dryer balls: an exploration

Several years ago I heard whispers on the wind about felted wool dryer balls. And I thought, “eh, I’ve got loads of wool. I can felt. Let’s do this.” I didn’t read any tutorials or even research why people were using these things. I just made some. It was an excuse to stop buying dryer sheets, which I didn’t want to buy anyway. The first generation was not very dense, but I didn’t know that was a problem, so I just used them. Basically I just wadded a bunch of wool into a ball, put it in a stocking, and washed it. I guess they worked?

Then I found out they were supposed to be very hard and solid so they could bounce around in your dryer. Eventually I made another batch. This time I used yarn as the inside to give it more weight. It was a lot easier to pack the yarn tight rather than the roving. Plus it gave me a chance to do something with all of those odd little bits of yarn I have hanging around the house. I made a small ball of yarn, wrapped it in roving, wrapped more yarn around, more roving, etc. The second generation balls were larger and less squishy. However, the outside got smooshed up when I crammed them into the nylon stocking for felting.

1st & 2nd generation dryer balls

So, for the third batch I decided to do some pre-felting. I started with a tight ball of yarn and then covered it in roving. Using my 6-point needle felter, I tacked down the outside wool. This kept everything in place nicely and they came out so smooth and pretty. I’m sure they’ll end up covered in pills after one or two uses, but they will look deceptively pleasant in the bowl at the farmer’s market.

Balls pre-felted
Balls after an initial needle felting. The inside is a tightly wound ball of yarn with handdyed wool roving around the outside. In some cases I placed all of the roving around the outside, covering it entirely before needle felting. Those ones had a more interesting swirling color pattern. Others I tacked down each piece as I laid them down.

Balls ready for felting
Balls have been placed in a nylon stocking. I purchased knee-highs from the drug store for 50 cents a pair. I was able to get 4 to 5 balls in each stocking.

Dryer balls ready to go
The balls are finished! These went through two wash cycles. I reshaped them before throwing them into the dryer. They came out slightly damp, so now they are air drying. The best looking ones yet.

PS. I just listed them for sale. Click it.

 

something new from something old

Remember these little cuties? I’ve been carrying them around for nearly a year, but sadly not many people have been willing to take them home.

“What do you do with them?” They would ask me.
“Uh… buttons? Jewelry? Stuff? Get creative!” I’d reply.

felted balls

But I should know better by now. It’s not enough to have the supplies there. You need to help people figure out what to do with them either by providing patterns or examples. So I have finally started making SOMETHING with my “wee felt balls”. Here are my latest creations!

bracelets

It’s exciting to be trying something totally different. Not knitting. Not spinning. Not weaving. Jewelry making! I’ve gone to several craft stores and stocked up on beads, findings, everything. Just playing and experimenting. I started with bracelets, but really I could just about make anything. We’ll see where this goes.

bracelets

bracelets

felt balls

Have you ever wondered what I sound like? Well, now is your chance to find out. I’ve put together a video with tips for making felted balls. They may be simple to make, but sometimes you just need that little push to give it a try! Let this video give you the confidence to turn your bits of wool into cute little felt balls and beads (hint: just stick the finished ball with a needle).

 

feather & fan fever

Apparently it got stuck in my head. After making that first pair of mitts with the pattern at the cuffs, I couldn’t help thinking, “what else can I do with this?” So I proceeded to make a neckwarmer using the same alpaca yarn. I’m wearing it right now. I put it on for this picture and now I don’t want to take it off.

feather n fan neckwarmer

I also wanted to see what it would look like to carry the stitch pattern up the entire length of the mitt, rather than just at the top and bottom. So I used this recently spun Falkland singles to test out the idea. It was a perfect match — the yarn was the right weight to accommodate two repeats of the stitch pattern.

feather n fan fever

Okay, so this last project does not use the feather & fan stitch pattern. Rather, it is a remnant from my wet felting experiments. I finally had the chance to get back and finish it. My original intention was to create a small purse/pouch. Instead I ended up with this.

mint green teapot sweater

a tiny bit of felting

Do you ever get a totally inexplicable hankering to do something? For the last few days (or weeks) I’ve been wanting to make little felted balls. Don’t know why. At first I thought I’d string them into garlands for the Christmas tree. But now I don’t see that happening.

felted balls

why are these so cute?

felted balls

and once I started taking pictures of them…the light was so good I didn’t want to stop.

felted balls

felted balls

experiments in resist felting

Apparently the more appropriate term for the new wooly adventure I have embarked upon is “resist felting” not simply “wet felting”. I came across this website (feltinglessons.com) yesterday and thought it might not hurt to see another person’s techniques. Seems since 1987 when my book (Felting by Hand) was published, things have changed! Now they use tulle and bubble wrap. Things are more complicated and the supplies list is much longer. So I decided to take some tips from modern times and mix them with my 80s lessons. I didn’t have any tulle, so I skipped that; and I put a towel down on the table instead of bubble wrap. So when I had to roll everything up, I just rolled up the towel and didn’t bother getting out a dowel rod. Come on, people having been doing this for centuries! The Mongolians made yurts out in the desert by dragging rolls of felt around behind their horses. It’s not an exact science. Believe me, if it was I wouldn’t be doing it.

