How to Make a Machine-Embroidered Felted Wool Tote

comments (10) September 7th, 2012     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
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Here is my felted wool tote.
Felted wool is so beautiful, the embroidered detail is just icing on the cake!
Isnt it amazing how tiny a big cardigan can get?
Here is my felted wool tote.

Here is my felted wool tote.

Photo: Jen Stern
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In the back of my mind, I've been meaning to try felting wool sweaters-shrinking one of my favorite cardigans in the wash was just the push I needed to give it a try! I was devastated when I realized that I had mistakenly thrown my merino wool cardigan (with a cute velvet tie) into the washing machine. It came out two sizes too small for me, so I decided to wash it again on HOT with another favorite that sprung a hole. Now my cardigan was a miniature replica of the original (sooo cute). The other sweater that I had washed was a brown lambswool needed another HOT cycle so it could felt some more. I ended up with some beautiful black and brown felted wool to use to construct my hobo bag. I designed a roomy tote that I could throw all my stuff into when I feel the need to be a Girl Scout...complete with a zippered pocket in the lining. If you would like my hobo bag pattern (with complete instructions) visit You can also use your favorite bag pattern.

How to Embroider on Felted Wool
Embroidering on felted wool is like embroidering on a towel. It has a nap, so you need a wash-away topper. I like Super Solvy from Sulky. (You can download free instructions on how to use this wonderful stabilizer.) Depending on the thickness of your felted wool, you might be able to get away with a tear-away stabilizer on the back. I love Stitch n' Wash stabilizer for projects like this. It provides firm support that tears away from the edge of the embroidery really easily. You don't have to worry about picking at little pieces that are left behind because it has a crispness that allows it to tear smoothly away. The stabilizer under the bobbin thread stays put to keep the design looking great wash after wash!

After you cut out your bag pieces, use chalk to draw guide lines on the pieces that you want to embroider. I am going to stitch a border design across the front of my bag. Mark the center of the pattern piece, then draw another line where you want to position your border or individual design.

Draw guide lines with chalk   When you're cutting out your pieces, think about incorporating the ribbing detail into your tote or bag.

I like to use the no-fuss, no-muss method of centering my border design. I started with one design that was 3 inches wide. Measuring the front of my bag, I determined that I could fit five designs across if I positioned them tip to tip. Then I checked to see how many designs I could string together in my longest hoop. Happily, I can fit three in a row. So, I am going to embroider three designs in the first hooping and the last two in the second. Here's the no-fuss, no-muss part: After I positioned the three designs in a row on my screen, I placed the front bag piece in the hoop so that the first of the three designs was centered in the middle. After embroidering them, all I have to do is stitch the remaining two designs on the opposite side of the center motif. If you don't have a machine with a super-long hoop, embroider the center design by itself, then group two designs (if they fit) and start embroidering on either side of center. Working from the center outward eliminates the possibility of running out of room on one side, making your border look off-kilter! If you run short on both ends to fit the last design, your border is still centered-you can leave it or add a smaller design to reach the end of the fabric.

Hoop the Stitch n' Wash and use 505 Temporary Adhesive Spray to adhere the felted wool into position in the hoop. Remember to lay a piece of Super Solvy over the area where you will be embroidering. The topper will keep the stitches from sinking into the nap of the felted wool, and it will also support the wool from stretching out of shape while you are embroidering.

Start in the center and embroider out   Embroider the center motif and the two to the right of center all in one hoop.

Here is my completed border. The three designs on the right were the first to be embroidered, then I added the two on the left to finish it up. I pulled the wash-away stabilizer away from the outside edges of the embroidery. There is stabilizer in between the stitched areas. I'm going to throw my completed bag in the wash to felt it one more time and remove this stabilizer.

Completed border   If you don't have an embroidery machine, you can use the decorative stitches on your sewing machine to create a fancy border design. If you do, use a paper-like wash-away like Aqua Mesh from OESD on top. It's easy to stitch on because it won't stretch as clear wash-away stabilizers do.

After you finish embroidering, put your bag together according to the pattern directions. If your pattern doesn't have a zippered pocket, I think it's well worth the time to put one in...and they're easy to do! I learned how to do this zipper technique from my friend Debbie Quinn. She is the owner and designer of The Patrick James Collection. You can see her beautiful quilted totes, purses and quilts at

Determine how long you want your zippered opening to be. Make sure you have a zipper that is a couple of inches longer than the opening handy! Cut two pocket bags that are 3" wider than the opening of the pocket. I like to round the bottom corners of my pocket bags so little stuff doesn't get lost there. I interface all of my lining and pocket pieces so they last longer and offer more protection to the felted wool bag. Using a ball point pen, draw a rectange centered 1" from the top edge of the pocket bag that measures the length of your zipper opening and is 3/8" in width. (Make sure you are drawing your rectangle on the interfacing side of the pocket bag.)

