Y'all didn't think I was finished with wool, did you? No, I've got two more wool projects to show you.
The first is wool dryer balls. A natural alternative to those spiky plastic balls, they decrease your dryer time and eliminate the need for dryer sheets by fluffing, softening and reducing static manually. I've never use dryer sheets because they cause my sensitive skin to break out in a rash but I don' t think I would want to use them even without that issue. They cost money and are full of icky chemicals. I've heard some positive reviews about how the plastic balls work but they can leave a plastic smell on your clothes and somehow heating up plastic doesn't sound like a good idea if you want to reduce household toxins. In addition to not stinking up your clothes, the wool balls are a bit quieter and there is something about how they absorb the water from your clothes that is supposed to help your dryer not overheat or your clothes not over dry or something. I don't really understand the science behind it but it sounded impressive. Oh, and unlike the sheets, these can be used with cloth diapers and towels.
There are several ways to make them. I'll explain two ways to make wrapped ones but I've also seen them made using sewn pieces of felt or felting stuff that has somehow tufting/needling them. Those ways are cool since you can make designs but I don't know how to do that. This is probably the easiest way.
Let's get started!
Basically, all you will be doing to make them is wrapping a ball of yarn and felting it. But since you want the final ball to be quite firm, you need to do it in two steps, starting with forming a solid core. This is where there are two options:
1) Use acrylic yarn. Acrylic yarn won't felt so all you have to do is wrap a small (golf ball size) ball as tightly as possible. Then using a knitting needle or crochet hook, weave/tuck the end of the yarn inside the ball so it doesn't unroll. That's it! Move on to the next step now.
2) Use wool yarn. Since this will felt, you will have to wrap a small ball as tightly as possible the same as with the acrylic, then felt it as you will the outside (see below). It will shrink a bit now. You want that to happen so that when you wash it again, the outer layer won't cause it to collapse and be soft.
I did both methods and I think if you have extra acrylic and wool yarn around, use the acrylic. It is faster, easier and cheaper. The benefit to using wool is that you can say they are 100% wool if you sell them on etsy but the acrylic is completely contained in the end product so it shouldn't make a difference to your clothes at all.
Now you have a little core. This is my wool core:
This is my acrylic core. Oops. I got so excited that I wrapped the second layer before taking a picture but you can imagine in since it would look just like a little ball of yarn.
Now you need to make the outside and felt it. For this step you have to use wool. Wrapping as tightly as you can over the core, keep wrapping until it is about tennis ball size then use a needle or hook to hide the end inside the ball and prevent it from unwrapping.
Or leave the ball on the floor for a minute while you go off in search of a crochet hook, come back and find that your cat has enjoyed herself, untangle the yarn and repeat the wrapping process. You can also skip these steps, it's your choice :-)
Now you need to felt the ball. But even with the hidden end, if you try and felt it as is, it would probably come undone in the washer. Or clog up your machine with fuzz and pills. So first put it in an old sock or piece of hosiery. Tie the end real close with a piece of acrylic yarn. You can actually felt two or three balls together in one sock/hose as long as you tie each separately so they don't felt themselves to each other. I stole a sock from Craig so mine looked like this:
Throw it into your washer with 1/4 of the normal amount of detergent and a couple towels or pairs of jeans to increase the agitation. Use hot water and at least a 12 minute cycle. Unlike other projects where you only want to felt so far, the more these are felted the better. No worries about overfelting make this a great first felting experiment!
After one wash, they should hold up okay but they might not look completely felted. You can put them back in the sock for another round or you can just throw them in the washer and then dryer with your next load of laundry like I did. And as you keep using them with wet clothes in a hot dryer, they will continue to get more firm and smooth although after a few weeks, you might notice pilling. It won't impact it's function but you can take them off if you want. (If you are felting the core, one cycle should be enough to get it firm but let it dry before you wrap and felt the second layer)
Here are my final ones.
They look pretty much identical to the core except larger. They started out the size of the tennis ball but shrunk slightly. I did two acryclic core and two wool core (the cat has stolen one which is why you are only seeing three). I made them separately but I honestly can't even tell the difference now between the two types.
How do they work? Well, my main goal was to reduce dryer time. The week I started using them, my drying time was reduced by quite a bit BUT we also had our dryer repaired so most of that reduction is probably due to that. I could do some sort of scientific test where I compare the drying speed with balls and without I suppose but I do think they help soften the clothes so I'm not going to bother. That's not a very definitive answer but it's all I've got.
And if you want some dryer balls but don't want to make them yourself, there are lots available on etsy. Or just check it out to see all the different styles and designs you can try. Happy Felting!