If this is your first time felting then I would recommend starting out with a smaller project where the finished size is not going to be an issue. Even though I am making my own pattern it is still important for me to follow and check my gauge.
As you can see from the picture the pre-felted hat is large and awkward looking but once it is felted it will shrink down considerably and the stitches will not be as prominent.
It is always a good practice to write down the pre-felted measurements. According to the pattern the hat should shrink about 4" in circumference and the finished hat should measure about 22" in circumference so the pre-felted hat should measure about 26" in circumference.
I prefer to felt by hand as I like the control, but because this is such a large project it is going to take a lot effort to get it to felt so I am going to start the process off by washing it in the machine. To be on the safe side side I going to place it in a colour fast pillow case. I've never had a problem with Patons Classic Wool, Lion Brand Wool, or Cascade 220 but if you are felting with Alpaca it sheds like crazy so you will always want to put it in a pillow case when you are machine felting.
These are the materials that I use for hand felting. I would recommend that everyone try felting by hand at least once just so they can get a feel for the process. I wear rubber gloves so that I can tolerate the hot water. Remember that it is the friction and the heat that cause the fibers to bind together so their is no need to worry about being gentle. I have even used a scrub brush and a wash board.
I start by soaking my project in hot soapy water. I use straight hot water from the tap and dish soap.
The scary part is that sometimes your project seems to grow at the beginning and it is hard to imagine that it is ever going to shrink down to size. This hat has already been through a wash cycle so it didn't stretch out much.
It is the friction and the heat that cause the item to felt so use whatever reasonable means you have to create friction.
When I first started felting I was very gentle with my project but it is really amazing how much abuse the wool can take.
Try gripping the fabric between your hands and rubbing your palms together.
I also find that periodically going from really hot water to really cold water sort of "shocks" the wool and speeds up the felting process, but it is important to remember to keep the hot water from cooling down too much.
As you can see from the photo the stitches are not as definite.
Keep scrubbing and alternating from hot to cold water.
Okay...at this point you are probably discouraged so feel free to take a break. As I said earlier the wool takes an amazing amount of abuse.
Back to scrubbing...
...and alternating between hot and cold water.
At a certain point the fibers will really start to bind together. As you can see from the photo the stitches are barely noticeable and water beads form on the fabric. I only took one small break and the process still took me about an hour, but it was worth it.
For a really professional look it is a good idea to spend a some time shaping your project. To help maintain the shape while your project is drying try stuffing it with fiberfil or a like item. Also, as you can see from the picture the edge isn't very even...
...so pull and stretch your project into shape. The fabric has some stretch so think about the shape that you want your finished project to be.
I just used an old bowl to prop up the hat so that it could dry. Depending on the heat and humidity it may take 2 to 3 days for your project to dry completely.
There's still some finishing work to do but I'll save that for another day and another post.
For additional information on felting see also:
what is felting.
felting gone awry.