How to Felt Sweaters

comments (12) June 23rd, 2008     

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Sister_Diane Diane Gilleland, contributor
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A whole lot of felted sweaters, ready for crafting!
Read the label when you shop for thrift-store sweaters. Only animal fibers will felt.
Some sweaters are thin and drapey after felting, and some are very thick.
The sweater on the left is not felted. The sweater on the right is. See the difference in texture?
A whole lot of felted sweaters, ready for crafting!

A whole lot of felted sweaters, ready for crafting!

This is a great time to find sweaters in your local thrift store - lots of people are putting away their winter clothing and getting rid of some pieces. Depending on the sweater you use, you can make everything from sturdy tote bags to felted jewelry.

It's quite easy to felt a sweater, really - just run it through your washer with hot water and soap, and then through your dryer. But there are a few finer points to keep in mind:

Protect your washer! First of all, know that as your sweater is felting in your washer, it will also be throwing off lots of woolly fiber. If you felt a lot of sweaters, this fuzz can easily clog up your washer, leading to costly repairs. So, put your sweaters into a mesh laundry bag with a drawstring before you wash them. Close the drawstring tightly, and safety-pin the strings so they won't loosen during washing. Then remove the sweaters from the bag before you place them in the dryer. You'll also find wads of fuzz in the bag.

felt fish More felting projects:

• Feel Like Felting a Fish? 
• How to Make Hats from Recycled Sweaters 
• Transform a Wool Sweater into a Felted Vest

By the way, it's best to do your felting in a top-loading washer. Front-load machines don't provide as much agitation during washing, so your sweaters won't felt as well.

Be sure to protect your dryer, too - clean the lint trap frequently.

Begin with animal fibers. Only animal-fiber sweaters will felt, so look for wool, alpaca, cashmere, or a blend of these. Plant-based fibers, like cotton or rayon, will never felt. Nor, sadly, will the ubiquitous acrylic. If you find a great sweater that's at least 80% animal fiber with a little synthetic thrown in, give it a try - sometimes, they'll felt just fine.

Different sweaters felt differently.
If you have a specific project in mind for your felted sweater, then it's a good idea to think about how your sweater will look after felting. Heavier weight, 100% wool sweaters, such as the traditional fishermen's sweater, will felt into something very thick and stiff - great for a laptop case, but not for a stuffed toy. A lightweight cashmere sweater will be very soft and drapey after felting - which is lovely for a scarf, but won't have enough body for a tote bag.

How do I know it's felted? When you pull your sweater out of the dryer, look for two things:

- Did the sweater shrink significantly?

- Can I still see the texture of the knitted stitches?

If the answer is "No" to the first question and "Yes" to the second, try running the sweater through the washer and dryer again. And maybe even a third time. Some sweaters just need a little extra encouragement. Which brings me to my next point:

It's not an exact science. The thing about thrifted sweaters is, you may not know their whole history. Some 100% wool sweaters have been treated to be washable, which means they won't felt. But the tag that would tell you this has been cut off the sweater long ago. So, just be prepared: some sweaters will resist your felting efforts. And if they do, you can still cut them up and make things from them. You'll just have to finish the edges.

It's felted. Now what?
To prepare your felted sweater for crafting, just cut off the ribbed cuffs and then cut the sweater apart at the shoulder, side, and underarm seams. Remove any labels and buttons, and you're ready to craft.

The web is full of project ideas for felted sweaters. For starters, take a look at Simplesparrow's tote bag, puppets at Make Baby Stuff, Chef Messy's potholders, and these cute flowers on Instructables.

posted in: felting, recycled crafts

Comments (12)

lillirose writes: Would love to hear of a tip on how you can prevent a sweater from getting 'fuzzes' on it after it is felted...or, how to deal with it when it happens. Thanks
Posted: 6:32 pm on November 8th
soldiermom11 writes: Do you use regular patterns to make purses? Seems like all the patterns in books are just for those who knit their project first and then felt it.
Posted: 2:46 pm on October 16th
Craig27Jannie writes: Don't you acknowledge that it's high time to get the personal loans, which can realize your dreams.
Posted: 8:24 pm on June 10th
TheSalvagedEdge writes: I just cut up a half shrunken (favorite) sweater of my husband's to felt and when he saw the pieces I thought I saw a tear in his eye. It will make some awesome crafts though!!!

Posted: 10:00 pm on May 9th
PantaReiJewellery writes: Thanks for this post. I have had great fun shrinking old jumpers - normally you'd go crazy if your clothes came out of the wash half the size they went in! It's very liberating...
Posted: 1:50 am on February 14th
Etchedinmetal writes: I certainly don't need another craft idea..but this sounds so intriguing that I may have to try for fun!!
Posted: 1:25 am on January 5th
Kathyscraftroom writes: **Great idea, can't wait to try it. Always looking for new ways of using materials!
Posted: 5:36 pm on February 20th
gardenparty writes: love the idea of this.

cant wait to make coozie holders
for xmas gifts!

i also think i will use this idea to "wrap"
glass cylinders for the events i do. it will
be a cool, unique look!

Posted: 11:15 pm on September 6th
Sister_Diane writes: elizart. I haven't heard about using it for felting, but I sure have seen people use the leftover fluff to stuff toys. Works great!
Posted: 2:04 pm on July 23rd
elizart writes: Great post. I just recently got into felting - so I love finding new info on it.
I put my sweaters in old pillowcases and use a rubber band to close the opening of the bag. Then I just turn the pillow cases inside out and dry them with the sweaters to remove all the fluff.
By the way, does anyone know if you can use the loose wool fluff for felting?
Posted: 10:16 pm on July 21st
cmk34 writes: Thanks for the tips! I think I may make a stop at my local thrift store on my way home from work!
Posted: 2:22 pm on June 23rd
LindaPermann writes: oooh, we are moving to a place where we'll have our own washer in a month and i can't wait to felt it up. thanks for the tips!
Posted: 12:42 pm on June 23rd
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