Sunday, February 03, 2008

I "felt" like experimenting...

This week I decided to finally try felting. I am starting to plan my next vacation getaway to a medieval festival in May, and my husband commented that we would most likely by camping out. Probably in period gear. And if we don't camp out and get a hotel room, May is still kind of cold and damp! So I decided I needed a wool cloak. I started looking at general cloak designs, and there are some really nice LOTR inspired patterns available here. Hunt around the links, this site is a nice time suck if you're into that sort of thing. Unfortunately the wool fabrics available at the local department store fabric section kind of suck. And forget going to a fabric shop, there isn't one! (At least not a good one). And, sure, there's always Ebay, but I'd rather have something a little more inspired (and complicated) than a plain piece of gray wool draped from the shoulders with some sort of hood sewn in.

So I figured I'd felt my own after knitting it! Of course it will be cabled, so I wanted to see a) how a felted fabric looks in terms of stitch definition (and loss thereof) and b) how texture holds up to the felting process. I know it can be done nicely because I saw a felted cabled handbag pattern in the winter 2007 issue of Interweave Knits. Here's one example - very nice!

So I started with some DK merino (Frankengarn naturstrickwolle) and tried out the Dragon Scale pattern from Barbara Walker #2. I hand felted with hot soapy water and it turned into this:
Little to no stitch definition! And it's a nice stiff but light fabric, not too bad for a cloak.
I knitted it up on my Denise 11's (they're bigger than the standard US 11). I also hand-felted for about 20 minutes. For the inquiring minds, this yarn is a 2-ply. I heard somewhere that plied yarns felt cables better, but the down-side to using this stuff for the cloak is that I'd have to buy more yarn! You should have seen my husband's face when he heard this. He cringed! I guess the wool is sort of taking over our apartment. So I dug through my Christmas stash and unearthed the cones of Lamb's Pride Worsted in a dark green color. I certainly have enough of it!

I read on Knitter's Review that the ideal gauge for felting LPW is 3 sts/in. I get 3.8 sts/in on Denise 10 1/2's (smaller than standard) and 3 sts/in on Denise 11's (bigger than standard). So I knitted up a simple cabled close-loop and braid pattern (made up from my head) and hand felted both swatches. Here's the before and after pics.
This is the one done on Denise 10 1/2 needles. I only got about 15 % shrinkage in length after hand-felting and I felt it had not lost enough stitch definition. So I boiled it and agitated it in boiling water. Not a lick of difference was noticeable in size or loss of stitch definition. It fuzzed up a fair bit though. It's nice and thick, with a little bit of sproing left from the knitted fabric and the cables still show. Some dye was shed in the boiling process, but the vast color difference in the pics is due to the different lighting conditions. The top photo has the most accurate color, and the color shedding isn't noticeable in the boiled swatch.
This one was done on Denise 11's. The fabric was VERY loose before felting. I found it hard to keep the tension even when knitting the cables, so I got a hole (circled on the center picture) that didn't felt. I guess the Murphy's Law of felting is really true after all. I got 14 % length shrinkage with vigorous hand-felting, and it still retains stitch definition. I figure my best bet is to use the 10 1/2 needles because I get a nicer looking fabric in the end of it all.

So now for the pattern choices - I could not find any for a knitted felted cloak! There are a few knitted cloak patterns, and examples can be found by googling and surfing Ravelry. This one is nice, but it's from a Finnish book. The book is kindof expensive too. This one's okay, but not really what I had in mind. Now this one has the right shaping and would look reasonably historically accurate. I figured out by reading the blog of the flickr account I directed you towards that it is a raglan-shaped cloak, knit from the bottom up. So I popped out my Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top and lo and behold there were vague-ish instructions for how to turn a top-down cardi into a cloak/cape. I've already picked out my Viking Cables (from Lavold's book) and I cast on already. I'll probably go to mid-calf, which should bring it to about knee length after blocking. I also need to figure out how to knit a hood...