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Old Sweater Rehab: Felting is Fun

I have always wanted to try my hand at felting (also called fulling) an old wool sweater.  I’ve read how easy it was and due to the massive clothing purge I completed this weekend I had a few on hand to try.  I especially wanted to find a good use for a beautiful merino sweater that was a gift for Patrick.  The cable knit was so nice, but it was just too hot and didn’t quite fit right.  Patrick never wore it, but we both hated to just part with it.  Instead I decided to felt it and make it into a cable knit pillow that we can enjoy every day.

As a bonus The Granny was reading one of her home decor magazines today and it was discussing various cable knit decor for the home.  What a lovely coincidence for my super fast and easy project.  Even if you don’t have a sewing machine you could still make this pillow.  On to the tutorial!

Step One: Take an old wool sweater and wash it.

After washing a couple I would suggest putting it in an old pillowcase or lingerie bag (This cuts down on a wicked amount of fuzz in the washer and dryer).  Then wash it on hot.  If you have a front loader it may not felt thickly the first time, so I washed mine a couple of times with various other pieces of laundry.  If the wool is going to felt well it will come out feeling really thick and look like it could fit McClain a chihuahua.

You can thank me for cropping out the ancient bra that was drying in the background. Man, I can really frame a photograph.

Step 2: Cut your sweater along the seams.

I cut out all the seams and the neckline.  I left the bottom ribbing even though it didn’t felt quite as thickly as the cable.  I thought it might make a decorative touch to my pillow.  A man’s medium sweater (though it ran large) gave me a working area of about 18″ X 20″ which I eventually made into a 16″ square pillow.  Why?  Because that was the size of pillow form I had on hand…  Well I stole from the bedroom (it usually has a decorative sham on it, but I had them put away, so, this seemed like a good use until I go buy a new form)

Because I have craft hoarding tendencies (that I’m working on) I am saving the sleeves. I think they would be really good to make a coffee cup sleeve or maybe as part of some slippers.

Step 3:  Sew 3 to 3 1/2 of the edges closed.  Why not 4?  Because you gotta leave a hole for the pillow to go in.

Felting the sweater both makes the fabric firmer (i.e. won’t stretch out of place) and more importantly it will not fray.  This means you have a lot of leeway on how to sew your pillow.  I opted to make a mad dash into my freezing basement and sew three quick seams in what will be the inside of the pillow; retuning upstairs right before I would have frozen to death.  I didn’t want a fancy seam because the pattern of the sweater is pretty busy.  However, if you were using a plain wool sweater then you could leave the edges on the outside to curl back or maybe just finish the outside with a large colorful blanket stitch.  Whichever you choose you can then stuff in the pillow and sew up the remaining side.

I trimmed the seams up a bit before turning inside out, but the nice thing is that the fluffy-thickness of a felted sweater is really forgiving of any sewing/trimming mishaps.

Voila you have a pillow!

Sometime soon I want to reupholster this awesome chair Patrick found at Habitat for Humanity. It came from the Grove Park Inn.

Or do you? I decided to fancy mine up and make it a removable pillow cover.  I can’t imagine that in the middle of summer I am going to want to cuddle up to a merino pillow… Mmmm… Scratchy… Humid… Hot…

I had three buttons laying around and I sewed those on and made HAND-FREAKING-BOUND buttonholes.  The wool was too thick to make a buttonhole on the machine but the decorative ribbed part of the sweater didn’t felt thickly enough that I felt comfortable just cutting a buttonhole with no reinforcement.  Thank goodness there were only three because I forgot how much I dislike hand sewing a buttonhole.  Though, I love the way the pillow reminds me of a great cardigan now that it is complete.

Finally, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to add some color on one side.  Plus the  pillow creation went so swiftly I had time before the baby got up from his nap to mess with it some more.  The color allows me to turn the pillow around for sophisticated or whimsy depending on the mood I’m in.  Adding color is the fun (and most time consuming part).  I have a simple needle felting kit and some colored roving from Moon Dog Farm.  Basically, you just take wool and poke it on wool.  Don’t worry the kit comes with basic instructions.  I decided to make a series of polka dots in the centers of the cables.  If I ever get this part done I’ll share it with you.  Until then I just flip the white side forward and enjoy!

Why must I always make things hard? Yes, now I have to needle felt over 160 dots…

Needle felting aside I can’t wait to try my hand a felting or fulling sweaters again.  I have plans to make some cashmere lined slippers for the house.  Maybe next snow day I’ll get that project done.