Slipper Felting Part 1 – Yarn

I thought it was about time that I gave my thoughts on felting. I’ve done quite a bit over the years, both intentionally and unintentionally! I once felted half my hand-knit sock collection in one easy move by setting the washing machine to an ordinary wash not a hand wash. Now, I always wash socks by hand!
Accidents apart, whilst writing my felted slipper patterns, and since for gifts for friends and family, I’ve probably felted more slippers than any sane person would want to in a lifetime.

I get a lot of questions by email regarding the subject, both from people whose projects have come out unexpectedly and those who need that little push to bite the bullet and actually throw their lovingly knitted item in the wash and shrink it. Felting puts a lot of people off, especially if they have a front loading washing machine. The thought of taking time to make something only to have it completely ruined in the felting process is just a chance some knitters refuse to take. I can understand completely and can still remember the first time I threw my knitting into the washing machine and left it to fate, and how I was so sure it was going to be a disaster. But felting can be fun and not as scary as it at first seems if you understand the process and are willing to experiment.

I’ve decided to split the subject into two. This, the first part is all about the yarn and the tension/gauge of your knitting. The second will be about exactly how to go about felting your knitting and the differing results you can get.

Yarn

Firstly, only use non superwash yarns for felting. That is, the type of yarn that has hand wash only on the label. It may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how this sometimes confuses people.

The yarn you use will affect the final outcome of your piece. This is true for all types of knitting projects from sweaters to shawls to socks. Just as the fibre content, twist and gauge affects how your knitted fabric looks and feels, the same is true for felting.

Some yarns will felt more that you ever thought possible. Some will resist so much you start to wonder if you’ve actually used a super wash yarn by mistake. There is one exception to this rule you should always bear in mind though – if you don’t want an item to shrink and felt, it will! Even those yarns you struggle to get to felt into a pair of slippers will still felt enough to make that sweater, at the least a bit stiff and at worst, un-wearable.

Yarns sold specifically for felting will, as they are supposed to, felt well. I started off my felting odyssey using these types of yarns and they do work very well although I did find some of them rather ‘hairy’ once felted. When writing the slipper patterns I also found them a little less consistent with regard to how much they felted each time. This is not a problem if you are felting an item such as a bag, but I wanted the slippers to have, as much as possible, a consistent amount of ‘shrinkage’ among them so I could size them as accurately as possible. I also wanted something that was perhaps sturdier and easily sourced.

For my samples I switched to Cascade 220. It is easily accessible and comes in a large colour palette (which at the time of writing this is about 150 different shades). I found that it felted well and gave pretty consistent results. I have used other yarns with very good results, Elann and Drops Yarns make some very good worsted weight non super wash wools in lovely colours but the list is pretty endless really. My personal preference for felting yarns are 100% wool yarns that are plied, i.e. have two or more strands twisted together. I find them nice to knit with and stable in the felting process. They also don’t shed an awful lot of fibre into your machine in which can happen if you choose to felt with a singles (one continuous twisted strand, un-plied) yarn.

Some people prefer their felted items to loose all stitch definition and just look, well, like felt. Some, and I probably fall into this category, prefer a little of the stitches to show. I  couldn’t tell you why exactly, it may be something to do with it still looking hand made or knitted. Whatever your preference there is a yarn out there for you – experiment is the key.

These are just my opinion and preference. There are many, many yarns that are good for felting. Don’t feel confined to use any specific one. Try your favourite yarn, or one that you have in stash. Just make sure that it is non-superwash and be prepared to experiment, you could get some very interesting results.

If you have never tried a particular yarn, or have done some felting with one yarn and want to switch to another, make a swatch and felt it. I know most of us hate doing it, but it does give you a good idea as to the final fabric you will get, how much it will felt (don’t forget to measure it before you felt it) and what it will look like. It all adds to your knowledge of that yarn before you start your project and takes a little of the mystery out of the process. No need to put the washing machine on just for one tiny swatch. Just throw it in with a wash that you happen to be putting on anyway and see what happens.
At the end, you don’t only have a little sample of your end product but felted swatches make great coasters!

Gauge / Tension

The gauge/tension you work to will affect how your item felts. The movement of the stitches is a factor in the felting process. A tightly knitted piece with less room for the stitches to rub against each other will be harder to felt than something with a more open stitch. This is why my adult patterns are worked at a gauge of only 3sts per 2.5 cm/ 1 inch on 8mm needles. Even though the yarn is doubled, there is still plenty of room for the yarn to move around and felt.

