You have likely heard the term felted Merino wool and blankets made from it before, whether on our blog in a few previous posts or in your own research on handling Merino wool. As the term is part of the wool enthusiasts' lexicon, it can be unfamiliar to most. Today we decided to turn this nebulous concept into an easy-to-understand one.
As we mentioned before Merino wool is the unspun wool of the Merino sheep native to Australia. Its unspun nature makes it soft and delicate, it is also that same nature that makes it prone to shedding and pilling as the wool was never treated or reinforced.
One way to treat Merino wool to make it tougher and stronger is to felt it.
Felting comes in stages, starting from very light felting where the wool is barely altered to completely felted where Merino shrinks in its fibers and becomes hard and durable. Typically, completely felted Merino is much smaller in size from its unfelted counterpart, so the same blanket when completely felted will be half its original size.
Note that felting is a one-time process. It is not comparable to washing or cleaning Merino wool. Felting is a way of altering or changing the structure of the wool.
Here are a few ways Merino wool can be felted.
1. Light Felting (Hand Felting)
This method of felting involves repeatedly brushing Merino wool strands by hand. Running over the same area with your hand numerous times makes the wool a bit tougher and gets rid of loose pieces.
The downside is the amount of time it takes, as you would need to hand-felt the same area many times and, if you are knitting a large blanket and using a lot of wool, a short project will quickly turn into a longer one.
2. Light to Medium Felting (Soaking)
The second method of light felting is submerging your Merino wool or Merino wool product in a bathtub with cold water, enough to cover the wool. Letting it soak up the water, expand, and then hand wringing out the water and air drying the wool afterward.
This method is very time-consuming and quite difficult to manage on your own if you are using a large amount of wool, as the wool that absorbs water becomes heavy.
3. Medium Felting (Cold Water Machine Wash)
The method we most recommend is machine washing your Merino wool or Merino wool product in cold water. Using a machine with no agitator only and a full load, you are able to do this at home at your own time and convenience. Make sure to read our instructions and follow them to the letter, otherwise you may felt your Merino wool completely, shrinking it and making it very hard.
This way of felting is great for blankets but note that felting is a one-time process. We only recommend you using it once and dry cleaning the blanket every time after.
4. Complete Felting (Hot Water Machine Wash)
In the rare case you want your Merino wool completely felted (note that this method is not at all recommended for blankets or any product you want to keep soft), you can wash it in hot water to make it hard, durable, and much smaller.
As we mentioned before, completely felted Merino does not feel the same way to the touch as regular, unfelted Merino. We know of customers who used the complete felting method on their pet beds to achieve a rough texture and a tougher end product, but this felting method can be rather unpredictable depending on your washing machine, load capacity, water softness/hardness, etc. We do not recommend you undertake this at home.