Whether it’s felted (fibers bonded together creating an unconstructed fabric) or fulled (washing/shrinking/matting a constructed fabric such as a knit or woven) the result is an extremely versatile fabric. It can be steamed and shaped into infinite forms. It’s soft and takes color beautifully. It’s a very forgiving medium that has so many creative applications.
I’d like to write a bit about how to select the best pre-loved sweaters and how to full them for repurposing. As I mentioned in the Shibori for Scaredy Cats post, fulling a pre-made wool garment can sometimes be unpredictable.
Whether digging through your closet or a thrift store, look first for 100% wool sweaters. Sometimes a little angora or cashmere blended in is nice, too. As long as it is animal fiber and has a high percentage of wool, you should get a good result. (Unless it’s merino. My luck has been hit or miss with fulling merino, especially fine gauge)
Think about what you might want to make out of the sweater. Thin wool sweaters, like lambswool, will turn into soft, drapey felt when washed. Use them to make garments like tops or skirts. Thicker sweaters will become firmer felt, more suitable for slippers, bags, rugs, etc. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a sweater that’s already shrunken up all soft and felty! Someone else’s mistake lands it at the Good Will and there it is, yours for the taking!
If you’re unlucky, you’ll buy a sweater with high hopes of felty fuzzy goodness that doesn’t change a bit in the washer….what’s up with that? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sometimes, due to chemicals used in manufacturing, a 100% wool sweater will barely shrink at all. It’s so unfair. When that happens to me, I re-donate it back to the thrift store!
Wash the sweater(s) in the washing machine on the hot cycle with detergent. I throw a few jeans in for extra friction. Sometimes during the fulling process a sleeve will felt with a permanent fold “ridge” down the center. To prevent this, I like to cut the sleeves off and open them up flat before washing. That allows them to full more evenly. Check the sweater after one cycle and repeat if necessary. The sweater can be air dried or put in the dryer on low.
3) Final Steps:
Your resultant fabulous fabric is almost ready to be transformed into the project of your dreams! Stand back, admire it’s wooly nature and let your imagination go. Not only will your felt be resistant to unraveling when cut, it has also lost most of it’s elasticity. Keep that in mind when planning your project. Steam out any remaining wrinkles with your iron using the wool setting and STEAM. Dry heat will make your wool feel dry and crunchy and potentially scorch it. A word about moth holes: they will not close up during the fulling process. Just be sure to mark them and plan to cut around them.
In Part 2 I’ll go into detail about constructing the dinosaur sweaters pictured above. I’ll also pull together some handy links on the topic!