Woolen sweaters, dresses, pants, skirts, and any accessory you can think of can be spruced up with the addition of some needle-felted appliqués. The elbows on cardigans are popular to decorate, as are pockets, hems, and necklines, and with the variety of roving colors that are available, you can go absolutely wild with any hue your heart desires. This DIY project does require some time and some special equipment, but it’s a great project for a chilly weekend spent indoors.
What You’ll Need:
- Woolen clothing that you’d like to decorate
- Wool roving in whichever colors appeal to you
- 36 gauge felting needles (at least two of them, in case one breaks from overzealousness)
- A needle mat or a thick piece of foam, or even really thick/layered cardboard
- An assortment of cookie cutters in different shapes and sizes
- Masking tape
- Straight pins
- An iron
- A spray bottle with water in it
*Note: The cookie cutters will be the stencils for your felted appliqués, so whether you’d like hearts, flowers, squirrels, birds, or Star Wars characters, be sure to get cutters that you’re happy with. Besides, you can use them to make actual cookies with later, and that’s amazing.
Once you have all of your supplies, you have to determine where you’d like to place your appliqués. If you’re making elbow patches, put on your woolen sweater and use strips of tape to mark the boundaries of where the patches are going to go. It’s generally a good idea to put on the item of clothing and mark the placement you’d like anyway, as you don’t want to put in a significant amount of time and effort to decorate a piece, only to discover that you’ve attached something in a place where it’s either uncomfortable, or just looks odd.
How to Needle Felt:
Now, there are two ways to add a needle-felted applique: making them separately and then attaching them to your clothes later, or just felting directly onto your clothes. For the sake of ease, we’re going to work directly, and I’ve commandeered a hilarious woolen nightshirt from my husband’s closet to decorate.
STEP 1: Slide your foam or cardboard block inside whichever part of the garment you’ll be working on, so you keep it separate from the layer below: this prevents you from felting your sleeves shut, or melding the front and back of a sweater together.
STEP 2: Place your cookie cutter between the strips of masking tape that you’ve placed as guides, as this will be the stencil for your felted shape.
STEP 3: Tear off a few tufts of roving, and place those inside the cutter.
STEP 4: Take a look at your felting needles. Notice that they have little barbs at the ends? Those grab onto fibers and interlock them as they’re moved around, so what you need to do is to hold your needle vertically as you stab repeatedly through the roving and into the fabric below. Don’t use this as an opportunity to get any frustrations out (you don’t want to stab deeply into the mat beneath), but rather just use firm vertical stabby motions, working your way evenly around the entire stencil. Also, remember that those needles are really, really sharp, so please try to avoid stabbing yourself with them.
When it comes to felting shapes like this, I like to start from the center and work my way outward in a fan-like pattern, but that’s just my personal preference—use your best judgment. It’s also best to stab in from different angles, not just vertically.
STEP 5: Continue stabbing away at the roving until the surface is flat and even. If you find that some areas are a bit patchy, feel free to add little bits of roving and stab at them until everything’s filled in.
STEP 6: Remove the cookie cutter, and use your needle to draw in any stray fibers. If you find that some areas still look a bit thin, add a bit more roving with the stabby-stab technique you’ve undoubtedly perfected by now. If you’ve used any shape that requires any kind of facial feature, accessory, or additional color/pattern, now’s the time to add it. For eyes, you can moosh together tiny bits of roving between your fingers and then jab them into place with your needle, or you can even use a different piece of foam to jab together a specific shape, and then add that on top of your appliqués, using the needle to stab it into place.
STEP 7: Peel the garment away from the mat beneath very gently. If you take a look at the underside of the fabric, you’ll see that the roving fibers have gone all the way through and melded together.
STEP 8: Heat up your iron on its “wool” setting, then use your water-filled spray bottle to spritz a bit of water onto your newly felted patch, and iron over it gently to set it and smooth it.
Voila! You have a super-special new addition to your garment—and you put it there yourself! You can embellish it with embroidery or beads, or leave it exactly as it is, and go strutting around the neighborhood to show it off. Additionally, if you have any roving left over, you can use it to make needle-felted sculptures, toys, or holiday ornaments.
All images © the author