How Much Does Wool Shrink

A common question that felters have is how much does wool shrink when felting. It can depend on a lot of factors such as the type and fineness of the wool, what direction you have laid the fibres, what direction you roll the wool while felting, what temperature of water you used, etc. The best way to find out is to do a sample before you begin your project.
In this example, I have used both 21 micron and 18 micron merino wool tops. I started by laying out 2 sets of 12 inch x 12 inch squares. I wanted to see if the direction of the wool layout made a difference in the amount of shrinkage.
For each sample I laid out 3 layers of merino wool.
Felt Sample 1 – Landscape
For the sample on the Left (Blue) I first laid out a thin layer of wool, laying the fibre from left to right (Landscape)
The second layer was in the opposite direction: Top to Bottom (Portrait)
The third layer was again in Landscape (Left to Right)
So in this sample there were more layers of wool in Landscape direction, wool laying across the fabric.
Felt Sample 2 – Portrait
In the second sample on the Right (Red) I laid the fibres in the opposite direction, having 2 layers laying up and down (Portrait) and 1 in Landscape.
First layer: Up and Down (Portrait)
Second layer: Left to Right (Landscape)
Third layer: Up and Down (Portrait)

felt sample

I rolled and felted both samples at the same time so each had the same amount of felting. I rolled the samples in bubble wrap about 10 times, then opened the package, turned each sample 1/4 turn to the right and rolled again another 10 times. I repeated the rolling and turning of the samples until they felted.

The Result
Both samples felted and shrunk the same amounts, but in different directions. The wool shrunk more in the direction of the fibre.
i.e. wool that was laid side to side, shrunk more in that direction.
wool that was laid up and down, shrunk more in that direction.
I think this could be because when wool has been processed into roving, it has been stretched into a smoother and longer length. When the wool felts it regains some of its natural crimp and it shortens back to its original state.

felt sample

Fibre Direction Starting Size Felted Size % Shrinkage
Landscape Width 12″ 7″ ~ 40%
Landscape Length 12″ 9.5″ ~ 20%
Portrait Width 12″ 9.5 ~ 20%
Portrait Length 12″ 7″ ~ 40%

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