Friday Flowers: Making Sweater Felt in the Washing Machine


Everyone loves felt flowers. Especially me! They are cheap, easy and add a dash of happy color to any outfit.

There are plenty of great tutorials already out there that use inexpensive, old reliable store-bought craft felt. Problem is, I avoid using craft felt whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great material to have around the house, but making your own felt from old sweaters has mucho advantages.

Felt made from wool sweaters is:

  • Thicker
  • Cheaper
  • More colorful (and if you can’t buy it – dye it!)
  • Cleaner
  • Healthier*

*Important note on felt in general: Anyone who has cut or sewn any sort of felt knows that it generates fiber dust faster than most fabrics. Problem is, unless you are working outside, those fibers get into the air we breathe. Dust from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, etc, are pretty easy for our respiratory systems to filter, but dust from synthetic fibers, like the acrylic used in most craft felt, can cause serious respiratory irritation. Personally, it doesn’t make me cough or sneeze but it does give me a headache after 30 minutes messing with it. This leads me to believe it is something to avoid, or at very least, avoid messing with indoors (Update: Sara had a great suggestion when it comes to cutting acrylic wool “why not buy some little doctor’s masks from the pharmacy?”…good idea Sara!) Y’all feel free to compare and draw your own conclusions. If you are working on a project where you need multiple yards of felt, consider looking into something made from cotton or wool. Chances are it will cost 4 times as much as the fake stuff, and it will not come in nifty colors, but it’s a fair trade for keeping your home and family healthy. 

Man, that was a downer. 

Now back to the fun stuff!

The Magic Bag: Making Felt the Easy Way
Anyone who has accidentally thrown a wool sweater in the dryer knows how easy it is to turn knit fibers into felt. There are lots of ways to approach it, but I like to use the Magic Bag method because it means I can felt while I do my other laundry. This saves water, energy, and money (major bonus when you live in a city apartment with giant coin operated machines!)


The Magic Bag
Get yourself an old pillow case and fill it with:

  • Wool. Take yucky old thrift store sweater and cut away any seams, cuffs, collars or fancy edges (save them though—they could come in handy on future projects. More on that next week!)
  • 1 teaspoon of soap shavings. I like to scrape them from a bar of old fashioned ivory soap, but most any soap will work, just be sure it isn’t “moisturizing” or “with conditioners” or stuff like that.
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda. This helps the detergent really scrub and fluff up those fibers.
  • 1 large old towel or pair of jeans, or both. Most anything with a scrubby surface.

Put them all together in the pillow case, making sure there is enough room to wiggle around. Tie it off with a sturdy rubber band and throw it in the washing machine with your other hot water laundry, same as always. Adding detergent is fine but no fabric softener. Wash on the hottest setting possible.

The combination of hot water, abrasive detergent and constant agitation, will make the yarn FREAK OUT and turn to felt in no time. When the wash cycle is finished, pull your items out of the bag and inspect. Pull a scrap piece of wool from side to side. It should be reasonably stretchy.

Can you still see the individual strands of yarn?
If the answer is no, then you have felt!
If the answer is yes, then put it back in again for another wash cycle and try adding another towel. If you can set your machine to repeat the “wash” cycle more than once (turn back the dial) then just repeat that process over and over til you get what you want.

Once the wool is felted in the wash, you are ready to cut it. I like to cut mine while it’s still damp from the washer (keeps the fiber dust down) but you can also dry it at this stage to encourage the fibers to puff up. Either way is fine.


Alternative Method
Get a big old pot and boil the wool on your stove. No agitation required in this method, but it could take up to an hour and will make your kitchen smell like sheep.

Will any sweater turn to felt?

No. Generally, natural fibers work best. After enough of these, you will be able to feel a sweater and know if it will felt, but you’ll have to read labels until you get the hang of it. Here is a quick-n-dirty list of popular fibers and their success rate:

Wool: Great
Lambs Wool: Excellent
Wool with 10% Something Else (spandex, rayon, cotton, polyester, etc): Fine, but anything more than 10% is risky
Alpaca: OK in the washer, but the boiling method works better
Camel: Fine, but it smells horrendous when hot
Cashmere: Sorta…it felts but remains thin and never puffs up nice and thick
Angora: Mixed results…100% angora is no good, but vintage sweaters made from angora AND wool are like the Holy Grail; they come out big and pillowy and soft. I wish I had a sample but I gave them all away and more sweaters are hard to find.
Cotton: Nope
Rayon: Nope
Silk: Nope

And don’t limit yourself to sweaters! Coats, hats, gloves, scarves, blankets work great too.
And don’t limit yourself to solid colors! Use the stripes and patterns to your advantage. 

How do I make the flower?


1. Cut a rounded circle sort of thing roughly 10″ in diameter.
2. Cut a spiral shape.


3. Make incisions around the outer edge of the spiral every 1/2″ or so, making sure to leave at least 1/4″ remaining at the bottom.
4. Snip the corners of the individual petals. Note: Some thicker weaves and fibers will puff up so much with step 5 that you can even skip step 4.


