Felting, Weaving

Fulling Cloth in a Front-Loading Washing Machine

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on making some handbags in collaboration with a friend. Today I wanted to talk to you about fulling the fabric in a front-loading washing machine, which is something I had a lot of trouble finding instructions for. Hopefully I can save you the trouble.

I warped my loom once using a fingering weight commercial wool yarn.  20170701_084839

For the weft, I used my own handspun yarn. I used my Narnian Meadow (left), Epiphany (top right), and Firebird (bottom right) colorways. These are all 2-ply yarns.

I used my 10-dent heddle, which was just a bit tighter than absolute plain weave since the warp was 18 wraps per inch, but I was aiming for a fairly dense cloth. I was hoping to avoid needing to full it, but in the end I did anyway.

Here is what the cloth looked like when I finished weaving it but before I fulled it:

Take a look at the pictures on the right. If you look closely, you can see through the cloth. Now, that would be fine for a shawl or jacket, but my friend who sews a lot of handbags thought it would not wear as well and was bothered by what she called “grin through,” so I needed to full the cloth to get it ready to sew into handbags.

The last time I fulled cloth, I had a top-loading washing machine, so I was rather fearful about trying to use my front loader, and I actually had a tough time finding information about this, but I was determined.

The last piece I wove was, well, hideous. I was near the end of the warp, and I tried to combine what I had left of my Narnian Meadow yarn with some chartreuse yarn that I Navajo plied and then let it ply back on itself. As yarn, it was very cool, and I will definitely be making it again, but in conjunction with the Narnian Meadow and the warp yarn, let’s just say it wasn’t going to become a handbag. The good news was I felt very free to experiment with it for fulling.

Fulling is a step on the way to felting, so everything you have to avoid to keep your yarn from felting is exactly what you have to do now. It takes friction and temperature changes, so here’s what I did. My friend stitched the ends of the sample with her surger so it wouldn’t fall apart. Next, I got the cloth wet with cold water and tossed it in my front loader. I set the machine to Express Wash with a hot wash and cold rinse, and I just let it run through the whole cycle.


I am happy to tell you that it worked perfectly on my sample. After that, my friend used her surger to run a zigzag stitch along the edges of each piece of cloth, and those went in too. While I was researching this, some people talked about adding tennis balls or other clothing, but I didn’t do this. I did use vinegar instead of detergent, using as much vinegar as I would detergent for my washing machine. After my sample piece, I put the Epiphany piece in by itself since the colors were so dark and someone else had dyed it. I didn’t want to risk having it bleed on my other pieces. Last of all, I put both Firebird pieces and the Narnian Meadow piece in together. They didn’t stick together at all, which is good as I was a little concerned about that happening.

It worked out great. The only thing I was a little disappointed about was how much the Firebird cloth shrank. It went from 15-1/2 x 21-1/2 inches all the way down to 10 x 17 inches after fulling, but it was the right amount of fulling nonetheless. The weft shrank more than the warp, which isn’t surprising since it was made of 75% merino wool while the warp was made of a less fine wool. I don’t know the breed of the warp yarn, but I would guess something in the 35-45 micron range based on feel.

Here’s what the cloth looked like after it was fulled. You can see how much tighter the fabric is with no more “grin through.” I even cut into my sample piece to see how it would behave, and it didn’t fray at all.

I’m really pleased with the texture. The warp is a bit more noticeable than it was before fulling, but the weft is still predominant, and the thick and thin yarn turned into really great texture in the fabric.

I’ll be handing the cloth over to my friend today so she can work her magic and turn it into beautiful handbags that will combine my handspun, handwoven fabric with some commercial cloth. She is an amazing artist, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

Just to recap the instructions for fulling in a front loader, here they are step by step:

  1. Knot, hemstitch, or sew the ends of the cloth so it doesn’t fall apart while you full it.
  2. Wet the cloth thoroughly with cold water.
  3. Set your washing machine for hot wash and cold rinse on the shortest cycle. Mine is called Express Wash.
  4. Use vinegar instead of detergent since many detergents have some bleach that might dull the colors and vinegar will fix the colors further to prevent bleeding.
  5. Say a prayer and hit the start button.

Hopefully, you will have fulled cloth at the end like I did and not a little piece of felt.

Happy fiber artistry!