Turning Last Year's Wool Sweater Into this Winter's Felted Purse

10 years ago

Purse, done
Felted wool items are still HOT accessories this winter and they are so much nicer to use when you've made them yourself. A visit to a local GoodWill when they were reducing inventory, gave me a nice supply of wool Old Navy sweaters to felt.  If you have a wool sweater that's not quite up to being worn this year, this project may be for you. Let's turn these into cute felted purses you can happily use all winter!
OldNavy Stripe
I began with this striped sweater and two others.  At home, I placed them in my washing machine, set the temperature to HOT and the length to fairly long.  I wanted the heat to swell up these fibers and the agitation to knock the individual wool fibers together. This can also be done by hand in a sink.  Use enough HOT water and dish detergent to let you work the pieces and massage the wool rigorously in it's bath.  Rinse the items in cold water to encourage shrinking.  Dry them in a hot dryer to pull the fibers together even more.  I did this process two times to get nicely felted wool pieces.  They were reduced in size by about 50%.

Then I cut the sleeves, hem and neck off this sweater.  Following the existing seam lines, this was easy! I cut strips from one of the sleeves which will eventually become the straps for the purse. Having stripes running one direction and ribbing running the other insured regularly.At this point I have a bunch of bits and pieces:
purse, pieces parts

I wanted to line this purse to give it a bit more body and make it easier to finish. So I laid the purse down over some plain white paper and traced just outside the edge of this purse. Here's where I prove that I am not a "great" sewer. I know that in this one-off instance, I can trace just outside the shape, use a 5/8" seam on the lining, fudge a bit in the next step and I'll end up with an adequate bag for me. If I were making several of these, or planning on selling these on Etsy? I'd draw my pattern first and cut both the lining and the felted wool material to the exact same sizes. I would insure a good fit. If you're making this as a present, take that extra step.

Now to choose a lining fabric. I found four that were possibilities but finally decided upon a light print with the grays and tans already in the sweater. A light lining gives me a chance to find things in the bottom of this bag, but a darker lining would hide any stains that might occur.  The lining is cut from the quick-draw pattern piece and seamed together along the straight sides and the bottom.  A good press, a gentle trimming of excess fabric from the corner and these two pieces are ready to join together.

Here's where it gets a little tricky.  But just a little.

Take your sweater-bag right side facing out, and slip into the lining.  Check that the right sides (lining and sweater) are facing each other. Line up the top and angled sides of the both.  These should all be unfinished (unsewn) edges.  Pin both pieces together at the side seams.  Smooth and check your lining and bag to see that the edges match nicely.  If they don't trim one piece or the other to match. 

When you are happy with the way these two pieces fit, it's time to slide the straps in place.  Take one of the two pieces cut from a sleeve (do make sure they are the same length... ) and place the edges along the top edge of the bag. Slide the strap down between the bag and lining making sure that it's not twisted.  To make sure that the straps are caught in the seam, have the edges extend just a little beyond the edge of the bag and lining.  Slip the lining back up in place and pin through all three pieces.
Purse, insert straps

Starting at a side seam, sew all around the top of the bag. Press these seams and trim them back to 1/4".

Did you notice that I haven't mentioned sewing up the bottom of your sweater yet? Here's why: Turn your purse right-side out through the bottom of the sweater bag. Push out all points and corners smoothing the edges between the sweater and lining as you go. I like to top-stitch the open part of the purse about 1/4" away from the seamline to give a nice finished edge and to strengthen this part of the bag. Then give the whole purse a final good press.

Did you notice that your straps came out perfect? Another option I've used is to completely finish the bag, then add purchased straps from a big-box craft/fabric store and sewed these on by hand.

Last, but not least, stitch the bottom of the sweater piece closed. I did this from the outside, making sure that I did not catch the lining in this seam. The felted material will roll itself into a tighter decorative edge as I use it. Now throw your essentials in and head out to enjoy autumn goodness.

Related felting/fulling reading:

In truth, much of what the crafter calls "felted" is really "fulled".  When wool is knitted or crocheted first and then the object itself is run through the hot/cold/dry treatment, we should accurately call what we do fulling.  Fuzzy Galore does a great job of explaining the two.

A similar bag was described on Whip-Up.  Hand sewing only!

Betz White offered a felted floral brooch. Use scraps from old felted sweaters to make this!

Looking for felting/fulling supplies?  Check out Ornamentea.

And knitters seeking an online Felting 101 workshop can visit Pick Up Sticks.

Debra uses her sweater bags almost every day, and blogs her art at A Stitch in Time and her life at Deb's Daily Distractions .

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