Working with wool has become one of my favorite creative endeavors. I love the unique way each article of clothing comes out just a bit differently than another. I use any used or new sweaters and am always on the hunt for vintage wool skirts or jackets to use in my projects. I love to use them to make baby clothes or toys. Little stuffed woolies are lots of fun to make. Using wool makes me feel happy to be able to put to use something someone else believes to be un-useful (is that a word???). No two items I make are alike. I don’t use patterns because I find it easier to ‘eyeball’ the felted sweater and let the colors and textures dictate what will come of it. If you are a ‘pattern person’ (what a title!), you most certainly could use patterns with this kind of felted fabric.
1. Find a beautiful 100% wool sweater that is in good condition. Be sure to check the label carefully. Do not purchase or use one that says it’s okay to ‘Machine Wash’ it. Some wool sweaters have been treated for easier care and do not require dry cleaning… the process they use will prevent it from felting-the desired effect! Use only one that recommends dry cleaning or hand washing.
2. Machine wash in warm water with 1Tbsp. soap or detergent. Wool fibers have little barbs on them and the agitation of a machine wash cycle binds the fibers together. When felted, a garment will shrink and become thick, dense and will not unravel when cut. After washing, check to see if the sweater is now ‘felted’ enough for what you desire to make. If not, either rewash or for further felting, dry it in a warm dryer. If it is rumpley after washing, iron with an iron using the ‘wool’ setting. Wool is a very durable product and responds well to misting and ironing.
3. Once your item is dry and smoothed out with an iron, you may begin to design and construct your item. If making a dress for baby, you can use the neckline or collar area of the sweater for the neckline of your new dress. Sometimes you will need to put darts in the back of the neck or cut it in the back and re-seam it to reduce the size of the neck. Because properly felted wool does not unravel, you will probably not have to hem or bind your hem or sleeves but sometimes I do anyway. A sweet cotton fabric can add a lot for extra detail. The sleeves of the sweater can be used to make leg warmers to match or save them for a pair of hand warmers for yourself or a friend!
4. After your pieces are cut out, sew them together with a machine using either a regular straight stitch or serger. Appliquéing a unique design on your dress or romper will personalize it and add whimsy and interest, but be sure to do the appliqué or embroidery work before you sew front to back; it’s just easier. Above all, have fun! This example is just one of many ways to use wool sweaters. Get creative and enjoy!