Monday, March 3, 2014

From Old Sweater to Trendy Handbag

I'm jumping onto the bandwagon of recycling old wool sweaters into felt, and here is my first project:

Felted wool purse, with a leather strap and floral print lining.
My friend Sherrie hooked me up with the Salvation Army store about five miles from my house, where every Wednesday is "Half-Price Day."  So the $3.99 sweaters I found there cost me just two bucks each!  (It's also been a gold mine of leather that I'm recycling into other things...and just wait until you see my latest t-shirt quilt project, made from 50 cent tees!)

The key to felting sweaters is to be absolutely sure they are 100 percent wool -- no nylon, no acrylic, no rabbit fur, no cotton -- just 100 percent wool.  Garments are required to be labeled with the content of the fabric, but if you happen to come across one that isn't labeled, leave it on the rack.  It isn't worth your time or money.  Brands like LLBean, Land's End and Woolrich make wool sweaters, but always check the label. Crew necks and cardigan sweaters will yield the most felted wool...don't forget to look in the men's department for larger sizes!

Some sweaters will felt quicker than others but overall, it's an easy process.  Set your top-loading* washing machine to the hottest water temperature and add about 1/4 cup of inexpensive shampoo or laundry soap like Ivory Snow (but not detergent).  Use a long wash cycle; when finished, throw the sweater into the dryer on high heat until it is just damp.  Check and see if it is sufficiently felted -- shrunken to about half its original size and the fabric is about 1/4" thick.  If not, repeat the wash and dry cycle one (or two) more times.  Remove it from the dryer while it is still damp, pat it flat, and allow it to finish air drying.  (*I tried this in my front-loading washer, it is didn't do well, so I made a run to the local laundromat.  The agitator is the key to felting.)

When the sweater is completely dry, cut it apart along the seams.  Then it's ready to turn into something fun!
The sleeves, cut apart along the seam lines.
This handbag pattern was in Sewing Basket Fun, edited by Barbara Weiland (House of White Birches, 2005).  Designer Lucy Gray made the pattern 12" by 7.5", but I enlarged it a bit to 14" by 8.5".  I cut a rectangle that size from pattern material and rounded the four corners for the purse back/flap piece.  I needed a gusset strip 3" wide by 21" long, but had to piece it because I didn't have a long enough piece of fabric.  After cutting those pieces, I folded the back/flap pattern in half to cut a purse front (7" by 8.5").
The purse pieces, cut from felt:  one back/flap, one front and two 3" strips to make a 21" long gusset.
From a half-yard of coordinating floral print fabric, I cut out all three pieces for the lining.  With the remaining fabric, I cut three 2" wide bias strips.  I sewed them together to create one long piece, then pressed it in half and machine-stitched a single row of gathering stitches along the length.

Pressing the bias trim in half, wrong sides together.
I gathered the bias strip and pinned it into place on the inside of the flap, with about 1/2" of fabric peeking out to the right side.  I basted it in place, being careful that my stitching didn't show through on the right side of the felt.

The ruffle, pinned in place along the inside of the flap.
With wrong sides together, using a 3/8" seam allowance, I stitched the gusset to the back and front of the purse.  Because I'm using felt, I don't have to worry about the cut sides fraying, and thought having the seam allowance exposed looked cute.

Sewing 'wrong sides together' leaves the seam allowances on the outside of the purse.
I decided to add a piece of plastic canvas to the gusset inside, so the bag wouldn't be floppy and could stand on its own.  I cut it 2" wide and 20" long.

With the plastic canvas inserted into the bag, it can stand by itself.
I sewed together the lining pieces using 1/2" seam allowances, and slipped the lining inside the purse, wrong sides together, to check the fit.  I removed the lining and pressed under the raw edges all around about 1/4", so it would lie a scant 1/4" below the edges of the purse.

I slipped the lining back into the bag and pinned it all around the purse edges, then top-stitched it into place, leaving a 2" opening on the flap and around the purse top.  (Note:  the book instructions called for the lining to be hand-sewn into the purse, but I really wanted it to be secure, so I decided to top-stitch it.  If I make another, I may hand-sew it.)

I cut plastic to back the snap closures.
Now it was time to insert a magnetic snap.  After marking the center point of the flap, I marked where to cut two tiny slits in the fabric, and then slipped the 'male' part of the snap into place.  I backed it with the accompanying ring, then added a 1" x 2" piece of thin plastic, to reinforce the snap.  After bending the prongs down, I glued a piece of batting over the whole set-up.  I repeated the procedure for the 'female' side of the snap, then whip-stitched the opening in the lining closed.

Place the 'male' snap on the flap, then mark the spot for the female snap.

The directions suggest using a recycled strap taken from an old purse, but I had some dusty blue suede from a jacket I had recycled, and decided to make my own strap.  It needed to be about 30 inches long, so I sewed a few pieces together to give me the correct length, then sewed two straps, right sides together, along each side.  The strap was attached to the purse with 'D' rings.

The 1 inch wide strips of blue suede were sewn together to create a strap for the purse.  
I really loved this sweater, which was from Land's End, because even though it was made of wool, it had bright, spring-like colors in it.  The floral print, which I found at JoAnn Fabrics, coordinated perfectly.  I'm really happy with the way it turned out.  However, if you are a beginner, I'd skip the ruffle made a seemingly simple project much harder.

Happy sewing!!

1 comment:

  1. Love the purse! Be sure to bring it to ASG. See you there.