Reader Question Answered: Felting Wool Fabric (NOT Wool Sweaters!)

Reader QuestionWe talk a lot about felting wool sweaters, because it’s such a great upcycling project. Thrifted wool sweaters are cheap, felting them is easy, and the felted wool is extremely versatile in a wide variety of crafts.

Recently, however, a reader wrote into CAGW asking about felting a different type of wool–a wool tweed jacket, to be specific, but the question applies to all types of wool fabric, other than that which is knitted.

Yes, Virginia, you CAN felt wool fabric!

wool tweed jacket Wool jackets, wool suits, wool dress pants, wool long johns, wool blankets, wool mattress pads, and anything else sewn from wool fabric can all be felted. There are some challenges, of course (One of the fun things about upcycling, at least for me, is that nothing is ever THAT easy–every project is unique).

The main issue that you’ll need to address if you’ve thrifted something sewn from wool for the purpose of felting it yourself is whether or not your wool piece was treated for washability. That wool mattress pad that I washed on cool and gentle in my washing machine and then dried on air-dry in my dryer, only to have it come out sized for a crib mattress instead of my queen-sized bed? That wool mattress pad was NOT treated to be washable.

That candy-colored wool roving that I stubbornly tried for an hour to felt around a plastic Easter egg, failing utterly, only to notice later that its packaging identified it as “Superwash”? That wool roving WAS treated to be washable.

If you’re purchasing new wool fabric and the accompanying information doesn’t say, all it takes is a question to the sales clerk or a quick email to the online retailer to find out if your fabric will felt. If you’re thrifting, it’s somewhat of a crap shoot–even instructions to only dry clean a garment may not mean that it’s entirely untreated, but since making wool fabric wash-and-wear involves an extra process, the odds are in your favor for being able to felt any particular wool garment.

If you’re new to the process, check out my wool sweater felting tutorial. Just keep in mind that felting wool is easy but imprecise–it’s that handmade look, though, that inability to ever completely mold the finished work to an exact specification, that’s such a slap in the face to all that cheap, machine-made, identical junk.

And that’s why I love it!

[Top Image Credit: Vintage Tweed Jacket photo via Shutterstock]

8 thoughts on “Reader Question Answered: Felting Wool Fabric (NOT Wool Sweaters!)”

  1. I bought a wool womans coat and would like to felt it….do I cut it apart first, how big of pieces, must I sew around the edges before I felt it….and also for yardage material, must I zigzag stich around the edges before I wash/felt the material? thanks, Pat

    1. Instead of the felting wool fabric tutorial, I’m betting that you’d find our felting wool clothing tutorial more useful. Here it is:

      Otherwise, however, generally I do recommend cutting a piece of wool clothing into pieces before felting it, cutting away all seams. The nice thing about felting is that you won’t need to zizzag stitch any of your edges–they won’t have much time to unravel before you felt them, and after you felt them, they’ll never unravel on you again!

  2. I have a 100% new wool sweater that I’ve boiled, washed on hot and amazingly enough is NOT shrinking to felt. Any ideas why not please?

    1. It was probably treated–in yarn, they call that “superwash,” and you often find it in sock yarn. Unfortunately, it’s not going to felt for you; however, if you still want to use it as a fabric, there are lots of lovely things that you can sew from it, because unfelted wool does have a gorgeous hand.

  3. I have a tutorial on my blog at website for making a side-seam moccasin boot from a felted wool coat and sweater. I find felted wool coats wonderful material to use, because there are so many at thrift stores that are so out of date in style that no-one would want to wear them.
    All of my shoemaking is done with natural materials and no toxic cements.

    1. If there’s plenty of room for the fabric to agitate, then the washer will work well for you. A bolt is a lot of fabric, though, and if it can’t move freely then I’m worried that it might felt to itself.

  4. I am doing a huge happy dance right now! My daughter gave me a beautiful red 100% wool coat. All I can picture in my head is Cardinal’s! Great information about how to repurpose the wool and I look forward to sharing my creations with you. Happy Creating!

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