Below are two knitted samples. They are knitted from the same yarn, same amount of stitches and rows and were felted in the same wash. The only difference between the two is the gauge/tension they were knitted at.

Before you say it, I know that having the same amount of stitches knitted at different tensions gave me two samples of different sizes. But for all of the samples I knitted for this piece on felting (there are more in part 2 ) I measured before and after and calculated a percentage decrease in size. So effectively the starting size does not particularly matter here. Besides, to get the two to exactly the same starting size I would have had to knit a swatch to work out the gauge before actually knitting the swatch.  And knitting a swatch to be able to knit a … swatch… was just beyond my limit at the time!

This first sample, sample A, was knitted at the standard tension/gauge for the slippers, 3 sts per 2.5 cm/1 inch on 8 mm/US11 needles. The yarn was held double, just as it is in the slippers. I knitted 14 sts x 14 rows and it measured 115 mm x 100 mm or 4 ½” x 4″ before felting.

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Sample A

In the above picture it now measures 100 mm x 74 mm.  The percentage of decrease is 13% on the width and 26% in the height.

Knitting always shrinks more in height than width. Something to remember when knitting something for felting.

Sample D below was knitted exactly the same but I changed down to 6mm needles. The sample measured 95 mm x 82 mm or 3¾” x 3¼” before felting. It was put together with sample A and felted.

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Sample D

After felting it measured 85 mm x 70 mm. This is a percentage decrease of 10.5% in width and 14.6% in height.

So tension matters quite a bit. The big loose sample shrank by 13% in width compared to only 10.5% for the tighter knitted one. The height on the loose sample decreased by 26% where as the tighter gauge one only lost 14.6% in height. Quite a difference.

You can also see the difference in stitch definition between the two samples. In sample A, although you can still see that the swatch had garter stitch edges, the centre stocking stitch area has lost almost all definition where as in Sample D you can see much more of the stitches all round.

And of course, gauge is also important for determining the final size and shape of the piece. Even though you are going to felt your item and that is adjustable to a certain extent, it is still important to start out with the piece the size that it states in the pattern.

Well, I hope that this has given you a few tips about felting yarns and gauge. In part two, I will get into the kitty-gritty of throwing your slippers into the machine. The differences that you can expect and what to do if things don’t go as planned.

Ryðrauð

The next project in line that I haven’t shown you is the beautiful
Ryðrauð pattern by Steinunn Birna Gudjonsdottir. 

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I came across this pattern on Ravelry and thought the yoke was just gorgeous.

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The yarn is Knit Picks Wool of the Andies worsted weight which I purchased as a Christmas present to myself! You can buy Knit Picks yarns straight from their website, in sterling, and they ship it over to the UK at a very reasonable price. The last time I bought any yarn from the US was years ago, over ten years probably, when I wanted some Elann yarn for a specific project. I remember the shipping being expensive but I can’t remember what I made from it now. Of course you can buy most Elann yarns from Amazon UK now.

The Wool of the Andes yarn was lovely to work with and knits up with a very even stitch. As you can see, the colour work came out well and although the yarn is ‘sticky’ enough to do this with, it is actually very soft.

The cardigan was knitted in the round, with a steek, and then cut to make a cardigan. This really is the best way to knit anything like this, and although now, seamless knits are not my favourite project (more on that in a later post) I can’t imagine knitting a stranded project any other way.

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I secured the steek with a double row of machine stitches before cutting and once I had knitted on the front borders I hid the raw edges behind a lovely cotton tape I found at my local Dunelm Mill. I must confess that I have cheated a little in the top picture which shows the buttons as I have only placed them on the cardigan for show, I haven’t actually sewn them on yet! There was a delay in getting just the right button for this project, at a reasonable price anyway, and in the mean time I pressed the cardigan into service for the colder months at the beginning of the year. One day I will actually sew them on!

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The original pattern (which is free by the way) was written for a heavier yarn so I took just the chart and plugged it into my own pattern for this type of project. It is not as hard as you would think to do this once you have your tension swatch.

If you have never had a go at your own seamless garment and would like to be able to, I can’t recommend Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books enough.  Her percentage system for working out the stitch counts on seamless garments is invaluable and although I now adjust those figures to suit how I like my garments to be sized, her instructions not only give you a good grounding on how to work out your own patterns but her system for working out the decreases for yoke sweaters is simply genius. Even if you never want to design or knit seamless garments, her writing style is so very personal and almost meditative, her books make good read on their own merit, knitting apart. They take me back to another time whenever I read them.

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A little catching up

Seems I have a little catching up to do around here, as usual.

