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:
- More colorful (and if you can’t buy it – dye it!)
*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!)
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!