When I first kicked off the idea for this series on wool applique, I had not factored in final book edits and the Christmas longarming rush! I’m finally getting back to a more organized schedule, and have been longing for the chance to work on some of these new projects that have been percolating along in my back brain.
Before beginning a new project though, I usually spend some time thinking about the medium I will be working with, which is the various types of wools and threads. There are so many interesting options out there! How do you know what to choose? For a quick-start, I will share a few of the basic supplies I like to consider for making a wool appliqué project, including the fabrics and felts, needles and threads.
Felts vs. Wovens
My first thought is whether to use wool felt or wool wovens. I know most anyone who reads this knows what felt is: it’s a nonwoven fabric meaning the fibers have been pressed together (either in wet or heated conditions), as opposed to woven fabrics, which have distinct threads woven in and out to create the cloth. Felts are a great option because the come ready to go: their edges won’t fray and you can find a huge variety of colors and textures. For wool appliqué, I’d recommend sticking with a felt that is at least 70% wool, primarily because I think it feels nicer in a finished project.
Wool wovens require a bit more care in selecting them, since you can find them in many forms. For example, this yardage is undyed and unfelted, and using it as-is would mean that it is much more prone to fraying along the edges.
These wools, from Alison Glass’s beautiful line, are an example of hand dyed wool. You can see that these colors, which are coordinated with her cotton prints, have variability in their color, which is part of the dying process. Dyed wools like these and in the first photo are ready to be used immediately, because the dying process has felted the fibers together and therefore will not fray.
That grey wool with the pattern is a great option for adding more visual texture to your projects. These are 100% sheep wool, and as I will explain below, that’s an important consideration.
An alternative to new wool wovens is to find and use repurposed wools. These are typically wool products such as clothing items, blankets, sweaters, and the like that come from thrift stores (or unsuspecting family members. Shhh.) When choosing wool for future projects, it’s important that the fiber content be at least 80%, and 100% is best (anything less than 80% will not felt!). It is also important that the wool fibers come from sheep. While cashmeres are pretty and soft, the nature of cashmere makes it unsuitable for wool projects since the fibers will not felt the same way as sheep wool does, and fraying and other issues can occur.
In order to use this wool, though, I have to break each jacket down into pieces and then felt it for use. Keep in mind that it is not possible to use wool that has an interfacing adhered to it, so how much you get from each piece will vary due to its construction. A tighter weave is better, since an open weave may not felt up the way you want it. The nice thing about using commercial and recycled clothes is that the colors are *really* solid and uniform, so if the look of hand dye isn’t what you need right now, there is a pure solid alternative (if you can find it)
Once I have my usable pieces, I will felt it in my washing machine (which will also help remove some of that thrift store smell. Which reminds me, break things down outside if you’re worried about dust and other particulates). Felting wool can be tricky and requires a bit of attention, since you want a texture that is still nice and pliable rather than super thick and stiff. Here’s how I do it:
- like colors together (wools can bleed, especially hand dyes!), add a bit of detergent to your wash, and wash on a short hot cycle, followed by a cold rinse. The change in temperature is what helps your wool felt up.
- check how things are going, and try to keep it no longer than a 15 to 20 minute cycle.
- in the ancient world on up to the present day, wool was fulled (i.e. felted) in giant tubs with people tromping around on it or beating it with giant wooden paddles. The beating part of the process is key, and you need to make sure it happens in the wash. If you don’t have a large enough bundle of things to bump into each other in the wash, I recommend sacrificing an old pair of jeans that will provide something to beat on. It really helps
- tumble dry on hot
Threads and Notions
The options here are literally endless. Pearl Cottons! Silks! Embroidery floss! holographic thread! Poly! Hand stitching or machine! If you like the idea of pretty supplies, then maybe set a limit for yourself before you begin.
Pearl cottons are generally the most frequent threads for wool appliqué (these are by Valdani, which I really love). They come in cute little balls, and have different weights. Here I’ve got #8, which is thicker, and #12 which is thinner. These can be used for your appliqué stitches as well as embroidered details.
Aurifil also makes a beautiful wool thread on both spools and cones, called Lana Wool, which is great for machine appliqué , cross stitch and embroidery designs, and quilting.
And there are also silk threads, which add a bit of shine (these are Valdani Pearl Silks).
As with all threads, the thickness you choose to work with can have an impact on your final project. Thicker threads and threads that contrast will show up more than those that don’t.
My next post will be about getting started with projects. I would love to see what wools you choose, and the projects you’re thinking about. Tag them on Instagram or twitter using #mandaleiworks and check out my Pinterest boards for wool appliqué and embroidery! I can’t wait to get started on some projects with you!