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Spring has sprung and although we have had some gloriously warm weather, this morning dawned frosty and bright and minus 3 degrees C. A bit chilly then. Hard to believe that just last weekend we had a great day out at Wonderwool Wales and sat eating our lunch and sunbathing. We always enjoy Wonderwool, apart from the show which is, I think, getting bigger each year, there is the beautiful countryside to enjoy on the drive there and back.

Although there are so many companies with beautiful yarns that make you want to take out a mortgage and just get them all (or is that just me?), I went this year with the intention of buying some yarns that I don’t always come across.

 

The main picture on the left is of two skeins of Ullcentrum a Swedish wool being sold by Midwinter Yarns. The colours are Old Rose and Light Grey and these 100g skeins are 300m each. This yarn is soft, not merino soft, but proper sheepy soft. There will definitely be more of this in my future and as you can see, I have already caked it up ready to try it out.

The top right picture is some Tibetan Cloud Worsted 100% Yak that I picked up for an absolute steal. I’ve never worked with Yak before and will be interested to see how it knits and washes up.

The centre right cakes are an unspecified yarn from Namolio. The lovely lady there sold mainly linen yarn but these were in a basket with no label. I would say that they are very like Kauni yarn and again about 300m long judging by the type of yarn and weight.

At the bottom are two skeins of hand dyed sock yarn from Weavers Loft and a ball of Wensleydale. The weavers loft yarn is a 75/25 super wash wool, a standard 400m long and they with become a pair of socks each for DH and myself.

The Wensleydale is from Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop. Well, I wish I’d bought more to be honest. I have spun some Wensleydale (when I used to do more spinning) and it is a great lustre fibre with a long staple length. I only bought one ball along with a couple of other goodies from their booth as I wanted to try it out first but as soon as I got it home I regretted not getting a whole load more at the time. This is another yarn that I will be adding to as I already have a great project in mind for this.

I know that as soon as the warmer weather comes people tend to move away from knitting and other crafts but all I seem to want to do in the spring is start loads of different projects. I have at least four recent projects to show but today I’ll start with a cowl I finished back at the beginning of the year.

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This started off as a scarf pattern that I wrote to use some Blacker Yarns Tamar Lustre blend that I had stashed away. It originally looked like this.

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The Blacker Yarns Tamar blend is a joy to work with, it knitted up beautifully,  the scarf has a good weight to it and the stitches have a crispness to them that makes everything stand out.

I enjoyed knitting it so much I wanted to do another but I didn’t want two exactly the same so for the second version I narrowed the pattern and seamed the two ends together to make a cowl.

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Again I used some yarn from stash, GGH Wollywasch in silver and metal. This yarn is very soft and blocks really well to give the cowl a good stitch definition and drape. Another yarn that I have come across recently that really surprised me.

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The final pattern I ended writing up is narrower as in the version above, not as wide as the original Blacker Yarns scarf. As usual, if you would like to make one, you can find the pattern on Love Knitting, Ravelry and Etsy.

Seamless Felted Mary Janes

I know that it’s been a while since I last popped by. I have been a little taken up with a design I’ve been working on that took far, far longer than I thought to get done. It is now in the pattern testing stage so I (almost) can breath a sigh of relief and return to normal, maybe.

The design follows on from my previous felted slipper patterns by the way that they are knitted seamlessly from the bottom up and are pretty quick to knit, but these are a little different.

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They are more form fitting than the others, being lower in the front and shaped for the back foot and heel. That said, they are still quick to knit – just a little more going on. I can make a pair in three hours, so not too bad.

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Here I have put contrasting soles on them but they look just as cute in a single colour.

The pattern went through a few different versions before I got to this one which is why it took me so long to finally put a proper pattern together. I have the most enormous pile of ‘almost, try again’ slippers you have ever seen and have been mulling over what to do with them all. It occurred to me last night that I could cut all the soles off of them and perhaps sew them into some kind of colourful hearth rug! But then I would still be left with all the uppers!

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The pattern has now been released. Please go to the pattern page, (link at the top) for more information.

I can’t really say that I’ve been up to that much apart from these slippers the last month. I made a very successful fruit cake GF and DF, picture below, and have also been knitting on some other things when these slippers got too much.

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img_3043Plain vanilla socks. I think the yarn is Regia with Drops fable heels and toes. I really need some new socks as the ones I have are getting baggy. Hand knitted socks last a long time but as some of mine are perhaps six or seven years old now (at least!) I think it is a little unfair to expect them to last much longer. Although I do still have a pair that is over ten years old but that’s exceptional. A couple of other things this month have been..