Before I learned all these new things, I attempted a me-sized pair of slippers. Apparently I am incapable of making two things that match. Not surprising since none of my knitted items match either! One slipper turned out okay, although it doesn’t fit me. The other one… the heel disintegrated, so I just cut it off, thinking I could make it into something else later.

not a pair

Then I thought I’d make a pair of fingerless mitts. Not a success. Guess what? Felt has no stretch. I suppose that’s what makes it appealing, but that also makes it difficult to get onto your hand. So I just made the one mitt and now I have one mitt.

fingerless mitt

After I watched the videos, I made a pattern out of thick plastic instead of fabric. Much better! I started with a little pouch, but it didn’t end up quite right. So I decided to morph it into a tea cozy. Last night I laid there in bed and imagined all the embellishments I could add to it. I want to let it dry before I start fiddling around with it.

tea cozy

So it seems that I can’t start out with something specific in mind and execute it. Hooray! But I should be honest with myself and realize I just started on this. However, if I’m going to be really honest with myself, I was hoping I could be good at this without having to practice or try. Such is not the case. And so I will soldier on.

collection

tiptoe into comfort

For some reason I had the desperate urge to try wet felting. It’s likely due in part to my dad planting the idea in my head. He wants a pointy felted hat. He sent me links with patterns. He asks if I looked at the links. He whispers “felted hat” into my ear when he hugs me. So that might have something to do with it. INCEPTION! Regardless, I found myself alone Saturday afternoon and decided to give this thing a shot.

I started with child sized slippers, as recommended by the book I was referring to, Felting by Hand by Anne Einset Vickrey. The instructions were easy enough. Wool? Check! Soap? Check! Water? Yep! And instead of doing test samples, I just got into it. I don’t swatch either.

best three attempts

The first slipper came out great. Or at least my definition of great. It felt even and solid. The shape was pleasant. It’s at the front in the picture. The second one (second in the picture) came out weird. There were thin spots and it just didn’t look as sturdy. The third one is not pictured because it failed completely. And by the fourth I needed some spice, so I threw in a few locks of dyed wool. They ended up approximately 6 inches by 3 inches, just to give you an idea. Next I’m making a pair for me!

first slipper

fourth slipper

catching up

Sometimes I post about one exciting thing, and sometimes I have several small things to mention. Today is more of the latter.

I’m finally getting to the end of my large batches of Falklands and Romney. By next week I should be adding the last of those to the Etsy shop. Currently those are the bulk of my listings. I enjoy spinning Romney, but it doesn’t make a soft yarn, so I’ll have to come up with something non-snuggly to make with it. I had 12 ounces left to dye and decided those will all be spun by me instead of sold. There is about a pound left of the “Falklands” too, and I will likely spin most of it myself, even though I hate it! Not buying Falklands from RH Lindsay again. In the next few weeks I will be adding Corriedale spinning fiber after quite a significant absence.

Last Saturday I checked out a sewing/knitting shop near Rich’s place of business for the first time. It was more sewing than knitting, but I did pick up a few things. I bought some alpaca top to make braids for my SCA garb. And I bought a tiny circular needle, size US 6, made by Clover. When I saw them (and I’ve seen them other places), I thought: “Do the Japanese have some secret project that they need wrist-sized circs? Clover is the only company that makes these!” So I went to work on a fingerless mitt, just to see how it worked. Quite an experience. 😀

needle + hand (for scale)

About a week ago I felted my clogs and couldn’t decide whether to send them around the washer again or just wear them. In hopes of taking up some space, I put a little piece of felted sweater in as an insole, which also made the bottom thicker. Yesterday I put them on regardless of size and I have them on right now. Even though they are too big and floppy in the width, they are so warm! Still debating on another felting.

small foot, large-ish slipper

big slippers

My slippers are falling apart again. Darn those store-bought slippers! I was debating whether to buy a high quality pair from LL Bean or make some. In the end I decided to try making a pair of felted slippers and perhaps attaching a leather bottom since I know someone with 3 totes full of various leather bits.

The pattern I chose comes from Knit One, Felt Two by Kathleen Taylor. I borrowed it from the library and managed to complete all the knitting in a week. The yarn is Lanaloft from Brown Sheep Company. It’s a singles yarn I bought from Kindred Spirits for no particular reason and I liked it. It’d be nice to try it with the suggested needle size instead of an 11.

They have not been felted yet – currently I have two HUGE floppy socks, as shown below. These have a lot of shrinking to do.

a giant slipper