UpCycled Wool Blanket Becomes Eco-Printed Jacket

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About: Welcome! Pleased to meet you, I am Barb; a Maker. I have been making things AND explaining how to make things for as long as I can remember. I was all about DIY before it was a popular term. I absolutely lov...

This one of a kind jacket is not only an upcycled wool blanket but is also uniquely printed with nature's real leaves. This tutorial will show how to take the pattern from a well fitting jacket and how to process the special Eco-printing which makes the prints permanent. It is really not that difficult as only basic sewing skills are needed. It is great project since almost any design will look like a 'Artist's designer piece'!

Step 1: The Wool and Supplies

This first part involves making the fabric panels before printing.

You will need:

  • 100% wool blanket (can already be 'felted'*)
  • a favourite jacket/garment that fits you as you like
  • large paper (newspaper, kraft paper, wrapping paper)
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • measuring tape

* 'felted' means that the blanket has probably been washed and the fibres look like they have locked together; somewhat like what felt looks like. Many times the satin binding seems puckered since the blanket may have shrunk from washing, that is ok. This happens when wool is shocked with different temperatures of water and agitation. It is somewhat like how 'dreadlocks' are made.

Check your linen closet or thrift shops for the old wool blankets. The tag needs to state that it is 100% wool to be able to be printed this way, polyester will not print. They were quite popular back in the 60's on and a staple in the household.

Step 2: Tracing the Pattern

Depending what garment you choose will determine how your pattern will be. I like to know that what I making will fit me so I most often just trace a pattern from what I have. I do choose pretty simple garments also. I always believe I can take it in a bit if needed so I am generous with the sizing. If you want to be extra sure you can do a test run with some cheap fabric and then adjust the pattern (mark pieces well for future use)

There are really not that many pieces in a jacket like this since it is symmetrical (use a centre line and only make one half) and the front and back are almost the same except for the neckline. If you trace at the seams then you can add the seam allowance (the extra added for stitching) afterward when you cut out the pattern.

  • TORSO FRONT: Lay out the torso on a centre line and trace around the shape, lift the sleeves to see the curve of the arm hole
  • SLEEVE; Fold a piece of paper for double thickness to make the sleeve pattern (making sure to stretch the under arm flat)
  • TORSO BACK: Make a duplicate of the front for the back and trace out the neck opening (usually higher than front)
  • NECK BAND: Since the neck is a simple folded-over straight band use a measuring tape to check the length (I usually have a bit extra, just in case). Check it against your neck as well.
  • POCKETS: Since I wanted to keep it simple and be able to showcase the prints I decided to use 'patch pockets' (meaning that they simple ones stitched on top) They can be whatever shape you like

Step 3: Cut the Wool Panels for Printing

Now that you have your pattern the wool needs to be cut to make enough printed wool BEFORE actually cutting the exact pattern pieces. The printing process (skip ahead to Step #5 if you need to see) involves rolling the wool with the leaves and steaming/boiling so the rolls need to fit into a pot. Therefore check the width of your pot for length of rolls.

  • Lay out the pattern pieces and cut rectangular panels that will amply fit each piece (possibly having 2 panels to be joined to make a piece
  • The idea is to have enough printed wool to later cut each needed piece. I find it best to keep pieces long rectangular ('width of pot' by long jacket piece) for easy rolling.

These blankets are fabulous. I bet they had been quite expensive since most people hang on to them even though they never use them, but they feel they can't get rid of them. They are so thick and have the lovely qualities of wool.

Wool wears great and is not as fragile as you may think. I had no idea how strong it is; each fibre can bend back on itself over 20,000 times. It has the ability to absorb moisture to up to 30% of it’s own weight but resists building up bacteria since it releases it back into the air. The crimped nature of the fibres makes it able to return to it’s shape after wearing. It is biodegradable and each sheep makes a new fleece each year. Some blankets have developed quite a ‘felting’ over the years. That makes it even better as then the edges do not fray. That is always a frustration when sewing there is so much effort put to finishing edges. There is a lot of yardage in a blanket as well and look for them at thrift stores where they could be $5

Step 4: Ready the Print Materials

Eco printing is a wonderful way of having nature create permanent prints onto fabric. The tannins in the leaves react with a mordant and give surprising results. See my eco printing posts for some basic knowledge and be amazed!

