Materials: Six secondhand wool and wool/angora/mohair-blend sweaters.
Time: 8-10 hours
Cost: $7.18 sweaters + $5 washing/drying + $9 thread = $21.18
I’ve been seeing scrappy-chic recycled blankets featured in magazines and catalogues on an increasingly frequent basis, and — as instructions like these indicate — I figured that it would be easy to felt one for myself.
I delayed the purchase of sweaters until the local St. Vinnie’s held their $7 a bag sale. (Used sweaters typically run between $3-$5 apiece, so I ended up saving a substantial amount of money by waiting.) I arrived when the doors opened and made my way through the men’s and women’s sections, trying to avoid the hordes of super-crazy sale shoppers throwing everything they could lay hands on into their carts. The fun thing about shopping for materials to use in this project, though, is that you can do it entirely by touch — it’s pretty easy to distinguish wool from cotton, or worse, acryllic. When you find a sweater you like, though, be sure to examine the tags and make sure that it’s a) wool, and not a wool/acryllic blend; and b) contains dire warnings not to put it in the washing machine. Don’t worry if it’s got a small stain or a few moth holes — you’re not wearing it, but cutting it to pieces. And you’ll be running the sweaters through a hot washer at least once, which should rid them of any residual thrift-store funk.
I ended up getting six more-or-less pleasingly colored sweaters. Four were 100% wool, one was 100% fuzzy pink angora (soft!), and one was an 80% wool 20% mohair blend. To felt them, I put them through a hot wash/cold rinse cycle accompanied by a good amount of detergent, and then into a hot dryer. The result was a pungent smell not unlike that of a cheap hair salon and an absolutely obscene amount of fuzzy fluffballs flying furiously. I’d recommend opening your dryer halfway through the cycle to scrape off the lint trap, as well as having some paper towels handy to scrub the extra fiber from out of the washer. The thinner women’s merino sweaters didn’t felt nearly as well as the thick men’s sweaters from Land’s End and Abercrombie and Fitch, so I’d suggest finding the thickest and biggest-name men’s sweaters that you can. I ended up putting the sweaters that didn’t felt very much through a second cycle, which helped a great deal.
After I’d shaken most of the spare fuzzies off the sweaters, I cut out a little paper square 7″x7″ in size and traced around it with tailor’s chalk to mark the sweaters into patches. I attacked each square with a lint-roller once I was done, which eliminated most of the excess fibers. Once I’d gotten as many squares out of the sweaters as possible, I spread them out on the floor to figure out how to arrange them. (My only rule was not to put two of the same color right next to each other.) After that, I stacked them up and sewed them into strips.
Once I’d sewn the pieces into strips, I pinned them together two by two to sew them into a blanket. I must have not been too exacting when I cut them out, because the squares didn’t align exactly. But since I’m not about the pursuit of perfection, it ain’t no thang. For some reason I decided to leave 5/7″ edges on the hems, which was waay too large — with such thick fabric, it was a real pain to sew over them, and made the finished result much smaller. So, to make the seams look better (and because I’m a sucker for all things shiny and sparkly), I decided to cover the seams with a zig-zag satin stitch made from variegated Sulky thread. It was sometimes difficult to tell from the wrong side where the seam was located, so I occasionally ran over onto one side. Also, despite the frequent pressings that I gave it with a hot iron, the zig-zag made the fabric slightly wavy around the seams.
By this point I was heartily sick of seams, so I decided not to finish the outside edges. (With felted fabric, too, you really don’t need to.) Instead, I decided to finish the edges with an overlock stitch and attach some rick-rack. As it turned out, though, the overlock stitch looked pretty bad, and the rick-rack looked shoddy. At that point I remembered that my machine came with a clear free-hand embroidery foot, so I went over all of the rick-rack with a straight stitch. It was fun, even if the results weren’t uniformly tidy, and I like the look much better than the overlock.
Despite its visual irregularities, I’m quite pleased with the finished result. It’s smaller than I expected, but still big enough to cover one’s feet and lap. I plan on eventually making another of these after the next $7-a-bag sale at the thrift store, but I’ll probably buy more sweaters and make the squares 12″x12″, lessen the seam allowance, and cover over the outside edges with some satin trim.