Position the pocket bag, right sides together with the lining. It's best to position the pocket so that the bottom edge is not at the bottom of the bag or tote.

lay pocket bag righ sides together with lining   I've centered my pocket bag 1 1/2" from the top edge of the front lining piece.

Shorten your straight stitch to 1.5 mm and stitch along the line. The shorter stitch length will make it easy for you to pivot neatly around the corners. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut down the center of the rectangle and into the corners. (Yes, you're cutting through your lining.) Push the pocket bag through the opening and press it flat in the back. You will have a nice finished window. (I forgot to take a photo of the window, I apologize.)

stitch and clip opening for zipper   Be careful not to cut the stitcing when you clip into the corners.

Position the zipper behind this window. Center the ends so they extend past the window on both ends. Put some Wonder Tape (double sided washaway sticky tape) on the twill of the zipper to hold it in place--or use some pins. To sew the zipper in place, start along the top edge about 1 inch from the end. Stitch 1/8" along the opening through the lining, pocket bag and zipper. As you stitch across the opposite end, hand walk your machine so the needle doesn't break on the zipper teeth. When you get within two inches of the final end, sink the needle into the fabric, lift the presser foot and unzip the zipper so that the pull is behind the presser foot. Put the presser foot back down and continue sewing around the final end overlapping you start point by a 1/4".

Place zipper behind opening and stitch in place   I left the thread tails so you can see where my start/stop point was. Don't forget to unzip the zipper before you sew around the left end--or you will sew your zipper shut!

Turn the lining over to the wrong side and trim the excess zipper off both ends.

Trim excess zipper   You can use any zipper that's longer than what you need.


Place second pocket bag right sides together with the first one   After you trim the zipper, place the second pocket bag, right sides together, with the first. Use pins to hold them together, being careful not to catch the lining to the pocket bag.

The final step to finish your zippered pocket is to sew the pocket bags together. Starting somewhere along the top edge, stich all the way around the outside edge. The only trick here is to make sure you don't catch the lining in your stitching.

Sew around the outside edge of pocket bags    

After you've finished making your zippered pocket, put your bag together using the pattern instructions.

Here are all the pieces of my bag   Here are all the pieces of my hobo bag--cut out, embroidered and ready to put together
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Comments (10)

bjatkinson writes: I was recently gifted an embroidery machine and came across this tutorial(which i love!) i was just wondering if you could clarify something for me before i attempt something similar...did you put the tear away stabilizer in the hoop then secure the felted wool with the adhesive then layer the soluble stabilizer or did you clamp all 3 in the hoop?
TIA for any tips, J
Posted: 3:08 pm on April 8th
MysteryPoodle writes: Jennifer, I just did a Google search, looking for recommendations for stabilizing for machine embroidery on felted/fulled sweaters and found your marvelous tutorial. I *so* appreciate not having to experiment to find something that works. Thank you!!!
Posted: 6:49 pm on March 28th
samsstuff writes: Cute bag & it looks fairly simple to make! I'll have to try it out.
Posted: 11:15 pm on February 11th
gracie_girl writes: Just lovely. The bag really has an understated elegance [not easy with felt]...The embroidery makes it. Good job!
Posted: 1:31 am on January 31st
JenniferStern writes: Hey guys, thanks for the positive comments. This bag is really easy to make...has anyone given it a try, I'd love to see some pics!!
Posted: 6:54 am on January 27th
Ravyn writes: looks very easy to make. thank you for sharing and a job well done too.
Posted: 12:06 am on January 23rd
billyjane writes: looks great and so perfectly done!great idea!
Posted: 3:24 pm on January 3rd
gracielynn writes: just great ! I'll have to give this a try..
Posted: 12:23 pm on December 27th
JenniferStern writes: Thanks Toffy...if you get a chance to try it out, I'd love to see what you come up with! Happy Sewing
Posted: 9:13 pm on December 7th
Toffy writes: Great pics of the welting for the zippered pocket.Well done project, and a good way to use old sweaters.
Posted: 9:28 am on December 6th
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