As the season of bulky fibers descends upon us, I inevitably must clean out my sweater drawer for new finds. Pulling out fistfuls of thick wool, I mourn moth holes, shrunken sleeves, oil stains. The colorful knits, even flawed, nevertheless feel enduring, and thus when I came across Sharon Franco Rothschild’s Sweater Renewal, I was already inspired. For this week’s How-Tuesday, Sharon shares her wool felting technique, along with a template to make a cozy upcycled Christmas ornament. You could even enlarge the template to make a full-size Christmas stocking.
I am, always will be, a self-confessed sweater junkie. Whether I am designing, knitting, buying, felting, cutting, or wearing sweaters, I can never get enough of them. Sweaters provide comfort, warmth, and a certain sense of style.
We all have our favorites — some that make us feel fabulously stylish, some that make us feel incredibly comfortable, and those that offer a coziness and warmth that no other piece of clothing can compete with. As we collect and add sweaters to our wardrobes year after year, memories also attach themselves to each piece.
I will forever remember one of my all-time favorite sweaters, and its quick demise. I was sixteen years old, and the sweater (I can remember it like it was yesterday) was a pink mohair cardigan, the exact color of cotton candy. When I wore this sweater, I felt transformed. I felt grown up, stylish, even beautiful. But one of my father’s first attempts to do the laundry for our family ended in disaster for this cherished piece of clothing. After some washing-machine agitation (in hot water, no less), my beautiful sweater shrank down to one-third its original size and was suddenly and completely unwearable. But my love affair with this sweater was not yet over. I kept it in my top dresser drawer, and every time I opened that drawer, I would look at my pink sweater and remember instantly how good it had made me feel. It was years before I could actually part with it. How I wish now that I had made something else out of it, something that I could have continued to use in my daily life, to remind me of my dad and the wonderful feeling that sweater had given me.
Fortunately, I have discovered that damaged sweaters, old sweaters, out-of-style sweaters, and sweaters that once belonged to a loved one can have a second life. So clean out your closets, start your washing machines, sharpen your scissors, and get ready to redesign, recycle, and renew your wool sweaters.
Miniature Stocking Ornament
It’s never too soon to start thinking about the holidays. These tree ornaments are just waiting to be stuffed with tiny treasures and placed on your tree or above your fireplace. The stocking is made from a brightly colored mohair sweater.
3″ (7.5cm) x 5 1/2″ (14cm)
Yellow-green sweater made of mostly feltable fibers, at least 8 3/4″ x 16 1/2″ (22cm x 42cm)
Stocking template (download here) and tracing paper
Sewing needle and yellow thread
1 skein each Rowan Classic Cashsoft 4-ply yarn, 57% extra fine merino, 33% microfibre, 10% cashmere, 1.75 oz (50g), 197 yd (180m), in light brown and dark green, plus fuchsia for crochet flower (optional)
Crocheted fuschia five-petal flower (optional)
Four 10mm nugget beads, 3 amber, and 1 translucent white (2 amber beads and the white one are optional)
Small box of straight pins
DMC embroidery needle #5
Beadalon big eye beading needle 2 1/4″ (5.5cm)
Size G-6 (4mm) crochet hook (optional)
Washing and felting
Embroidery: Blanket stitch, running stitch
Crochet (optional): Silp stitch, chain stitch, single crochet, double crochet
Felt the Sweater
There are three methods for felting sweaters: in your washing machine, by hand in your sink or tub, or at your local dry cleaner. The washing-machine method is the easiest and fastest way to felt, especially if you are washing a whole sweater or blanket. If you are doing a small piece, such as a sock, hat, or a cut piece of a sweater, you may find the hand-washing method easier. If you do not want to deal with the actual washing and felting yourself, your local dry cleaner is a good alternative.
1. There are two types of washing machines — top loaders and front loaders. Top loaders open at the top of the machine, and you put your clothes in a basket-like container that has a cylinder in the middle. Top loaders work best for sweater felting for two reasons. The first is that you can open the top at any time during the wash cycle and check your felting. The second is that the cylinder in the middle provides a lot of agitation, so your sweater will felt very quickly, often in one cycle.
