With so many different types of wool, it’s easy to get confused about how they’re distinct. Many people with a knack for knitting or sewing often wonder how felted and boiled wool are different. They have certain similarities when it comes to the texture, but they couldn’t be any more different. Not understanding how the two are unique can lead to uninformed purchases because each type has specific uses. Let’s get into the details to better understand the two types.
Before we can get to the main factors that matter, i.e. how they look and feel different, we have to consider that they’re manufactured in distinct ways as well. Essentially wool is the same, but it’s only by treating it in different ways that you get unique results.
Boiled wool is a type of fabric made by shrinking woven wool fabric in hot water. It's a unique fabric with a dense and compact texture, making it an ideal choice for outerwear and winter clothing. Boiled wool is more water-resistant than many other fabrics.
Felted wool is made by agitating and shrinking wool fibers. This process causes the fibers to tangle and mat together, resulting in a thick, durable fabric that allows air to breathe through its fibers. Felted wool is very warm and can be used for many applications, including outerwear, slippers, and bags.
How Boiled Wool is Made
For starters, boiled wool fabric comes from knitting wool yarns and making a sheet that’s uniformly thick. Boiled wool typically begins on a loom with wool thread feeding into a large weaving machine. Then you can dye the fabric or leave it with its natural color. At this stage, manufacturers add certain embellishments and designs as well.
After weaving the fabric together on the loom, it's ready for the fulling process. This is done by placing the fabric in hot water, boiling, and agitating it in a soap-like alkaline solution. Agitating the fabric in hot water makes the wool fibers stick together because of their scaly surface, which results in a felt-like fabric. You get a denser and tighter material that’s much smaller compared to the pre-boiled wool fabric.
But why boil wool anyway? Boiling wool makes the fabric resistant to wind and water, more durable and warm too.
How Felted Wool is Made
Felted wool starts the same way as wool felt, i.e., as wool roving. Once manufacturers get wool fibers from shearing wooly animals, such as sheep, the fibers undergo a cleaning and carding process. This breaks up jumbled clumps of fiber and realigns them into roving.
When manufacturing felted wool, there’s weaving involved. The roving is first spun into a thread, which is then woven into wool cloth. This cloth is washed in hot water and dried using high heat. Just like in boiling, the fabric contracts, but it also attains a puffy texture.
Although both fabric manufacturing processes sound the same, boiled wool is exactly what the same implies, i.e. it’s been boiled in hot water. Meanwhile, felted wool involved washing the fabric in hot water. It’s true that both processes involve heat and agitation to a certain extent, which results in the fibers merging together, but you can still see a significant difference.
In felting, the hot water, agitation, and rolling create a fabric that’s completely uniform and flat, while in boiled wool, you can still see the woven fibers.
How They Look and Feel Different
In boiled wool, you can still see the fibers woven together, while in felted wool, which is washed and rolled out over and over again, the fibers have meshed together. In terms of texture, felted wool is much more matted, so it’ll feel fluffier. This fluffiness is what makes felted wool perfect for products like a cozy house shoe. Meanwhile, boiled wool is comparatively thinner, which makes it great for other products, such as apparel.
What Types of Products use Boiled Wool
Boiled wool is ideal for autumn and winter apparel, as well as layering for all throughout the year. The wool is medium-weight, as opposed to felted wool, which is heavier. Boiled wool can be used for making:
Cardigans and sweaters
Accessories like bags, purses, and more.
Boiled wool is also used for a variety of home items, such as area rugs, blankets, and upholstery. It is also often used for quilting and crafts. Boiled wool is incredibly durable, warm, and waterproof, making it ideal for making cold weather apparel. The unique texture of boiled wool also makes it a great choice for stylish garments and accessories that stand out from the crowd.
There are plenty of benefits of using boiled wool to make certain products. For instance, they help the wearer maintain almost constant body temperature while wearing a boiled wool jacket. The fabric has tiny air pockets that help in preserving heat.
It bears well against bad weather. Because it’s denser than regular knitted wool fabric, water droplets tend to roll off the garment instead of being absorbed. Since the fibers are merged for a felted appearance, it offers more resistance to friction. Since boiled wool is naturally elastic, so garments made from it can preserve their shape for years of wear. Due to the boiling process, fibers that mesh together don’t irritate the skin as opposed to knitted wool fabrics. It's also naturally wrinkle-resistant and has anti-allergic properties. Boiled wool is also resistant to moths and other insects.
What Products Use Felted Wool
Felted wool can be used in a wide range of products, which includes rugs, costumes, art projects, shoes, and clothes too. Felted wool is commonly used in blankets and wool slippers that help you stay warm throughout winter.
In addition, while boiled wool requires that the fabric be boiled before being cut to make garments, you can always felt a wool garment by washing it with hot water. The high temperature and agitation process because of the washing machine puff up the fabric, allowing you to upcycle the fabric.
However, remember that felting an old woolen garment will cause it to shrink to a fraction of the original size, which can mean trouble if you wanted to keep wearing it. On the other hand, had the fabric for your sweater been treated and then cut to make a sweater, it would be made from boiled wool.
Do Certain Types of Wools Work Better for Boiled or Felted Wool?
The results of felting or boiling wool fabric will entirely depend on the yarn used to make the fabric. Not all manufacturers have similar boiled wool fabric because the wool yarn they use – if it’s mixed with synthetic fibers, the result can vary in thickness and density, determines this.
Nevertheless, all sorts of wool can be boiled or felted to get a matted effect. In the case of felted wool, manufacturers can keep washing and agitating the fabric to achieve more puffiness and matted texture, but this will shrink the fabric in the process.
What's best for you? That depends
Whether you’re a DIY junkie, knitting enthusiast, or just crazy about different fabrics, we’ve laid down some of the key differences between boiled and felted wool. This will allow you to make a better purchase decision when choosing between the two. Sure, they may compete in terms of benefits, but they have varying implementations, making them both useful.