You will need:

  • Onion skins (print wonderful orangy-red)
  • maple leaves (different varieties print different colours)
  • Red Weigela leaves (prints purplish prints)
  • water that has become 'rusty' from absorbing rust from chains, steel wool, railroad spikes etc
  • spice scissors or regular scissors

(safety note: Do wear gloves when working with the iron water as it will absorb into your skin. It is one of the safer mordants to work with)

  1. Using the scissors cut the onion skins into small bits.
  2. Submerge the rusty iron bits in water and add a few 'glugs' of vinegar. Wait until you see a rusty colour (may take days or longer depending on the amount of rust). I realize this is not an exact recipe and variations may give lighter and darker results so you may want to do a small test run first. The beauty of eco printing is that you generally don't have complete control over the result as the variations in leaves species, processing time, fibres and iron will give you unique results. But that is the beauty as nature is truly printing this!

You may also buy ferrous sulphate to use but it comes with health hazards so I make my own iron solution.

Step 5: Prepare the Eco Printing Bundles

Now that you have your panels of wool to print and your print leaves it is time to print.

You will need:

  • Thick dowels (I use old curtain rods) that are not wider than your cooking pot (measure you pot width)
  • A tray to soak your leaves in the 'iron water'
  • String/Butcher's twine
  • scissors
  • some plastic sheeting like painter's drop sheets (parchment paper can be substituted)
  1. Soak the leaves in some of the rusty 'iron water' for about 30-60 minutes
  2. Wet you wool panels in warm water and squeeze any excess water out. They should not be dripping wet, just damp
  3. Lay out the panels flat and arrange the leaves and onion skins (blot them from the iron water)
  4. Cut the plastic (barrier) and carefully lay over the entire piece(s)
  5. Place a dowel on the end of a panel and roll along keeping it as flat as possible. The leaves will print best if they are perfectly flat and in contact with the wool
  6. Once rolled wrap the twine around all along roll quite tight and tie. To keep the roll even flatter you may use a bamboo matt and tie tightly

Step 6: Boil the Bundles

To make the leaves print onto the wool heat is involved. Since the leaves are 'cooked' they may emit some odour and fumes so I like to do this stage outdoor on the BBQ side-burner. (some use a roasting pan in the oven). Also it is suggested that you do not cook food in this vessel after use for dyeing. I use an old canning pot.

You may steam the rolls and the edges of the panels will remain light. If you submerge the rolls the cooking water will also dye the edges and ends of the rolls. It is your choice The dark ends show the boiled method

Option #1 Steaming:

Use a steamer or tray or something to keep the rolled bundles from the water. Make sure the water does not cook away during the 2 hours of brisk steaming.

Option #2 Boiling:

Fill the pot with enough water to submerge the bundles. To have additional colour you may add some onion skins and some iron water to the bath. This will give nice brown colour. Boil for 2 hours making sure to not run out of water.

Step 7: Amaze Yourself With the Prints

Once the rolls/bundles have processed let them cool. It is always exciting to unroll them but don't be too excited and burn your fingers!

This is where you see the magic! Sometimes the most amazing colour just appears. (If you like to see some of the scarves)

Unroll and discard the leaves in the compost. Isn't it great to print from free stuff?! Look at the beautiful gifts from nature! You can learn more on my site.

Rinse the pieces in clear warm water and slightly wash with a mild shampoo (good for animal hair) Rinse again and let dry. A ironing set to wool setting will flatten the pieces.

Step 8: Rough Layout

Now that you have your panels it is time to be creative. This is a rough layout of where I like the panels and prints to be. Since this jacket will be pieced it has so many possibilities to work with.

