. This large blankie had a couple of small stains and a tiny hole or two. I figured I could toss it in one of my (hypothetical) dye vats and refresh it with a little color. (Image of the original below.)

large Pendleton wool throw — before felting

Easier said than done. I keep reading how beautifully wool takes to natural dyes, but I keep forgetting that it takes heat to accomplish this feat. I did not have a cauldron large enough for a bed-size throw.

Fast-forward to the long days of March. I still do not see myself buying a 30-gallon wash tub and building a fire in the yard to dye a blanket with onion skins and a head of red cabbage.

So I decided to felt it to see how much smaller it could become. Felting scrambles the fibers into a tough mat (suitable for making a yurt, if you’re that kind of nomad). There are lots of online directions for doing this in traditional washing machines with a center agitator. But we recently got an LG front-loader, which (much to my surprise) is whole different breed of cat.

I’m not a fan of experimenting with large household appliances, but after three rounds, here’s my formula:

  • Put the blanket in with an old bath towel (something extra for the wool to beat up against)
  • Set the machine to SANITARY (water heated beyond “hot”), with the additional settings of STEAM and WATER PLUS. Add the usual gentle detergent.
  • Repeat until the knit stitches sort of “disappear” and the whole thing is shrunken. (My first two times I didn’t use the WATER PLUS option, which I think helped a lot, so… mileage may vary.)
  • Toss into the dryer at the hottest setting.

My end result (photo at top) was very satisfying. The throw shrunk down to about 4 x 4, the little holes “mended,” and the spots became inconsequential. Used with my recliner on a chilly March evening — excellent warmth.

Now… shall I press my luck and still try to dye it some warm earth tone? Thinking, thinking… and wine poured.

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