Why wool felts

Individual wool strands have an outer covering called a cuticle, resembling a shingle. While on the sheep they all line up base to tip (pointing away from the root). The cuticles are like barbs. It is when these fibers become entangled, interlocked by sudden change in water temperature, soap and friction that felting occurs. 

When the fiber is subjected to: hot water, the cuticles expand and open up; cold water contracts the cuticle. The lanolin (oil produced by the sheep) acts as the “hair conditioner” while the wool is still on the sheep and helps to prevent the tangles. The fact the cuticle on a sheep is so coarse combined with the fibers going in different directions, after being shorn, is what allows for the felting process to happen as easily as it does.  The cuticles tangle and this can be a good or bad thing, It all depends if you want it to felt.

Different sheep fibers felt more or less easily. If the wool has a lot of crimp to it, such as merino, it will felt more easily then a longhaired coarse sheep with less crimp.

You may have felted a woolen sweater by accident. Technically this type of felting is called fulling.  Once fulled it is better off used in a recycle project. When wool is fulled it can be cut with a scissors and not unravel. You can make a handbag, pillow, gloves, or as applique pieces on another project.

Felted handbag

 

Hartford-Knitting-Examiner

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