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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This time, I did it on purpose

Every knitter has a horror story, about an item with days...weeks...maybe months worth of loving, careful work ruined by a careless person putting wool (wool!!) in a washing machine. And maybe drying it. The tears! The drama! The tiny little sweater/hat/socks!

It sucks, if you don't mean to do it.

"It" is correctly called "fulling", although common usage insists on "felting" (which, I am told, involves fibers that have not first been manipulated into an intentional shape (knit, crochet, weaving). Don't take my word for it: these folks explain it well. Anyway, for the purists out there...I know it's called fulling. But enough people call it felting that I may slip and use the terms interchangeably. Forgive me, please.

I've accidentally fulled two hats. One was quite by accident, and although the hat was too loose before the fated wash cycle, it became so misshapen in the dryer that it's barely recognizable as something one would wear on their head. Oh, you *can*, but it's an oddly shaped tricorner (it started as a rather clever peaked-crown, ear-covering brim beanie). Ah well. The other booboo was a hat I'd mis-gagued. It was part of a set (hat and gloves) intended as a Christmas gift for my mother and it was literally Christmas Eve when I finished and found out it was enormous. No time to redo. No time to even have a good cry about it. I ran it under some hot tap water and threw it in the dryer, and was left with a tight, firm fabric that was too small to reasonably fit any adult head. I tried to pass it off as a "cloche", and she was gracious in accepting it, but I am sure it's never been worn. Ah well, at least now I know that Paton's Classic Wool reacts dramatically to such treatment, should I ever decide to try again.

But let's talk about now. On a recent trip to Natural Stitches (I seriously LOVE this store), I picked up a skein of Cascade 220 in a pretty shade of bubblegum pink. Naturally, I am nowhere near my skein label so I can't confirm the actual colorway, but I don't think that really matters. I used this to teach myself Magic Loop by making a top-down hat (my lived-and-learned method for testing size as I go. No more poorly gagued hats!), and as the project grew, I decided that it wanted to be a beret for my best friend's daughter. I am not much of a beret person, myself. It's one of those things that I can appreciate aesthetically on someone else, but always feel like it looks like hell on me. My preference is a more sculpted look. I'd rather be closer to the Army end of the spectrum than the Rasta end, if you catch my drift. One way to accomplish the goal of "less floppy" was, ironically enough, to knit the thing way too big and felt (whoops, full) it later. Which is what I did.

I used nearly the entire skein to knit the hat. If I were a little more Type-A, I would have weighed or measured this or at least made some attempt at estimating what amount is left. But I didn't. The world will keep spinning anyway.

The dregs. I see some accent flowers in my future. Or maybe a small Fair Isle motif? Perhaps some intarsia? The possibilities are endless...

I didn't follow a pattern per se, but rather followed my impulses as it developed, under the general guidance of this knitting recipe. It has a slight peak at the center and a deep decrease section, intended in my mind at least to serve as the millinery equivalent of a collar stand. (There has got to be a name for this, but I don't know it.)

When I finally deemed it Finished and bound it off at the brim, I indeed had something enormous. It brought to mind "Ernie and Bernie" from the movie Shark Tale. (ETA: It was far more amusing when I'd just linked the picture of two Rasta-looking jellyfish, but the site I'd attached got all crabby and redirected my URL. Curses! I'm just going to have to assume that you know what I'm talkin' about.)

Or, in keeping with the oceanic imagery, a Big Pink Urchin. Which was nearly the title of this post. ;)

No, really. Look at this thing. It's absorbing my head like a mutant amoeba!

Yes, I have grey hair AND zits. At the same time. Mother Nature is a sadist.
Okay, to be fair I might have been able to pass this off as a "slouch" hat were it not for the entirely-too-baggy brim. I could barely keep it from sliding down over my eyes long enough to snap a picture. No way a gradeschool girl would do better unless she has a head like a melon. And I'm pretty sure she doesn't.

On to the felting! I mean, fulling!

One of the bestest things that happened in 2010 was that our washing machine died and we upgraded to a high efficiency machine. We are a family of six. We do a LOT of laundry. Saving on our energy and water bills at the same time AND being able to wash more clothes per load makes me a rather grateful housewife. However, I wasn't sure whether felting (rats, FULLING) would happen with the same dramatic results, given that the machine lacks an agitator post. I found this delightful article over at Knitty and decided to try some old-school no-machine felting using it as a guide. Since my project was small, I substituted "pan on stove" for "bucket in shower". I also opted for a potato masher rather than a plunger for my agitator. That plus a few plastic dryer balls, and I was ready to heat and beat this fiber into submission.

Knitting plus cooking. Someone help me.
Um. Yeah.

You know what? Apparently "boiled wool" takes for-freaking-ever. I gave it the old college try; I really did. I  got playful and pretended the potato masher was an agitator post. I even got tongs involved in the process. I boiled. And agitated. And rubbed those spiky little balls all over the place. And it just seemed like nothing was happening.

So I got bored and fed up and threw the steamy-hot hat into the dryer with a load of my stepson's work clothes.

It came out looking...improved. Not quite where I wanted it yet, but it was definitely changing from a shapeless sack into something that could be molded into a number of creative shapes.

But it wasn't quite done yet. I had another load of laundry to do, and--what luck--it required hot water. So I threw all caution to the wind and put the hat in with the sheets & towels and hoped for the best.

It. Came. Out. Perfect.

It's EXACTLY the size I wanted it to be. I'm currently air-drying it and am therefore hesitant to try it on, lest I stretch the brim before the fibers really lock in to their new arrangement. I could not be happier with the results, though. The fabric is soft and semi-firm. It holds a shape well but is flexible enough to adjust as desired.

I am so psyched about this. And I couldn't wait to share it with all of you!!


  1. That is AWESOME. Knitting and fulling can be so tricky. You proceeded sensibly and ended up with the perfect result. Good job!

    Cascade 220 is pretty damn awesome to work with methinks.

    I have a semi-beret thingie I'm making and I'm out of yarn and can't find more of the same! Muthertruck it!

  2. Oh, Kelly. Are you on Ravelry? Let me tell you my story.

    A while back I ran out of yarn mid-project and was distressed to learn (after MUCH Internet searching) that the colorway had been discontinued. I did a search on the yarn and sent sob-story emails to everyone who listed it in their stash. I figured "close" would be better than "frogged" (or in this case, "pitched", as it was a toothy cobwebby yarn, ugh) and maybe I'd get lucky and talk someone into selling it to me.

    Would you believe that I found a willing member who not only had just enough (1/4 ball), but it was THE SAME DYELOT? It's almost enough to make you believe in miracles.

    Do it. It can't hurt; and the worst that will happen is nothing, right? ;)