Friday, November 28, 2008

I failed felting

Friday, 28 November

Today I got around to one of those craft projects I've been pondering for a while. It's time to start thinking about making Christmas presents!

For a long time, I've had a Pendleton wool blanket that used to belong to my grandparents. When I was a child, they were using it to keep apples from freezing in their shed during the winter, so I figure it was at least 50 years old and maybe a decade or two more. It was threadbare in many places, and the binding around the edges was long since gone.

The plan was to "felt" the blanket and use the fabric to make tote bags? vests? slippers? My previous attempt at felting worked exactly as it was supposed to, although it was about 1/200th the size of this blanket. Blanket agitates in the washing machine in hot water and a tiny bit of soap until it shrinks down to the size and texture you want in your felted products. (I did this by accident to my husband's beautiful Irish sweater a few years ago, but that's another story.) I figured the most awkward part would be coaxing a big piece of wool to get dry in Seattle in November.

After two passes through the "agitate" part of my washing machine's cycle, I checked out what was going on. The blanket had escaped its cloth bag (which you use to keep the fuzzies that come out of the wool from stopping up the machine's lint trap), so I put it back in, scooped out some stray bits of wool fuzz from the soapy froth, and set it back to doing its thing. Two more "agitates" and I did another inspection. Hmmm. Gobs of fuzz everywhere. Tape measure tells me the piece of wool is not getting any smaller. I decided to take it outside and hang it up on the clothesline to dry. As I hold it up, I realize the blanket had been gradually disintegrating in the washer, hence all the wool fuzzies. Instead of becoming compacter, the fabric was loosening up and falling apart. Hmmmm. That means this project isn't going to work.

But giving up isn't as easy as it sounds. Sure, the blanket goes into a plastic bag and into the garbage. But my washing machine is full of (surprisingly dirty) water that's full of wool fuzz that I cannot possibly let just drain out. I can capture some clots with my fingers, but there's still a lot in there. I end up scooping all the water out into a bucket and then pouring that water through a strainer to capture fuzzies. Slooooooooow process.

As I picked up some stray fuzz off the floor in front of the washing machine, I realized that it looked a little bit like nylon fuzz instead of wool fuzz. So I let it dry out and gave it the burn test. Wool will turn to ash, but synthetics melt. This stuff definitely melted. That was a very complicated way to find out that an old wool blanket wasn't just wool! I guess the lesson is not to try to felt something that's so old the label has fallen off or worn away. Or maybe it was just a complicated way of figuring out that my family didn't wanted felted wool tote bags from Grandma's blanket?

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