Upcycled wool...


...by deconstructing sweaters?

Why not.

While figuring out the parameters for this years Bead Journal Project, I realized that over the coming months I was going to need a lot more felt - a LOT more.  My primary felt pieces will be the resist dyed merinos that I wrote about here, but since even these will be deconstructed & pieced back together with other textiles, other felt, I knew I needed to get the additional felt from somewhere.  Rather than buy new, I decided to make my own.  Or I should say, decided to engage in some serious wool recycling...and shrink my own from previously-owned.

Which brings me to this little blue number.  Isn't that a purdy periwinkle?  It's one of a few sweaters I found at a local thrift shop.  I came away with about a half dozen for my experiment at a very reasonable cost.  After a bit of research on the internet about the best way to felt in a washing machine, I began cutting.  I had a moment's hesitation before making the first snip - how could I ruin a perfectly good sweater?  Yet a closer look at the sales tag told me that this beauty had been on the rack since August 2008, so my guilt quickly faded away.  I removed all the seams (except for the front neck), as they are bulky and can cause the garment to shrink unevenly.

They say it's advisable to choose a sweater with a high wool content.  
This one is 50% lambswool, 40% Angora and 10% nylon.

I did the same cutting to this sweater vest which looked 
and had texture like wool, 
but was missing its tag so I was unsure of its true content.

It had some lovely silver buttons, which I've saved  :>]
(To see any of these photos a bit larger, just click on the image.)

Top loading washers are best due to the type of agitation they provide, but since I don't have one of those, my front loader was just going to have to do.  Due to the high volume of lint that this process produces (and the possibility of seriously clogging your washer!) I bagged each sweater in its own pillow case and tied the top tightly with jute string.  Here they are, ready to get shrunk (or the process of "fulling" as they say in the felt world.)

I washed each bag separately and each load had two pairs of jeans thrown in with them to help with the agitation - HOT water with a cold rinse - and a little less detergent than usual. Next step, into a hot dryer.  For the blue sweater, I decided to air dry one of the sleeves so that I could compare shrinkage.

Although both shrank, the sleeve from the dryer (left) shrank more. It is also denser and softer.

Unfortunately, the teal vest barely shrank at all.  Since this was the additional wool I was going to use on my January page (the greeny-blue color is perfect!) that was a disappointment.  But I am not giving up yet and I intend to experiment further by boiling said vest in a pot on the stove.  If anything, that'll serve it right for not fulling on me!

Here is the result of the blue sweater, not as dramatic a difference in photos as in real life but definitely more dense, more soft and the knitted texture has disappeared.  I would guess the overall shrinkage to be about 20%.


Another detail of interest was the difference in edges of the air dried sleeve and the dryer sleeve.  It is subtle but I hope you can see it below: the dryer sleeve (left) has a beautifully felted edge...almost rolled...whereas the air dried sleeve is flatter.  Embellishing the edge of the left sleeve would be more appealing to me than than the right.  A matter of personal choice in the end, still, it's helpful to learn how to control edges.

I like this concept of recycling, or upcycling, wool.  The possibilities are endless, even for the most hole-ridden, tattered and unloved specimens...

Back to the BJP...here are the two hand dyed merino felts that I am using for my January page, as they looked before I started cutting & stitching.  Must solve the issue of finding more teal-colored wool. Anyone have a sweater they'd like to ditch??
Stay tuned...

It is always a pleasure to have visitors here, so thanks for stopping by.  Your comments are greatly welcomed and appreciated.  Till next time...


  1. Interesting post. I thought I would like to try it, followed directions using a 100% wool sweater. I dried it in the dryer and it really puckered. I didn't know you were supposed to cut it apart. I tossed. After reading your post, I think I'll give it another shot.

  2. like the way you have showed it with many pictures. I have done some too, and yet they are still waiting to be stitched together as a blanket. There are so many things I like to work on. Ok, I have made some of it - made a necklage with the cutted fringed edges (that was a year ago, it is somewhere on my blog)I'am curious about your work with it

  3. Well now you've me ideas! Love that you documented this along the way. I wouldn't have thought about cutting it apart first or making sure to put it in a pillow case... very good things to know. Going to go dig through old sweaters now to see if I can find any with enough wool to try this on. Thank you for posting!

  4. Carol & Whytefeather ~ glad I inspired! Let me know what you come up with. I'm discovering that the best success comes from knowing the true content ahead of time :>]]

    Dorie ~ I may never be brave enough to attempt an entire blanket, but I have been thinking about stitching some pieces together for largish couch pillows...oh, the project possibilities!

  5. Oooooh this is so exciting, Sweetpea! I love your before and after pictures and agree about the dryer sleeve having more appealing edges. Thanks for doing that experiment for me. I'm surprised they didn't shrink more than 20%. But they look good. Can't help you with a teal sweater, but AM TOTALLY wanting to see what you're doing with those hand-dyed pieces you made.

  6. I save my old wool sweaters for the art teacher at school. She washes them and makes felt, then she makes things with it.

  7. your blog has totally sold me on the ease of upcycling wool. hello, new dj turntable slipmats. thank you for posting!! couldn't find what I wanted, so making it instead! ;]

  8. No puedo escribir mas de dos palabras en inglés,comprendo alguna suelta de lo que escribes,pero las fotos me han dejado impresionada....genial !
    Me quedo por aquí gozando y aprendiendo...thanks !