How to Upcycle (AKA Felt/full) a Wool Sweater




Introduction: How to Upcycle (AKA Felt/full) a Wool Sweater

About: I'm "retired", and now have time for all the creative things I've done since I was a child. I especially like anything with texture.....fabric, wood, glass, stones....even rusty objects. I have a LARGE fabric…

I'm sure if you've owned at least one wool sweater, you (or someone else) have mistakenly thrown it into the washer, and when it was done your once adult sized sweater was shrunken down to kid size. THAT, my friend is the art of felting, or more correctly "fulling" (all though I see the word felting used more often, or the two words used interchangeably). The fibers of wool have puffed up (or fulled) and the individual fibers ends stick out and become entwined with the fiber next to it, so once the fabric (a sweater in this case) is dried and shrunken it's hard to even see the individual stitches of the knitting or crocheting, and IMPOSSIBLE to unravel, making it just like a piece of fabric ready to cut and sew.  I've given several of these sweaters to Goodwill over the years, and now I'm shopping at thrift stores to find wool sweaters to purposely shrink/felt/full, to use for MANY upcycled projects.  I use the whole sweater. I use the sleeves for wine or bottle bags, the cuffs for beer koozies, or for mug/cup sleeves, and the body of the sweater for pillows, or purses/bags

Here's how to do it yourself

Step 1: Step 1

Look through your closet, or shop your local thrift store for a sweater that is at least 50% wool. I have never paid more than $3.89 for a sweater....even less in the summer!

Step 2: Step 2

gather your supplies:

1 (or more) wool sweater(s) I like finding men's XL sweaters since they give more "fabric" once completed
old towels (IF you are only doing 1 sweater)
old tennis shoes or flip flops (that you can wash and dry)
laundry detergent

Washer and dryer

PLEASE note: IF your sweater is "hairy" like mohair you might want to put it into a pillow case or laundry bag. I have heard stories of the heavy lint from sweaters clogging washing machines is not in a bag, but I have not had any trouble, and I've washed 30-40 sweaters

Step 3: Step 3

put your sweaters (and old towels IF you're only doing 1 sweater)  into your washer, along with a pair of old tennis shoes, or flip flops to aid with agitation. Add 1/2 the amount of laundry detergent you would usually use. Set the machine to HOT, and for the longest cycle possible. DO NOT use any fabric softener.

 I find the agitation is better with a top loading washer, than a front loader, so with my front loader, I run the wash cycle twice or three times.

Step 4: Step 4

Check to see if the sweater has shrunk......Move it to the dryer along with the towels, and tennis shoes. Dry on HOT

Now you're ready to craft!

Check out the size difference of my "finished" sweater. It is marked a 52 (I'm assuming that means the chest size) it now measures 39 inches at the chest.

Sew Warm Challenge

Participated in the
Sew Warm Challenge

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Tinkercad to Fusion 360 Challenge

      Tinkercad to Fusion 360 Challenge
    • Home and Garden Contest

      Home and Garden Contest


    Thanks for posting this as I've been looking for nice, clear instructions for a while. :-)

    I've recently tried felting a 100% cashmere sweater I bought at a thrift store, and it just won't work. I've run it through the machine twice, and I've even tried doing it by hand in the sink (I thought being able to give it a good scrub by hand might work better than my front loader), but it hasn't even started to felt and simply looks a little fluffier than before. The washing label says it's a 40 wash, so do you think that it may have been pre-treated to make it shrink resistant? If so, is there any way I can felt it, or will I simply have to bind the edges when I cut it?

    I haven't felted anything before, so any help would be much appreciated.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    My guess is that it is a "superwash".....that is the term they give "washable" wool.......I bought a beautiful sweater that was a burnt orange color......just what I had been looking for, and I saw the tag saying 100% wool, but not the tiny tag down on the inside saying you could machine wash it. No matter what I did I couldn't get it to felt! I'm guessing it will be the same with yours :-(

    I'm not sure you will even have to bind the edges.......I haven't cut mine yet. What are you planning on making with your sweater?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I have had experience trying to felt sweaters like that. You can't always be sure about them in advance. Something has been done to the yarn chemically to remove the tiny fibers that would do the meshing when it is felted, and you could probably wash one of that type of sweater till the cows come home and it would never felt.

    By the way, I sometimes find beautiful woolen sweaters to felt at estate sales. If they have a few moth holes or a stain somewhere, they will be priced very low, and often you can work around the holes or stains to get some nice pieces to sew up into slippers, bags, and other things. You can't actually fix the holes and make them unnoticeable so as to be able to leave them in your finished project, but you CAN embroider or applique over them and hide them.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Oh no, that is depressing - I bought it specifically to felt it too. :-(

    I'm hoping to turn it into a cardigan, so I'd be cutting up the front, and probably making it a little shorter too. It's a very fine knit - not even as thick as 6-strand embroidery thread.

    Thanks for you help! :-)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    How many times did you wash your sweater on HOT? I read elsewhere that cashmere takes longer to felt than regular wool. It said it can take 3 or more times through the HOT wash cycle to felt.

    IF you've only tried once maybe try again, especially if the tag says dry clean only, or hand wash. Be sure to add something heavier to wash with it, for the aggitation....I add a pair of jean, and a heavy bath towel, AND an old tennis shoe. Maybe try without any soap or just a very tiny amount. Wash on HOT and the longest cycle....I reset the cycle before it has a chance to drain the water, to make the cycle even longer

    THEN put all the stuff from the washer into the dryer and dry on high heat.

    Let me know how it comes out for you


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Cashmere does felt, but it takes several washings in hot water and a few cycles in the dryer.

    Try really really hot water, some hand agitation, and then throwing it in the washer on HOT with just a tiny bit of detergent (I use All free and clear because one of my kids gets pink splotches with certain fragrances).

    Don't give up!

    Even if it's not completely felted like sheep's wool, it won't unravel and isn't likely to fray. The cashmere fibers are pretty fine and hold each other in place.

    I've felted lots of cashmere sweaters. They make great hats, fingerless gloves, stuffed animals, patchwork cuddle blankets, and clothes for my kids. :)