Category Archives: simple sewing

How to Make Sweater Felt

Making thick, wooly felt is really easy – all you need is a sweater and a washing machine, and enough guts to disobey laundry instructions.

What you need:

  • 100% wool sweater (any color or pattern, get from thrift store, garage sale, closet, etc… bright, ugly knit sweaters are fun because the images shrink up really small)

What to do:

(Its kind of fun to take a picture of the sweaters before you do this so you can be amazed at how much they shrank. But then I’m always a sucker for before-and-afters)

  1. Throw the sweaters in the washing machine on the hottest setting you’ve got; you don’t need any detergent. When they’re done…
  2. Pull them out and throw them in the dryer on the hottest setting.
  3. Remove from dryer, laugh at how small they are, and do it again – wash and dry on hot. And then do it again.
  4. By the time you pull them out of the dryer for the third time, the sweaters should feel stiff, heavy, and be very short. Any pattern or design that was knit into the sweater will be miniature, and the fabric will be really thick.

Now you have wool felt, ready to use for all sorts of projects. The great thing is that you can cut it and the fibers are shrunk together so tightly that it won’t fray or unravel at all, so you don’t need to hem or do anything to the edges. And its so stiff that it will hold its shape once its cut.

In the past I’ve taken this felt, glued paper to the back and cut out little sweater-y gift tags, I’ve sewed the arm-tubes into knitting needle cases, I sewed a pair of slippers… this stuff is very versatile and very forgiving.

This time I made little birds with feathered tails (thank you chickens for contributing to this project!) The feathers catch every little breeze and spin the birds right around, which makes them very entertaining for little Ellie.


Fixing a Bargain Dress

Those who know me know that I’m a sucker for a good deal, so when I saw a cute knit dress on the clearance rack for $3(!) I bought it without question! It was only after I got home that I noticed the tiny holes that were mysteriously speckled across the bodice. With the best of intentions to fix the holes, in the meantime I’m hanging my head in shame as I tell you I’ve been wearing the dress layered style, with conveniently wrapped scarves and sweaters to hide the holes. (I admit, this is a lazy, lazy solution which I never should have done. And the next time you see me with a scarf, don’t just go assuming I’m hiding something)

But finally I sat down, opened the bead box, and found an old broken shell bracelet that’s been sitting around for years.

With some really simple hand sewing, I stitched the beads over and around the holes. The dress has already been through the laundry a few times, so I’m not worried about the holes growing. I mainly just don’t want to see them – the wide, flat, shell beads were great for this purpose. The sewing went very quickly, and now I can wear the dress without worrying about the little holes being noticed. And it gives fun detail to an otherwise plain dress.

Note that the sweater in the picture is for WARMTH, not for tiny-hole covering.

And while we’re on the subject of holes in clothes, this one always makes me laughI’m so not the only one whose done this!

fabric flowers

A friend told me about a little local secret called “Room With A Past.” Its a antique-y boutique full of all sorts of hand made or restored things, and its only open one weekend a month. So last Friday morning, we went over to see what they had. And oooh I was inspired! I came away with a few treasures, (most noteworthy is the beautiful glass doorknob for the chicken coop!) and lots of ideas. As soon as we got home I went right to the fabric bin to see if we could make some little flowers, just like the bunch of sweet peas that had caught my eye.

I gathered up some green velvet ribbon for a stem, orange linen (from a thrift-store shirt), a skewer, spray laundry starch, scissors, and a needle and thread.

Step One: Lay out a length of ribbon (however long you want your stem to be) and a strip of linen (2×6″, give or take) on a piece of scratch paper, and give it a good spray with laundry starch. PickĀ  up the ribbon and wrap it around a skewer lengthwise to make a ribbon tube. Wrap thread around the ribbon to keep it in place. When the starch is all dry, the ribbon stem will be cylindrical instead of, well, ribbon shaped.

Step Two: When the linen is dry, wind it up into a roll about an inch wide. Smash the roll to flatten, and cut through the layers of fabric to make a petal shape, as seen below. The shape on top isn’t as important as making sure that the sides connect so that you end up with a nice “petal chain” when you unroll the ribbon, as seen above.

Step Three: Thread a needle with thread that matches your fabric, and tie a knot in the end. Set it someplace safe and close so that you can grab it easily with one hand. Now begin to wind your petal chain around the top of the stem, trying to overlap the petals a bit so that they aren’t all on one side. The ribbon is so short that its easy to wind and unwind till you’re happy with how your flower looks.

Step Four: When your flower looks just how you want it, grab your needle (aren’t you glad its already threaded?) and stitch through the base of the flower. Go through enough times to secure the base of the petals in place and to the stem.

Step Five, Extra Credit: My friend had the great idea, if you are inclined to make a pile of these flowers, to make them into a “daisy chain.” Fold the base of the ribbon back on itself and cut 2 slits, which will turn into one matching slit when you roll the stem back up. Thread the stem of the next flower through the slit, just like a real dandelion chain. I started this but as cute as it is, its only 4 flowers long. I have my limits.



Updating A Sweater

If you have a sweater, old or new, that you’d like to “take up a notch” in style or personality, there’s an easy way to do it: swap the buttons. Typically, the store-issue buttons on a cardigan are cheap and made of plastic, but for only a few dollars and a little bit of simple sewing, your sweater can be customized to suit your taste.

When you swap out the buttons, don’t just go find another set of cheap plastic. If you do a little hunting, you can find vintage buttons made from a wide variety of materials: metal, wood, resin, bone, stone, shell, etc.

Great places to find old buttons:

  • If you live in the SF Bay area, my favorite place for buttons is the Cottage Jewel in Danville
  • Your Mom or Grandma’s button box – this has the added sentimental value of knowing that you have a part of your family history incorporated into your wardrobe. (I really do smile when I see my grandma’s buttons in different projects)
  • Thrift stores often have a sewing section where I’ve found many old cards and jars filled with buttons.
  • Thrift store also have old jackets and sweaters that can be “harvested” for their buttons
  • You can find them online, but its difficult to measure the exact size, and verify that it will fit through the button hole.

Start by finding your sweater (or coat, if you like) that has buttons on it. Note: The sweater I used had 9 buttons, which was the most that I would want to try. The fewer the buttons, the better! Then find buttons that match. Its best to have your sweater with you when you go to select the buttons, so you can try pushing them through the buttonholes.

You can see my sweater pictures above. Its a new one, but it had plain, plastic, purple buttons. Instead, I found these “hand-carved abalone shell buttons from 100 years ago,” according to the lady at the store.

You can see the comparison of first button (on the left) and replacement button (on the right) – they’re pretty much the same height and width, it doesn’t matter that one has a neck and the other doesn’t. As long as it fits through the buttonhole.

Use a seam ripper to remove the first button, and re-sew its replacement on right away, using the leftover thread bits to see exactly where the new button goes. Its important to sew the replacement on immediately so you don’t rip all the buttons off and then lose steam on the project and then end up with an empty, button-less sweater.

When you’re done you will have a sweater that’s a little bit above the ordinary.