I've been collecting some old wool sweaters with the thought of felting them and turning them into pillows, purses, yoga mat carriers, etc. A couple of weekends ago I cracked Felted Knits by Beverly Galeskas and read that the sort of heavily supervised felting Bev advises should most vehemently NOT be attempted in a front-loading machine.
So of course I did it. And the results were not bad!
I have a high-agitation, energy-conserving model that only puts in the amount of water appropriate to the size of the load. This is a good thing, since Beverly says that for large items, you want less time in the machine and a smaller amount of water -- a little counter-intuitive. I threw in an old Fair Isle sweater and put a thimbleful of Eucalan in the detergent dispenser. Then I set the machine for Normal wash on hot, and also selected "no spin." Beverly says that you NEVER want your machine to rinse and spin. Rinse isn't so bad, just means you end up with your item in cold water instead of hot and you have to re-fill the machine with hot if it's not fully felted. But rinsing isn't necessary with Eucalan, so it's a waste of water. Spinning is bad -- you can make permanent crease marks in the felted item.
One major problem with front-loaders -- the door locks, so you can't check your work as you go. Beverly freaks out at this idea, since she wants you to check every five minutes. I decided I would risk it, and hit "Start."
After about 15 minutes, I noticed that the machine was draining and getting ready to re-fill for the first rinse. I stopped the machine, but the door was still locked, so I canceled the cycle completely and opened the door. Definite felting going on -- but not ready yet. I re-set the machine to the start of the cycle. Now that I knew the length of the first wash cycle, I was ready to stop the machine and re-set two or three more times until I was pleased with the results. I didn't mind the 15-minute intervals between checks, seemed to work just fine.
The huge problem with this system, of course, is the wasted water and detergent, since it insists on draining before you can open the door. Only a manual dial-type control system will let you avoid draining the water -- and those are rarer and rarer these days.
For example, Spinnity has a top-loading machine, so while we were over at her house last weekend making a birthday dinner for B-i-L, I figured I'd try felting the other two sweaters there. Because her machine is top-loading, you CAN open the lid every five minutes and check on your progress. However, her machine is new enough to have a digital control system, and you can't just crank a dial to keep the machine from rinsing and spinning. In fact, her machine doesn't even have a "no-spin" option. The machine wanted to drain and rinse after only about 11 minutes, and the ridges on the bottom of the agitator started to leave creases on one of the sweaters. (I did them separately so they wouldn't acquire each other's fuzz.) If I canceled and started over in time, some hot water seemed to stay in the machine, but it added more anyway.
Overall, I don't think the top-loader felted any better than my front-loader -- in fact, I think it took longer and left creases. All three pieces felted reasonably well. They're now drying and awaiting further inspiration. Beverly says you shouldn't throw your felted items in the dryer -- they can lose their shape.
I'm pretty sure experiences are as different as individual washing machines, but here's what some other people did. There are some other forums in which people relate differing experiences, easily found with a Google search. I have to admit I was a bad girl and did not put the sweaters in zippered bags first, for lack of having any at hand, but I certainly will as I continue to do more projects.