Step 9: Piecing Together and Edge Finishing

As I mentioned this is thick wool. The process of rolling has made the wool compress so it is even denser now which is perfect for a jacket. To make this sewing adventure easier is that the edges do not fray (felted wool) To look more finished I used a bit of a decorative stitch to finish the edges. You could make up one form a few designs of your machine as well.

Your specific pattern may have more or less piecing than mine. To keep it easy and also flat I used a 'lap seam' method.

  1. Lay out all the pattern pieces on your printed panels and cut with scissors or rotary cutter. If wider pieces such the torso are needed add side panels. (as in my jacket) The more 'piecing' - the more unique and designer look it will have!
  2. Edges are finished with a decorative stitch
  3. The seams are a 'flat lap' with the decorative stitch on top. Lay the joining pieces with an overlap of about 1/4" and sew on top.
  4. The unique prints from the string were incorporated onto the sleeves edges. Be creative with your placement of the prints.

Step 10: Sew Pieces Together, Add Zipper

This jacket is unlined and simply edged.

  1. Add side panels to front torso pieces using the 'flat lap seam'
  2. Add side panels to back torso pieces 'flat lap seam'
  3. Sew 1/2" shoulder seams as regular seams (not flat lap)
  4. Sew sleeves into arm holes easing as needed (1/2" regular seams)
  5. Sew side seams (1/2" regular seams) up including along arms.
  6. Center the neck band on neck opening. It should be slightly shorter than neck opening to allow easing into shape. (I cut after attachment just in case) Add using 'flat lap seam'
  7. As the simplest opening I used a zipper that is sewn under front centre edge after decorative edge stitching. It is encased inside the fold over collar (see pic #5)

Step 11: Add the Pockets and Flaps

I had some small pieces that had great eco prints so I used them for the pockets and they needed a bit added. But it looks totally intentional. It is really easy to add pockets this way since they are just sewn on top. Details are what everyone always notices so make some easy tabs. I used double thickness, edged and button hole added.

  1. Cut your pocket shape (piece together as desired) and make sure they are symmetrically placed, pin.
  2. Top stitch pockets onto front. ( you can be quite unique in placement BTW)
  3. Make the tabs(2), add button holes
  4. Sew tabs right sides together, then turn and top stitch
  5. Sew buttons(2) where needed

Step 12: Check Fit and Make Adjustments - ENJOY!!

The sewing for this project is not much different than a t-shirt. If however you'd like a bit more 'fit' you may also add some darts (pinched sewn sections) to add shape at the waist. It is similar to what I do to dress shirts if they are too baggy at the middle. This wool will iron/press very nicely and keep it's shape. (Note: I'm not a skinny gal) But this is made to fit me and is quite roomy.

Total cost: $5 blanket, $4 zipper, $3 buttons, $1 thread, FREE leaves, FREE rusty iron, old pot, old curtain rods, $1 plastic sheet, bit of vinegar, and some creativity... Super unique!

If you have any leftover wool; go make the mittens!

Enjoy this unique project and also see others on my site, but above all BE CREATIVE! I know you can do it!

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    9 Discussions

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    Artskater

    8 months ago

    AWESOME project all the way around. You got my vote!

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    BoubouleM

    9 months ago

    Dear Barb, THiIS LOOKS SO NICE!!!! Thank you for this inspiring project.

    It makes me want to try that out since we have old blankets and my favourite jackets now getting REALLY old.

    Thank you

    Greetings from bavaria :-)

    Thomas

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    dreameadow

    9 months ago on Step 1

    I really love the idea of using existing clothes (that fit well) to make a pattern. Genius!

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    MadeByBarbdreameadow

    Reply 9 months ago

    I tend to like casual clothes and most have a simple pattern. I give it a bit extra especially at the side seam as that is the last seam and can be adjusted to fit.

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    9 months ago

    That looks amazing! I love how you dyed it, how it feels fun, and the layout isn't chaotic without being too structured either (if that makes sense). And I just love how you are able to do it so affordable :)

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    MadeByBarbPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thanks! Eco printing is so fascinating and who doesn't love a way to upcycle?! Vintage wool can't be beat.