Upcycled Felt Wearables

Today I brought a mixed tub of fulled wool fabric and a tub of wool roving for students to transform into accessories: hats, arm warmers and headbands.

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Before I get any further, I need to pull out my soap box to make a clarification. The handknit wool sweater thrown in the washing machine that emerges half the size it was before washing has been fulled, not felted.

When wool is spun into yarn, then knit (or woven or crocheted) into a new fabric and subsequently shrunk through vigorous agitation in hot soap and water, this is fulling. When unspun wool, also known as roving, is transformed into a solid fabric through vigorous agitation with hot soap and water, this process is called felting. As there is water involved, it is called wetfelting. Poking roving into a base fabric with a felting needle is a third technique called needlefelting, or sometimes dry felting.

When a friend brought in a whole bunch of sweaters she was no longer wearing, I cut them apart at the seams, tossed them in a couple lingerie bags and washed them in my top-loading washing machine in hot water with the dial turned to ‘heavy agitation’. Cutting a garment into pieces allows the fabrics to shrink more evenly. Sweaters fulled as an intact garment often have sections near armpits and neckline where they have not shrunk as much as the broad expanse of front and back.

Once a sweater has been fulled, and the fabric is ready to be put to another use, it is called recycled felt or upcycled felt. This distinguishes the fabric from industrial craft felt, or felt created through wetfelting wool roving.

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Recycled felt is a perfect base for embellishing by needlefelting roving into the surface. The bond made with felting needles is not permanent, as it is when fibers intermingle during wetfelting. In order for the roving to stay firmly attached to the fabric, it must be poked repeatedly. This can be time consuming and tedious, but it is important if students want their designs to last. I recommend using a Clover multi-needle tool to finish a design once all the elements are in place.

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These two students spent the entire class needlefelting their designs. They were working with larger pieces of fabric. It will be interesting to see what they do with them next week.

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There’s a sheep with a rainbow tail hiding on the inside of this hat. Whipstitching seams can take a little time, but it will prevent the seams from coming undone over time.

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This student selected some upcycled felt with a colorful motif embroidered in the wool before it was fulled. Her two pieces of fabric once needlefelted and seamed made a fantastic bird hat.

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This student needlefelted cat eyes, nose and whiskers on two rectangles of fabric before sewing it into a hat for her little sister. By sewing two rectangles of fabric together, the peaks naturally form pointed ears. How lucky they are to have each other.

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