crafts, diy

How to Make Felted Wool from Wool Sweaters

felted wool sweater

What is Felted Wool?

When the animal fibers found in yarn or wool are agitated through hot water or friction, the tiny scales which hold the fibers in place are separated, tangled and rearranged resulting in a dense, durable, and water-resistant fabric called felted or fulled wool. (To understand the difference between fulled, felted, and boiled wool, check out this great post from Pioneer Thinking.)

Here is an example of a sweater that I felted. You can see the transition from nicely knitted, well-ordered fibers to a thick mat of felted wool.

What Can Felted Wool be Used for?

Felted wool is a wonderful fabric that can be used to make a variety of crafts that are perfect for gifting and giving your home a cute, cozy feel. Felted wool can also be used to make practical things like felted wool dryer balls, hats, or mittens. You can even use it to make DIY wool diaper soakers or longies for folks who cloth diaper. (That was the reason that I originally decided to learn how to felt wool.)

Here are a couple of projects that I made:

Is It Difficult or Expensive to Make Felted Wool?

Making felted wool is easy and, if done properly, cheap! I was able to felt four wool sweaters that I bought at Savers for $35 in a matter of hours. If I had taken the time to shop around at a few other local thrift shops, I probably could have saved even more! When you’re thrifting, look for sweaters, blankets, or skirts – the bigger the better!

What Supplies Do I Need to Make Felted Wool at Home?

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Honestly, you don’t need much to make felted wool. You should have:

  • Access to a washer and dryer
  • A mild laundry detergent (I used BioKleen, our favorite plant-based, non-toxic detergent)
  • An old pillow case
  • A hair tie, string, or a rubber band
  • A wool sweater, blanket, or skirt (more on this below)

What Types of Wool Work Best for Making Felted Wool?

This is important so don’t skip it! The type of wool sweater (or other item) that you purchase matters. Some wool sweaters are chemically treated so that you can wash them as you would your regular laundry, without the risk of ruining them. These will not work for felting.

The best material for felting is:

  • 100% lambswool, merino, cashmere, angora, alpaca, or a mix of these types of wool, although some people have been successful in felting with only 70%- 90% wool
  • dry clean only OR
  • hand wash in cold water only, lay flat to dry

When choosing a wool sweater to work with, you’ll want to consider the tightness of the knit and the thickness of the yarn. Your thrifted wool item will shrink and thicken considerably when felted, but it’s still a good idea to think about whether or not it will be a good fit for your project before you buy it. You probably don’t want to choose a thin cashmere sweater if you’re planning on making potholders!

Tutorial: How to Make Felted Wool

Begin by placing your wool item in an old pillowcase and tying off the end with an elastic or string. When you agitate the item in the washing machine, it will generate a lot of fuzz. The pillowcase will help contain the stray fibers and prevent them from damaging your washing machine.

Choose a load size that will fill your washer with just enough hot water to cover your pillow case(s). If your washer is mostly empty, throw in some old towels, tennis shoes, or dryer balls because your goal is to create as much friction as possible. If the sweater is just sloshing around in there, it won’t felt properly.

Next, select the longest, heaviest cycle your machine will allow. Add a small amount of mild detergent and start the washer.

When the wash cycle is complete, remove your wool garment from the pillowcase and throw it in the dryer on high heat until it is completely dry. This will lock the fibers into their new positions.

Repeat this cycle until material reaches desired texture. It may take a few times. For me, I was satisfied with how my sweaters looked after two trips through the washer and dryer.

When you feel that you are complete, remove any large fuzzballs that remain, being careful not to cut into the fabric.

gray felted wool with colorful buttons

And that’s it! You’ve just felted your first material. Happy crafting!