I’ve always wanted to make a bag from a felted wool sweater. My daughter found this great wool sweater at a garage sale a few years ago. It was a little dirty and too stretched-out/big for any of us, but otherwise in good shape.
I loved the flag on the front and decided it would be a fun bag! I finally made one and want to show you how I did it.
First of all, let’s talk about felting wool. Real wool is a dream to work with in any medium. I love making small projects with it, I love wool batting in quilts, etc. The natural fibers of wool are magical and so soothing to work with.
This bag is made from a 100% Wool sweater. As you can imagine, if I started up the sweater as it was, it would start to fray and unravel. By “felting” the wool sweater, I can turn that knit yard into a solid piece of fabric felt that won’t fray or unravel. It’s pretty magical. I could then cut up this wool as if it were a piece of felt – and use to to make whatever I want.
Today over at the Skip to My Lou blog I’m sharing a tutorial for making stockings from felted wool sweaters. (EDIT – tutorial postponed until tomorrow 11/23. Stay tuned!)
I could also cut it into patchwork squares, shapes for applique, etc. These are pieces I ran through my Sizzix Big Shot die cut machine to make tags or ornaments.
These pieces come from a green sweater made of variegated wool – I love the way the colored yard bring both texture and added dimension to a simple tree. Cutting it with the die makes it so simple and quick! (I used the Christmas Tree Die #3.) And because of the felting process, I don’t need to worry about the edges fraying!
There are a gazillion other ideas out there. I’ve started a pinboard with felted wool projects to give you more inspiration.
Here I’ll show you how I made a couple of bags.
First let’s talk about “felting” the wool. The garments you use for felting need to be 100% wool (cashmere and lamb’s wool will work) The thicker the fiber you start with, the thicker the piece of felt, so take that into consideration. Here are a few tips I learned along the way as I felted multiple sweaters.
To felt the wool, you are going to shrink it and make the fibers more dense. In order to do this, you exactly what you never want to do to the nice wool sweater you want to continue to wear: you’re going to wash it in your home washing machine and dry it on high heat. (Think of any sweater that accidentally got thrown in the wash and shrunk – it’s still useful!)
Keep in mind that as these items are washed, they will shed. You may want to put them in a pillowcase to help contain the lint – especially if you are washing sweaters of different colors as the will transfer fibers. Set your washing cycle to the smallest and hottest (Hot/Cold rinse works) setting add a small squirt of dish-soap (not laundry detergent) and start the cycle running.
A top-loading washing machine with an agitator is prefered. If you have a front loading machine, I’ve read suggestions that you may want to put the sweater in a large pot with hot water and manually (CAREFULLY!) agitate it yourself before it goes into the front-loader.
When cycle is completed, put sweaters in the dryer and run the highest heat cycle to completely dry the garment.
When you remove the sweater(s) from the dryer, test them before you start cutting to make sure the wool has been adequately felted. The first thing you will notice with real wool is that the garment has shrunk. The knit stitches will not be as distinguishable and there will be little to no stretch in the garment. To test whether the sweater is fully felted, clip an edge to make sure the fibers to not start fraying. Some sweaters may need more than one trip through the wash/dry cycle to be fully felted.
Once the sweater is felted, you can cut into it like it’s a regular piece of felt – the beauty being the edges will not fray! To make this bag, I cut off the sleeves before the seam, cut off the neck, and cut off the top shoulder seams to create the top of my bag.
Then I cut notches out of the bottom of the sweater so that I could create a boxed bottom to the finished bag.
I recommend a heavy-weight thread and a needle for Jersey (Knits) as they have a bigger eye (easier to thread) and a ball point that won’t shred the wool.
Turn the sweater right-sides out and match up the bottom edge, sewing together with a ½″ seam allowance. I recommend a heavy-weight thread.
To make the boxed sides (also known as the gusset) of the bag, bring together the edges of the square notches in both corners, matching up and centering the bottom and side seams. Pin in place and sew using ½″ seam allowance.
Cut along the seam to open up one of the sleeves and cut two matching bag handles. (I originally kept the decorative cuffs, but because this bag was made from a large sweater, I needed to shorten the straps and cut off the cuffs. This is the beauty of working with the felted wool. Something’s not the right shape – just trim it down!)
Pin the handles to the top of the bag (where you cut the shoulder seams). Again, I ended up triming the edges of my bag to size them down to the width of my bag handles.
Top-stitch the bag handles in place. (I didn’t even put right sides together – I just layered the handle in place and stitched a rectangle to securely hold the strap so that it could bear extra weight.)
And that’s it! SO easy. This pattern would be so fun in a patterned or striped wool sweater.
This version was made from a big, chunky wool sweater. It felted thick and textured. I made this variation slightly differently. I cut the bag upside down to the sweater so that the bottom, finished edge of the sweater, became the top edge of the bag opening. I also took in the sides slightly to round the shape a little bit. Then added the stitching detail. The possibilities are endless!
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