Monday, January 2, 2017

The Boiled and Stabbed Slippers

Several years ago, after I launched this blog, I came across a picture of an irresistibly cute pair of slippers on Pinterest.

The slippers were the French Press Felted Slippers, by Melynda Bernardi. I already had a pair of rather nice slippers I had made out of a bulky weight wool yarn, but it didn't take me long to decide I much preferred the style of these. I then proceeded to take apart the first pair and knit up a pair of French Press slippers.

And here's the result. This yarn is Patons Classic Wool Worsted, in a colour called Tree Bark Mix. The slippers were knitted with two strands on 10mm needles. It amused me to remember that my pair of 10mm needles were the first pair of knitting needles I ever bought and that I'd used them exactly once before: to make my very first sweater, in a tragically ill-chosen candy floss pink yarn, when I was ten years old.

The knitting part of this slipper project went quickly and easily (last January!) and then the slippers spent nearly an entire year in my work basket, waiting for me to sew them together and then felt them. I had never felted anything before (not on purpose, that is), and kept putting off the task of finishing them the way I tend to do when I don't know how to do something. Finally at about 6:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve I started work on the felting.

I hadn't read anything on felting aside from the instructions in the pattern, which was a mistake, especially given that I wasn't felting the slippers in my washing machine as the instructions say to do. I have a front loading washing machine and didn't think it would work as well as a top loader with a central agitator. I thought I could do the felting in the kitchen sink. I was making some progress, but it was too slow, and as I was using my hands to agitate the knitting, that limited how hot the water could be. I then got the idea of felting the pieces in a measuring cup of hot water heated in the microwave, using a wooden spoon to agitate them. This worked better but I was having trouble keeping the water hot, so I switched methods again and began felting the pieces in a saucepan on the stove. Whenever I wanted to try the slippers on for size, I'd lift them out of the saucepan with tongs, douse them in a sink full of cool water, and squeeze the water out as best I could. This method proved fairly effective, but did it ever take a long time. I had initially thought I'd be done the job in half an hour (felting with a machine is supposed to take 20-25 minutes), but I worked on it for four hours, partly because I had taken awhile to hit on the right method, and partly because I made the mistake of doing the slippers in three parts: the straps by themselves, then one slipper body at a time.

Not only did doing the pieces separately make the process much longer, it also proved a bad idea because the colour of the felted fabric changed. By the time I was done the second slipper, I realized to my horror that I had two different colour slippers: one was a grayish khaki green, and the other was a dark olive green. However, it was 10:30 on New Year's Eve, I'd just spent hours standing over a boiling hot saucepan repeatedly stabbing my knitting with a wooden spoon, and I was NOT going to keep working and trying to fix that mistake that night. I turned off the stove and cleared up a little and left the kitchen to go relax for the rest of the evening.

The next morning I checked the slippers again and found that, besides being two different colours, they still were a little too large for me. I boiled both the slippers and the straps on the stove for an additional hour and a half, checking for size every half hour. After that hour and a half they were a perfect fit... and, thankfully, the same colour again. Though that's a grand total of five and half hours of felting time. I don't think I spent that long knitting the slippers.

As you can see from the above photo of one of the slippers with the leftover yarn it was made from, the finished slippers are a completely different colour from what they were originally. I'm still astounded by this colour change. How on earth did the colour become so much darker and richer? I would have expected it to fade if I'd expected any colour change at all, which I didn't. Fortunately, I still like the resulting colour. Unfortunately, the buttons I'd bought for the slippers looked terrible against this new colour, and I had to make a quick trip to Fabricland to get some different ones. Another problem arose: I was supposed to use unfelted yarn to stitch the end of the straps on, and the stitches were bound to show. I looked in my stash for a similar green but didn't find a yarn that would be less conspicuous -- green is a difficult colour to match. I settled for trying to make my stitches as hidden and inconspicuous as possible. They don't look as bad as I feared, and no one is going to look that closely at my feet anyway.

The instructions recommend spreading some puffy paint on the bottom of the slippers, for the sake of traction. I am reluctant to do this. Someone gave me a pair of those socks with treads on them for Christmas one year and the treads hurt my feet when I walked on them (Moreover, the treaded socks would not stay on but kept working their way off my feet -- I had to keep reaching down and yanking them back up. I wore them once, for about two hours, and then put them in the garbage.) I'm afraid the puffy paint will be uncomfortable to walk on. On the other hand, I have all wood and tile floors in my home and am very accident-prone. Perhaps there are other traction options.

I'm not sure there's any more felting in my future. I definitely won't tackle another project without first making sure I'm more informed about the process. Even without doing research, knowing about the stove top boiling method and doing all the pieces at once would cut my time in less than half... so perhaps.

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