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The fruit cake was delicious even as I’m not a great fan. I usually find them too sweet but this was just right and I think the addition of some cherry brand helped!

Hopefully I will be back soon. I have written a post with some felting advice but need to finish putting it all together.

Until then..

Hap Cowl by Ella Gordon

Following the last post, I thought I’d better show a bit of knitting around here.

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This is the Hap Cowl by Ella Gordon.

I love the look of Hap shawls but have never made a full size one as I would just not wear one on a day to day basis so when I saw this pattern on Ella’s blog I just had to make one.

I knitted this one in some Cascade 220 fingering from stash, plus an extra purchased skein of blue. The colours are surprisingly like the first colour-way in the pattern.

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This is such a great design, simple but very effective. I’ve received several compliments on it recently from non-knitters asking where they could buy one. The cowl is knitted flat from top to bottom (not lengthwise) and then seamed, which is easy and virtually invisible in garter stitch.

I have to say that the Cascade yarn is lovely. It softened up so much in the wash and blocked well while still retaining a good amount of bounce. I was surprised, as in the skein I was a little disappointed which is why it was marinating in the stash and not knitted up. I will definitely be using it again.

I loved both of the colour options that Ella listed in the pattern and was so pleased with the first one that I purchased more yarn from the Jamieson & Smith website in the exact colours for the second option.

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I am quite far through this one, virtually the home straight, but the project has been put on hold while I work on a couple of other things for gifts and something else which I will show you soon hopefully.

Pattern: Hap Cowl by Ella Gordon (Ravelry Link)
Yarn: Cascade 220 Fingering
In colours: 8400 Charcoal, 9332 Sapphire; 9566 Olive Oil; 8012 Doeskin Heather, 8010 Natural.

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After so much rain the other week that all the roads around here were flooded, we are now pretty cold with freezing fog and frost not lifting at all during the day.

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Where ever you are and whatever the weather, I hope you have a good weekend!

Memories from the past

I think most people by now have read Kate Davies’ post ‘Have you knit this pattern?‘ If you haven’t, you should, it is well worth a read, as all Kate’s posts are.

Although I haven’t knitted that particular pattern, I did inherit some interesting ones from my Mother and had a little look to see if the pattern in question was among them. It wasn’t and to be honest, like myself, my Mother was more of a sweater knitter so most of the old patterns I have are for garments. It was interesting to read through the comments that Kate received though, and what was clear from reading them was the strength of memories that knitting stirs up in people. These knitted shawls were special in peoples’ hearts, very special. They represent a touchable piece of the past, something like a mix between a treasured photograph and a special keepsake but, because they were made by someone with love, they also represent that love.

We, as knitters, can often recall exactly when we knitted an item. The item itself brings back a memory of a time and place, perhaps a particular emotion. I have the first pair of socks I ever knitted and I remember that time and what was happening in my life whenever I see them. I also have the cardigan I was knitting when my Mother passed away. It was to be for her birthday that year and after she died I finished knitting it anyway. I think she would have like that.

I also have a pattern that holds, in a strange way, not my memories but my Mothers’. She often remembered a twin set that she knitted for my Grandmother whilst carrying my eldest brother, her first child.  She had already knitted all sorts of baby items and not knowing the sex of the baby, was waiting to ‘see’ before knitting any more. Having seen a pretty pattern in a magazine, she decided to knit it for her Mother. Knitted in three ply wool at a gauge of 7 sts to the inch, it must have taken her a while.  It was special to her and she still remembered it over 50 years later. She also kept the pattern even though she never knitted it again.

 

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As you can see, the cost to knit was 25s 6d.  From a quick search around I think that this equates to about £30 today.

You can even see where she has circled parts of the pattern.

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A practice she continued until she discovered post it notes many years later.

I found some other interesting old patterns whilst going through her collection.

This yoke sweater pattern is an example of how seamless yoke patterns where changed for a market where flat, seamed knitting was predominant.

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The construction is interesting. The pieces for the back, front and sleeves are knitted flat, then seamed and the sleeves set in. Only after it is all constructed is the yoke knitted by picking up stitches from centre back, around the front and back to the centre back. The stitches are then knitted back and forth on straight needles. This is achieved by using two pairs of straight needles and leaving an opening at the centre back which is later edged with crochet and buttons added for a closure.

Seems an awful lot of work to me for something that could be easily and better knitted in the round. And was in fact meant to be knitted in the round.

 

I had to show you this pattern from, I presume, the 1960’s.

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This I am sure, if my Mother ever knitted it, would have been for her sister, although I could be wrong.

