Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So You Wanna Felt Some Sweaters?

Or, I could call this entry my Year End Compendium of Cool Stuff and Dismal Failures. Rather you are new to felting sweaters and cutting them up to make new things or have been at it for a while, you may find some good information here.

Sourcing the sweaters:
Let's start with the basics. Most of my sweaters come from thrift stores. Wednesday is the best day for sales at Salvation Army. Goodwill tends to be more expensive so check for their half price color of the week. Tag sales can be an option too and once your friends know what you're up to they'll give you sweaters. The sweaters must be 100% wool to reliably felt. Do check the tags for content and care instructions. (Sometimes they hide them on the side seam.) If it says machine washable put it back. The wool has been treated and won't felt. If there are no tags, put it back. Whenever I take a chance on a sweater without tags I invariably get burned. Also, keep in mind that other wool items can be felted too, scarves, skirts, jackets and coats are all worth consideration. The easiest way is to get your sweaters from Resweater on Artfire: http://www.artfire.com/users/resweater

Protect your washer, dryer and pipes.
Sweaters can throw off an incredible amount of loose wool. I use an old top loading washer that drains into a utility sink. My husband glued an inverted wire mesh sink strainer over the drain to catch the fibers and save our plumbing. Granted, I do a fair amount of felting but you should be aware of this. Make sure your dryer lint collector is clear before each load rather you're drying sweaters or not. If your dryer vent tube is one of the plastic ones you should replace it with a metal or foil tube immediately. Even if you never dry a felted sweater this is a good idea. Your local Fire Department can tell you that many house fires are started when lint in the dryer vent gets too hot and ignites. In a metal vent it quickly burns out. In a plastic one the fire burns through and away it goes. Please, go check this now. If you have the plastic vent and it has brown marks on it, those are burn marks from the times you already got lucky.

Felting in your washer.
Ok, you've got some wool sweaters to felt, now what? Well, you could just put them in with a regular load of laundry, separated by color and set to hot wash/cold rinse. But before you jump into it, take a few moments to look over and prep the sweaters. I turn them inside out to protect the right side from too much fuzzing, check for moth damage, mend it and separate by color or dark and light. I usually take off buttons and zippers too. If a sweater has finished knitted edges on the pieces I'll take out the sleeve and side seams. (This won't work if the sweater was cut from knitted fabric and sewn together on a sewing machine.) Sweaters were not intended to be washed so some will bleed like mad, particularly reds and any dark saturated colors.
Each sweater has its own personality. Some will felt well with one wash others may need a second wash. Or you can add a kettle of boiling water once the wash starts to agitate. I set my machine for the longest wash and sometimes turn it back before the rinse to agitate longer. Leaving the lid open stops the machine before the wash drains so you can check it. Unfortunately, the newer machines may not let you do this and because they are made to be more gentle, don't felt as well. You could take your sweaters to a laundromat, hopefully one with older machines.
In my next post I'll talk about the fun stuff, making projects and why I love my clothes shaver.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, part 1

When I was a kid we lived in a rural Connecticut town on the edge of the Cockaponset State Forrest. Driving home from work one evening my dad found a small owl lying stunned in the road, so rather than leave it so vulnerable, he scooped it up and brought it home. He had a friend who was licensed to rehabilitate wild birds so he called him up and we took the owl to his place. It was an awesome visit! We got to see the hawks who were recuperating from injuries up close. There was a barred owl they had named George sitting on a stump in the kitchen recovering from an injured wing. The family cats were prowling around just outside the reach of George's tether, eyeing his unfinished dinner. They had learned the hard way that even if he looks like he's sleeping, it's a bad idea to mess with a barred owl's dinner! But we weren't a threat to George's dinner so we were allowed to pet his head. Our fingers sank into the softest feathers imaginable. Adding to the magic of the visit, it was about this time of year and they had an enormous Christmas tree in their cathedral ceiling living room.
It turned out that my dad had found a saw whet owl. My sister and I had been calling it Victoria, but Victor would have been more appropriate. After an examination, Victor was pronounced to be fine, he'd just need to rest overnight and then could be released. My dad's friend casually walked over and placed Victor in the Christmas tree.
That was the inspiration for my just for fun project after my last craft show. I'm calling my owl Seraphina. She's made out of the same felted wool sweater material that I use to make my hats. We just need a Christmas tree for her to sit in.