Recycle Wool Sweaters into Handmade Christmas Gifts

Bringing new life to old sweaters can come in many shapes and sizes. Hats, scarves, mittens, slippers and purses are just the beginning. Other ideas include home décor such as blankets, pillows, placemats and table runners. The options for repurposing sweaters into gifts can really go as far as the imagination will.

Gathering Vintage Wool Sweaters

Finding just any old sweater can be fairly easy. Gleaning sweaters that are good for felting and re-purposing requires a bit more intention in the process. Yard sales, thrift stores, and grandma’s attic make great resources. Keep in mind color scheme and design, as well as the size of the sweater needed for the intended item. Sometimes it works to shop with an item in mind. Sometimes, a particular sweater shows up and brings about its own ideas for re-purposing.

The most useful sweaters for repurposing are made of 100% wool. Because of its warmth and wicking properties, wool is an extremely useful natural fiber. Plus, it has the awesome ability to “felt” when washed in hot water, which adds a trendy dimension to a classic standard. Felting also gives the crafter the ability to cut and sew sweaters without the fear of raveling. It can even eliminate the need to hem edges of craft projects.

Handmade Gift Ideas for Felted Wool

The size and color of the sweater may influence the type of gift to make out of it. Some wool is itchier than others, which might make it more useful for items that do not come into direct contact with the skin, such as a purse or tea cozy. Cashmere is a beautiful, fine fiber which is softer to the touch and might be used for mittens or a scarf, though it is more delicate and may need more careful attention when felting. Gathering up several sweaters of similar yarn weights can allow projects to have a patchwork effect and provides enough material for larger projects such as blankets or large tote bags.

Felting Wool for Making Gifts

The process of felting simply means that the wool fibers, through heat and abrasion, are melding together. Felting makes the wool fabric thicker and stronger, and less prone to tearing or unraveling. Once felted, an item can rarely be un-felted. This is why it is not uncommon to find an accidentally shrunken sweater donated to the thrift store.

Often, simply running a wool sweater in the washing machine on the hot water setting will get most of the felting job done. Some hand rubbing in the sink may be necessary, and then the sweater can be air dried flat. The clothes dryer can also be used as an added step for felting, although this does allow for less control over the shape of the wool as it felts.

Making Patterns and Cutting Wool

Once the sweater is felted and dry, it’s time to cut apart the sweater into pieces. Separate sleeves, collars, fronts, and backs. At this point, it’s best to leave the ribbing attached to cuffs and edges as it might come in useful for the project. For instance, if making a hat, using the ribbing for the edge of the hat is an easy way to give a finished look. The ribbing can always be cut off later if it isn’t needed. If making a pillow, it’s wise to save the scraps to use for natural and warm stuffing.

Even for the simplest project, some sort of pattern will probably be needed. For mittens, simply trace one hand, add room for a larger hand or subtract for a child’s hand, then add about ½” around the entire edge for the seam allowance, plus leave room for a cuff if desired. For a scarf, measure the desired length and width of the scarf, and cut squares or strips that can be sewn together. Blankets require a collection of various sweaters, and can use the same size square or varying shapes and sizes, as long as they can be sewn together flat.

Putting it All Together

Sewing can be done with a simple long, sharp needle and a poly/cotton thread (to avoid stretching). Sewing with right sides together and turning is most traditional. Other options include sewing with wrong sides together with thread, then following behind with a decorative blanket stitch with matching or contrasting wool yarn. Butting the sides next to each other and whip-stitching creates an interesting edge as well. A main caution when sewing is to be sure that the wool is not stretching out of shape while it is being joined together. Regularly check to see that the seams are lying flat during the stitching process.

Decorative Options for Handmade Gifts

In addition to decorative stitching, other creative touches can be added to make items even more unique. Hand-embroidered flowers, interesting buttons, ribbons, or flowers will all give an extra touch of love. And of course, don’t forget to “sign” the gift item with embroidered initials, a hand-made fabric tag, or another identifying factor so that the receiver will always remember that it was made especially for them!