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Felting the Lattice Bag


Felting the Lattice Bag:
A Lesson in Felting Variability

By Nora J. Bellows

The two circular lattice bags present us with an excellent example of how differences in the felting and blocking processes can result in very differently sized bags.

These two bags look great, though the Blue and Aqua one is significantly smaller than the Green and Dark Grey. They were both knit with a double strand of Cascade 220 on a US Size 13/9mm needle and both knitters reported approximately the same gauge during the knitting process. Thus, not only were these two bags knit with exactly the same instructions and tools, but their measurements prior to felting were almost exactly the same too.

Here are the finished measurements for both bags:

      Green and Grey Circular Lattice Bag Felted Measurements
      14" height x 36" circ. at top x 29" circ. at bottom x 14" diameter at bottom.

      Blue and Aqua Circular Lattice Bag Felted Measurements
      11" height x 33" circ. at top x 24 1/2" circ. at bottom x 7 1/2" diameter at bottom.

What a Difference The Felting Process Makes

What differed was the felting process. Both were felted in top-loading washers, but the violence of the washers differed, and perhaps the hot water temperature in the two washers differed as well. I knitted and felted the Green and Grey circular bag myself and manipulated it a good deal (as I do all my bags) during the felting process (more about this below). I cannot say how much my test knitter manipulated the Blue and Aqua bag during felting.

The Natural Tendency of Stranded Color Work and Cabling to Felt Tight

Because the Lattice Bag Pattern features cabling and color-strand work in the same bag, we have two knitting techniques that function to increase the tightness and speed of the felting process. As a general rule, whenever you have a double layer of knitting, as opposed to a single layer as in flat, solid-colored pieces, or even horizontal stripes, you have more surfaces across and against which the wool fibers can work to kink themselves into a felt matt. This is why the majolica bag pulls in very tightly in the body. The lattice bag has a similar tendency.

Mitigating The Natural Tendency of Multi-Layered Felt

In order to mitigate this natural tendency in felted bags that contain color strand work, and in the lattice bag in particular, I worked with both the rectangular and circular bags a great deal as they were felting. I took the bags out of the washer and, particularly with the circular bag, put my arms inside and pushed outward. In this way, I was stretching the bag against the direction it wanted to felt. My aim was to keep the contrast color fields from puckering during the felting process. I took the bag out probably every five to seven minutes and manipulated it in this manner. Because I was slowing the felting process with my constant harassment, it took a bit longer to reach the sort of felt I like: thick with little or no trace of stitches. In other words, I probably had that bag out of the washer 7 or 8 times before it was what I would consider done. But my efforts were worth my troubles, because the fabric is virtually flat - no pucker at all. And, interestingly, the bottom of the bag does not appear to have shrunk much from its pre-felted measurement though the bottom appears just as felted as the rest of the bag.

By contrast, the Blue and Aqua bag, as I have mentioned above, is a much smaller bag. It is a tighter felt, and the contrast color fields do contain a pucker, though you do not notice it and it is not at all unattractive. It is a wonderful-looking bag, but it was not manipulated to the same degree as the green and grey bag.

Blocking: How to Achieve the Desired Shape

After the circular lattice bag finished felting, I took it out, put an upside-down plate in the bottom to make it really flat and stuffed the bag tightly - really tightly - with packing paper (newspaper will also work well and I have on occasion used towels or even balls of yarn). I ensure that it is the shape I want by crushing the paper and bag together from the outside and pressing in any place that does not conform to the shape I want the bag to have when it is dry. If I need to, I wrap the whole project in a dry towel and safety-pin it tightly around the bag so that there is pressure from the outside as well as the inside. Using a towel instead of a smooth fabric ensures that my felt does not get crushed. I leave the bag in its blocked state until I am ready to finish it. This wrapping technique works particularly well for a bag such as the Harlequin Pill Box that has a top and bottom that need to fit perfectly together.

What We Can Learn From These Two Lattice Bags is Manifold:

The felting habits of different knitters have a huge impact on the finished product. There are other factors - other than the yarn you knit with, the gauge of your needles, and the gauge of your knitting - that alter the size of a finished product.

Manipulating the project while it is felting can radically alter the finished bag.

  • Stretch from the inside bags that contain color work and cabling.
  • Check to see if a bag is the same height all the way around and pull up on shorter places.
  • Look for places in the felt that are felting tighter or looser: felt looser bits tighter by holding them close to the agitator. If you have a front-loader, fill a container with boiling water and put the looser bits in and then irritate by swirling around, or poking and rubbing (on a washboard, for example) until the offending place has felted tighter. In a top-loader, I often turn bags upside down and hold them in the swirling water, with portions right up on the agitator, until they have felted tighter. It is somewhat labor intensive, but the results are worth it.

Blocking your work carefully also alters the finished bag.

  • Put flat-surfaced items in bag bottoms for flat, crisp shaping.
  • Measure the bag all around and pull or ease (through the wrapping process described above) to make sure height and width are the same all around.
  • Sew together tops of bags such as tube baguettes for even, smooth bag closures.
  • Block bags with heavy openings (such as the bobble bag) upside down and over something tall so that weighty tops don't distort the shape of the finished bag.
  • If a bag has dried a bit strangely, re-wet and re-block.

Ultimately, things we may regard as small differences in treatment, such as yarn type, needle gauge, knitting gauge, treatment during the felting process, and treatment during the blocking process (not to mention the finishing) can add up to big differences in the way our finished projects ultimately look. Taking the time to work carefully, to manipulate your felting, to block your bag well, and to finish it meticulously can result in beautiful finished pieces that are much more like works of art than utilitarian items.