Monday, 17 March 2014

How to Upcycle old Wool Sweaters. A tutorial; Part One - Felting - Acquisition and Transformation

I am going to show you how I upcycle wool sweaters.   Transforming  the knit wool fabric into thick durable felt is almost a magical process, (an easy one to do with a washing machine and dryer).  Cutting and sewing that felt into useful items takes some creativity and a very tiny amount of skill.  All in all, it is an easy and inexpensive creative process to ReUse someone else's unwanted sweaters.

Step One:  Acquire unloved wool sweaters. Look in the men's clothing section in a thrift store, and you will see racks and racks of men's sweaters.  (Or, at least here in Canada you do.)   I suspect some seasons are better than others for finding sweaters, but all you have to do is look and there they are!   This is the headquarters for unloved and/or  over-loved knitwear!  I choose the men's section for a couple of reasons.  First,  the sizes are larger,  - more bang for your buck! And, secondly, there  is less fashion variety, making it easier to find what I want.
What I want is  100% wool.  Virgin Wool,  Lambswool, Wool, Alpaca,  - all good.   I check the labels and if there isn't a label,  I move on to the next one.  I want plain pull over sweaters.   Nothing extra.. no zippers, buttons, pockets etc...  Those things are interesting, and can be perfect for a particular project,  but for today,  I just want plain wool pullovers.     Stripes and colours are optional.   You can see below the black cabled pullover isn't wool,   I bought it anyway because of the cables, and, it was $3.  It is made of some kind of acrylic and won't felt.
Thrift Store Wool Sweaters - Crescent Moon Collective
Thrift Store Wool Sweaters
I always check the labels,  but  as a tip,  you can quickly spot the wool sweaters because they look like new.  They haven't been washed in a machine,  they are usually in mint condition.  (The ones that got accidentally washed in a machine already shrunk, accidentally were felted and probably were tossed out... possibly with some amount of domestic squabbling and accusations...)  So look for the sweaters that were neatly folded in some guys dresser drawer for years, until finally, ended up donated to the thrift store.

Wool Sweaters - Checking the tags - Crescent Moon Collective
Checking  the tags for 100% wool

Step Two: Felt the wool.  These are very nice sweaters,   probably quite costly when new, and obviously cared for.  Sometimes I bring home sweaters that have probably never been worn... or ,  maybe only worn for Christmas Photos, or something equally brief.     For a split second,  I feel very naughty and extremely guilty for what I am about to do.  ...   but,  I get over it,  and shove an armload of  fine lambswool knitwear into my front load washing machine,  with soap and sometimes  other laundry, set the machine to  HOT wash, full agitation and as long a cycle as possible.  Usually, I do it again when the machine stops,    twice for good measure.   And,  yes, I am ruining those wool sweaters.   Sort of.   It is definitely a transformation.   
After two hot washes,  I take the sweaters out and shove them into the dryer.    Already they have begun to shrink.Extra Large men's pullovers look like they would only fit ten year old children now. The fabric has shrunk.  It is more dense and noticeably thicker.
Into the dryer they go,  set on Hi Heat. Heat and agitation,  soap and water  transform fine woolen thrift store sweaters into felted wool, just like magic. You could do the same thing by hand,  in the sink if you like, it just takes a little longer. I choose to do felting in big batches, to fill the machine to capacity and let it go.   
By the way, you will have to remove some stray wool fibre from your machines. My washer has a trap in front that collects 'stray items' (usually socks) and the dryer has the lint screen. Both will have collected lots of wool fibres in the process. Sometimes, people put the items to be felted inside pillow cases, just to catch the loose fibres.

Once the sweaters are dry,  you are going to have some fun just looking at your handiwork... Never again will these be wearable by adult human beings, the neck holes are much to small for a head to pop through!
,Felted Wool Sweaters - tiny neck openings - Crescent Moon Collective
Felted Wool Sweaters - tiny neck openings!

The next step will be even more fun (and destructive and constructive)  We will need scissors, sewing needles and thread (or a sewing machine), and will make some interesting things. I don't want to give it all away yet, but we can start out with mug rugs and coffee cozies, move up to Tarot Card cases, or cell phone or tablet cases,  cat toys, wine bottle covers,  sachets, hot pads, and a few other magical things that for now remain secret.
The final step will be decorative. We can use needle felting, embroidery and even paint to jazz up and personalize our projects.

Creative Blessings
~ Feather ~

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