Last year, I posted about switching from dryer sheets to dryer balls. As the weeks wore on, I started noticing that the little spikes on the plastic dryer balls were starting to erode. I’m not sure where the little bits of pulverized plastic were landing, but I’m fairly certain that means that the powdered particles are in our clothes and in the air. The more I read about plastic, the more concerned I am about releasing plastic particles into air and water. I had read several blogs about making felted wool dryer balls, and they seemed pretty easy. I made some to test in our dryer, and we loved them so much that I made several sets as Christmas presents to gift along with Homemade Laundry Detergent.
Wet felting is really simple. All you need is some 100% wool yarn, an old pair of pantyhose or tights, a piece of cotton string, and a washer/dryer. If you have an old 100% wool sweater (one that is dry clean only, not washable wool), you can use it to form the layers, wrapping it with smaller amounts of wool thread. However, I had a lot of trouble making the ball shapes uniform using this method, and I was making them for gifts. So, I just used the upcycled sweater pieces for the cores, then wrapped with wool yarn.
- Make cores. Start a yarn ball by wrapping the yarn around two fingers several times, then slip the loops off of your fingers and wrap them around the middle a few times. Then, start winding this into a ball shape. Once the ball is about the diameter of a quarter, use a crochet needle to pull the end of the yarn into the middle of the ball to keep the end from unraveling. The core can also be made with pieces of old wool sweaters wrapped in wool yarn to form a ball shape.
- Felt the cores. Place each one into the old pantyhose and tie off each with string (cotton string, not the wool yarn). Put the cores through the washer on the warmest setting, then dry them. This should form a firm core. If not, repeat the felting process. Cut the strings to remove the cores without destroying the pantyhose.
- Wrap the cores with wool yarn to form big yarn balls. The goal is baseball-sized yarn balls. Since the yarn balls will shrink a little during the felting process, make the balls slightly larger than baseballs. Use the crochet hook to tuck the ends of the yarn into the ball.
- Felt the balls in the washer and dryer, using the pantyhose as described above.
- Repeat the process if the balls are not big enough.
The dryer balls take a beating, so they will pill and fuzz after use. If it bothers you, I have read that you can use a sweater shaver to remove the pills. I don’t really care what they look like, so I’ve never tried this.
We use 2 or 3 balls in the dryer. 1 package of 100% wool yarn will give you two decently-sized dryer balls. The project can be done in one day if you are in a hurry, but it saves water and energy when you do the wet felting alongside a load of towels or blankets. I make the cores right before I throw a load of towels in the washing machine. Sometime in the next couple of days, I finish rolling the balls, slip them into the pantyhose, and leave them in the laundry room for the next time I run a load of towels. This way, you’re not paying for water and electricity; just the wool. My typical cost for a pair of dryer balls is $4-5.