It is knitted in half linen stitch, probably to give it body and stability but the construction here is again very interesting. The front of the dress is knitted as one up to the point where the vertical stripe begins and then the stitches are split and each colour section is knitted separately and then the strips are seamed together. The yoke and sleeves are knitted as one piece for each of the front and back and seamed to the body pieces and then the whole lot is seamed up the sides and across the shoulders.

This old Weldons pattern for a cardigan is knitted all in one piece including the sleeves, from the back ribbing, up and over the shoulders and down each front. The ribbing at the cuff is added by picking up stitches at the bottom of the sleeve and knitting down. It is then seamed up the sides and under the arms. The front bands, which the pattern calls strapping, is added afterwards. Another interesting thing is that although the pattern is written for three sizes, each size is written as a separate pattern, not as we would do now with the different numbers and stitch counts for each size in parenthasese. The pattern is well worn with a couple of rips in the back page and what looks like a tea stain on the inside.  It seems it was a favourite.

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Lastly, I just had to put in this pattern.

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I remember knitting this one myself. It was before I left home which is how it was among the collection. Again, the sweater front, back and sleeves are knitted and seamed, then the yoke is picked up on two pairs of needles and knitted back and forth with an opening at the centre back which is later finished with crochet and a couple of buttons. It is probably how I knitted it back then but I don’t remember using two sets of needles. We had some needles that were a cross between a circular and a straight. Imagine a circular needle cut half way along the cable and then an end glued onto the cable. Sort of a flexible single point needle. I will see if I have one still and show you next time.

Well, that was a walk down memory lane! Thank you Kate!

What patterns do you have that bring back special memories?

Have a good weekend.

 

 

Dairy and Egg free wine

I became a little distracted over the holiday season. It turned out a lot busier that I thought it was going to be and the blog sort of got away from me.

For the first week or so we had visitors, or went visiting, every day. Then my OH had a couple of meetings due early in the new year and thought it would be good to take some time to give the office a bit of a tidy, which turned into a full scale re-decorating and re-organising job. It did need it though; one of us is very untidy…

Finally with everything decorated and sorted, I was looking forward to that new year feeling of ‘a whole new year ahead, I have a blank canvas to work with’ and starting a few new projects, when I inadvertently drank some wine which had been fined with milk proteins and became quite ill, from one glass!

For the lay-people among us, this is a process which clears the wine of suspended solids and also reduces any bitterness and odours from it. Producers can use, amongst other things, milk proteins and egg whites. Generally not a problem for most people unless you are sensitive to these proteins. I did not buy this wine, it was a gift, so did not think about checking the label.  I have got out of the habit of checking wine labels as I know which ones I can and cannot drink and which ones I can tolerate even though they do carry an allergy advice warning (I like playing with fire!). It used to be the belief that so little of the proteins were left after filtering that the effect on people with sensitivities or allergies was negligible. This later changed and the wine producers were required to state on their label any such allergens.  I’m not sure if this is the case in all countries, but it is here.

As a very quick and dirty list,

if you have any problems with milk or egg proteins you should stay clear of:

Hardys – all their wines contain these two proteins as far as I can tell
Reynella Homestead Cabernet Shiraz
McGuigan,  Reserve Cabernet – and probably others
Banrock Station – These wines do contain the proteins but I must say that I have drank them without too much of a problem.

Egg and Milk protein free:

Yellow tail Shiraz
Lindens Bin 50 Shiraz
Baxland Estate
Jacobs Creek
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet

and finally, just as an aside, Sainsbury’s do an egg and milk free but also a low sulphite wine in their SO Organic range that I understand is very good.

This is not by any means a comprehensive list and as they say, ingredients and manufacturing processes are all subject to change.  Please do not take my word that these wines will be okay for you and always check labels before buying or drinking any of these wines.

And yes, I do see the irony in the above statement!

It took a full 36 hours for the full nasty gastric effects of this glass of wine to wear off and another 12 hours or so to feel almost back to normal as far as energy levels and general feeling of wellbeing was concerned. It will probably take another day or two for everything as a whole to be back on an even keel. So, if you are feeling particularly unwell after a night out, it may be more than just the alcohol that did it!

Hopefully, with all that behind me, I can at last start to fill in some of the gaps in my blank canvas of a new year (after filing the tax returns!).

I have been knitting, as usual, and have this to show you.

 

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My latest design project which I finished a few days ago.  I will have some more details along with some better pictures when it stops raining and I have more light to take them in.  I am working on writing up the pattern but it is a few weeks away yet as I have some tax to attend to …

a belated – Happy New Year!