5. Throw the spiral in a hot dryer. This will puff it up and suck the loose fibers into your lint trap.
6. Optional: If the drier puffed it up too much for your taste (top), you can flatten it out with an iron (bottom). I happen to like it puffy, but some fibers will create curly/twisty petals that will be easier to work with after ironing.


7. Starting rolling at the center of the spiral (if you can still recognize the center!) making sure to keep the bottom edge lined up. this process is easier if you give yourself a base after 2 or three rolls around, but you decide for yourself.
8. Once you finish rolling, your flower should look like a cinnamon bun. Stab the needle and thread straight across the back of the flower and repeat several times over in multiple directions.

Note: You will want to use a thick sturdy needle and thread. Thin cotton thread will break. If you don’t have button thread or upholstery thread on hand, try dental floss.

Another Note: I know you are thinking you can skip the sewing and go for a glue gun. You would be right, although the results never come out quite as nice; the glue bulks up the back and the excess globs are hard to conceal, but if you think you can get around it, then go for it.


9. Stitch on pin back.
10. Cover your handy work with a leaf and your done!

Experiment!  Expect your first attempt to come out a little wonky, but you will improve quickly. Once you make a few of these, you will find them very addictive and easy to do. These pins make great gifts but you can also do plenty of stuff with other parts of the sweater, then embellish with the flowers…think vests, hats, capes, cuffs! More on this in the weeks ahead!

Or don’t even bother making the flowers; look at the felt as a special something you can add to other projects.Imagine a pillow edged in ric-rac or pom-pom trim…now imagine it edged in sweater felt trim. Cool huh?
 

Since you can make 6-12 flowers out of a single sweater, I tend to make them in batches. Pick up a few sweaters and you can start mixing and matching colors and consistencies. Its always good to have at least one green sweater for making leaves. A few years ago I was REALLY into making stuff out of sweater felt. I gave felt goodies to everyone I knew and sold them at a couple of craft fairs. Eventually the fun fizzled out and I haven’t touched the stuff in two years. This morning I opened up the giant Tupperware bin full of spirals I cut years ago, just waiting to made into flowers and scarves and caps and capes and cuffs and stockings and ornaments and …..what’s that? What is that I hear? Why, that’s the sound of something fabulous coming down the pipeline!

Happy Friday Y’all!


Comments

  1. says

    Great felting tutorial! I have a felt project coming up (read: won’t be done until January or so), and I think homemade felt would be perfect! The flowers are so adorable too!

  2. says

    i use sweater felt constantly. i make stuffed animals out of it. it’s hands down my favorite crafting material. i find myself looking at what people are wearing and thinking to myself ‘ooh, that’d make a nice owl!’.

  3. says

    Becca Jo, I was just on your sight the other day looking at your amazing felt creatures and assumed they were made from raw wool… I had no idea you use sweater felt fan! Now I’ll have to go have a look again!

  4. says

    What a lovely post! I make these with fabric – why I never considered the possibilities with felted wool!?!?

    Happy Day,
    Jasey @ Crazy Daisy
    crazyjayzplace.blogspot.com

  5. Anonymous says

    thats really interesting about the craft felt. i never thought about it before but it makes a lot of sense when you see all the little fuzzy bits about the table. god excuse to start hunting for woolen jumpers at the charity shop!

  6. says

    I’m terribly sorry, but these flowers are the loveliest thing on the planet. All other crafts can go into hibernation while I make some! Thanks so much for the tutorial and felt tips…felt tips, I slay me…

  7. says

    I’ve been wanting to do something with felt for ages now. Since you make it look like a tea party, I’m now off to my local charity shop… they sell all kinds of stuff for usually less than a quid, I foresee flowers on the horizon. Luv ya, Peaches!

  8. says

    Hi Peaches, thanks so much for sharing all this great info, and the health warning….why not buy some little doctor’s masks from the pharmacy? You’ll probably find lots of great stuff to craft with there too (he he he) Great to have you on Craft Schooling Sunday! xoxoxoSara

  9. says

    oh you are a gem, I love your sweater felt flowers. I buy knitted items from op shops to unravel them and reuse the yarn. lol. gosh, just look what I have been missing out on!! Your flowers are just beaituful, thanks for sharing your very details instructions on preparing and flower making. It’s going to be a busy summer at my place.

  10. says

    I love your felt flowers to madness and back!!
    I am too sad though because none of the sweaters I’ve put aside for repurposing fits the “felt friendly” category! But I will find something eventually and will use your suggestion and make some for myself!!

  11. Anonymous says

    Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!

  12. says

    Hi! I loved this tutorial!! As I do not have hot water in my washing machone, I will have to use your alternative method. Should I use soap as well? Thanks in advance for your help.
    Monica ( from Brasil ).