Front loaders have a door that opens in the front of the machine, and they provide a much larger, more open space than a top loader. Once the wash cycle begins, the door automatically locks and cannot be opened until the cycle is finished. Because there is no spin basket in the front loader, there is less agitation. So with front loaders, I suggest that you begin any felting project using a very short cycle (hand-wash is best) and know that you may need to go through a few cycles before your sweater will felt the way you want it to.
How to Felt Using the Washing Machine
- Place your item in a pillowcase. This will protect your piece and provide more friction (which is a good thing).
- Select a very short cycle to begin. The hand-wash cycle is always a safe bet.
- Set the water temperature to Warm.
- Add about 1/4 cup (60ml) of Ivory liquid soap, or any dishwashing liquid with a low pH balance.
- Select the shortest spin cycle and the gentlest wash cycle. Spinning the item for too long can distort the shape of the piece, but it needs to spin a little so all the water comes out.
- Place the pillowcase with your item inside in the washing machine. Start your washing machine. Do not felt more than one piece at a time. After each cycle, take your piece out of the pillowcase and check to see if you need to wash it again.
- When you have achieved the desired results, put your item in the dryer (still in the pillowcase). Run the dryer on a very low- or no-heat setting until the item is dry.
Make the Stocking
2. Trace and cut out the Stocking template (download here), enlarged at 200%. Pin the template onto the felted sweater and cut it out.
3. Pin right sides together. Machine-stitch around the sides of the stocking, using a 1/2″ (13mm) seam allowance. Leave the top edge of the stocking open. Turn the stocking right-side out.
4. Turn under 1″ (2.5cm) at the top of the stocking. Using light-brown yarn, the tapestry needle, and running stitch, stitch around the stocking to secure the top hem.
5. Blanket stitch around the machine-stitched edges of the stocking, using light-brown yarn and the tapestry needle.
Appliqué & Embroider
6. If desired, you may crochet a five-petal fuchsia flower.
Chain 4, leaving a tail 3″ to 4″ (7.5 – 10cm) long. Join with a slip stitch to form the loop. (Chain 3, single crochet 1 into the loop) 4 times. Chain 3. Using a slip stitch, join to the base of the first chain 3. You now have five petals. Fasten off, leaving a tail 3″ to 4″ (7.5 – 10cm) long.
Pin the crocheted flower in place on the front of the stocking. WIth the beading needle, sew an amber nugget bead in the center of the flower, simultaneously sewing the flower to the stocking front. Be careful not to sew the front of the stocking to the back while doing this. If you do not wish to use the crocheted flower, simply sew the amber bead to the front of the stocking at the same point where it would be if the flower were there.
Crochet Loop (Optional)
7. This loop will attach to the bead center of the flower, closing the stocking. Using dark-green yarn, join the yarn to the top center back of the stocking with a slip stitch. Chain 32, slip stitch into the 22nd chain to form the loop, work a single crochet in each chain from that point back to the edge of the stocking. Tie off the yarn and weave the end under the hem of the stocking.
Crochet Strap (Optional)
8. Using two strands of light-brown yarn held together, leave a 3 1/2″ to 4″ (9-10cm) tail and tie an overhand knot with the two strands used as one. Attach yarn to the upper left corner of stocking (on the heel side). Crochet a 7″ (18cm) chain. Chain 10 beyond the 7″ (18cm) point. Form these 10 chains into a loop and slip stitch to the end of the 7″ (18cm) chained strap. Sew an amber nugget bead onto the upper right corner of the stocking (on the toe side). The chained strap will come over the stocking and attach to this bead by the loop. At the end of the strand of yarn you left as a tail at the beginning of the strap, tie an amber bead. Tie the white translucent bead at the end of the other yarn tail.
Thanks to Sharon Franco Rothschild and the good folks at Potter Craft for sharing this project with us. For more upcycling inspiration, check out Sweater Renewal.