  13. says

    this is great! i’ve been wanting to try felting sweaters for a while, but haven’t found the courage to try yet. this is the most thorough tuturial i’ve seen yet about it, thanks! :) lisa

  14. says

    I’m so glad to hear y’all are giving this a try!

    Hey Monica! Yes, use a little soap. It’s not required, but even just a little bar soap or a spoonfull of liquid dish soap will help ruffle the fibers and thicken the felt. Boiling on the stove sometimes works even better then the washer, just use tongs to pull it out and check on it every 10-20 minutes. If in doubt, boil longer. Better to have it too thick than too thin. Let me know how it turns out!

  15. Anonymous says

    Useful blog website, keep me personally through searching it, I am seriously interested to find out another recommendation of it.

  16. SAM says

    Thank you peaches! I just made two flowers start to finish today and they came out great. Now going back to the thrift store to hunt for more sweaters. There are 18 ladies in my family who will all be getting one for christmas this year. Woot Woot!

    Can you tell me how to make the stripes one I see up in the samples? Is it just a striped sweater? How did you get the spikes in the center with out the felt falling apart? Thanks in advance!
    -Sammy

  17. says

    Hey Sam! Just saw your comment and can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you are making these as gifts. I love making a batch and giving them away like cookies :) About the striped flower…its actually from a striped scarf. Instead of cutting a spiral, I cut a long line of petals along the edge of the scarf and then rolled up the fringe to make the center. Does that make sense? Let me know how it works out.

    Emma G –Welcome new friend!

  18. Anonymous says

    My partner and I really enjoyed reading this blog post, I was just itching to know do you trade featured posts? I am always trying to find someone to make trades with and merely thought I would ask.

  19. Anonymous says

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  20. says

    In addition to this excellent tutorial, I wanted to say thanks for the shorthand review in the background. I was chuckling to myself cause I actually remember shorthand from 1973. WOWSA I wonder if anyone uses it anymore?

  21. says

    Oplam, you are too funny. HA! I love collecting short hand guides…I had so many at one point I covered my coffee tables with them. My elementary school teachers tried to teach it to us, but it never took off much. It was one of those pilot program schools that also tried to teach us Canadian spelling and the metric system. I still second guess myself every time I have to spell “color” :)
    Nowadays it seems like handwriting in general is really lacking….I say we bring back shorthand!

  22. says

    great tutorial on these! I love it! I’ve done this some, but I like your way of making the flowers a lot better than what I did. :)

  23. says

    This looks like a fun and easy project with beautiful results. I’ve been looking for something cute to make out of some old worn out wool sweaters and I love your designs. The way you make the individual petals is brilliant. Thank you so much for posting and sharing your technique.

  24. says

    Perfect timing! I just recently decided I wanted to start felting and doing projects . . . and found your post! Thanks. Your information is helpful, and I’m eager to try both methods. Erica

  25. Sue H. says

    Found you on Pinterest and love this idea – going to the Thrift store on Saturday to comb it for wool!! Have 3 granddaughters who will be getting some cute hats!!!

  26. Rena says

    thanks so much for this tutorial! i’ve made 5 flowers already & love the results! instead of a sweater i used left over wool fleece & wet felted it into sheets & then cut them into spirals. love it!

  27. Lizzie says

    I tried this and it worked great! I misread the directions though and cut up the sweater before I felted it but its still worked just fine. I am so envious of your big stash of flowers waiting to be made! I have started on my own and can’t wait to embellish hats, purses, headbands, shoes, coats, scarves, pins, socks, my dogs, er, well maybe not. Felt on!

  28. says

    I was so excited to try this that I rushed out to the thrift store and bought 100% wool material that I thought was great! Boiled it for over an hour, stunk up the entire house only to have the material disintegrate in the pot… I had bought wool pants and after poking around on the internet I realized this is worsted wool which can not be felted. In retrospect this was an obvious mistake… but in case anyone else is as brainless as I am… please be aware!

  29. Jennifer East says

    You can use pinking shears or other wavy edge scissors to cut the spirals too — saves a lot of time and waste making individually shaped petals (although I do think that gives a more natural look, especially when the sizing graduates from smaller @ center to larger around outside)!

  30. Connie VanDeKoppel says

    Loved your tutorial! You sound just like me, ‘felt’ your humor. You are inspirational. I might even get busy now with the 40 or 50 + sweaters I’ve accumulated. I guess it doesn’t matter if the moths have started at them does it?

  31. says

    I don’t know about possums in a bag but possums in the house are no fun!. I had 2 cats that liked to sit out on the verandah. I would leave the door ajar so they could come and go as they liked. After I had a possum visit twice I had to change the policy. The first time I saw it as it was entering and chased it outside. The second time I wasn’t so lucky and it was enjoying some cat food. I had to chase it around the kitchen for a while before it left.
    I am visiting from Craft Gossip. I have a wool sweater with moth holes that I now know what to do with it.

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