Welcome to wool talk! As you can tell, I love to design wool appliqué projects. So I thought this week I would talk about the types of wool fabric you can choose to use for upcoming projects and what kind of backgrounds you can use that could add some pizzazz. We’ll also cover how to choose what type of wool to use and to prepare it if needed. Before starting a project, there is a lot to think about! So let’s get started talking about it.
Choosing a Background
Before we get to the type of wools that can be used, you need to decide on a background for a project. For my patterns, I choose to do wool appliqué on fabric backgrounds to save quilters some money. Since wool is quite a bit more expensive than fabric by the yard, it’s more cost effective to have a fabric background. It also provides an opportunity to have a pieced background to give a project an interesting dimension. Here’s one of my patterns showing that:
In Barn Dance above, the pieced two-tone tan background adds another design dimension to this wall hanging (left).
The color of the background is also another thing to think about with wool appliqué (and fabric appliqué too!) to make sure your appliqué design pops. I’ve actually started to lean towards darker or more print heavy backgrounds for wool appliqué projects because of this.
The pattern on the left, Spring Blooms, is on a lighter background than the others, however the fabric has a noticeable print to provide contrast. The pattern in the center, Life is Better, has some dimension added because of the “stripe” created by piecing two different tans for the background. Finally the pattern on the right, Stack O’ Sheep, is on a black fabric background. This is my favorite background color because I think it makes the wool design pop the most.
Choosing the Wool
Felted wool or wool felt? What are the differences in these and can you use them both interchangeably? How do you go about felting wool?
First, the difference. 100% wool is a woven textile. It is made when the wool roving is spun into thread and then the threads are woven into the piece of cloth. To turn it into felted wool, it then must be washed in hot water and dried at a high heat. The thickness and weave among these cloths can vary so you get primitive or rustic feel to a project. This wool looks the best when it is hand stitched and it is the more expensive of the two types.
Wool felt is also 100% wool but it is not a woven textile. It starts with wool roving just like the felted wool but instead of spinning it into thread, the roving is “bonded” by a process that includes heat and moisture and agitation. This causes the roving to matte together tightly to make wool felt. This wool is less expensive than felted wool. It tends to be more “uniform” looking but it’s still 100% wool! It’s less rustic looking when appliquéd because there is usually no fraying. This wool also looks good whether it is machine or hand stitched.
The pieces of wool on the left are wool felt and the pieces on the right are felted wool.
You can use them both types of wool in the same project. I have been known to use a large piece of wool felt for a bigger piece in the motif and then use felted wool for smaller pieces in the design. It’s all based on your preferences! Wool felt is not as soft and as felted wool, so a project with a lot of wool felt will feel a little stiffer. But, if it’s a wall hanging, that’s not a big deal.
Have you ever been to the thrift store and found a sweater, skirt or other wool item in a beautiful color and thought “I’d like to use that in a project?”. Well, you can! You can “felt” wool in your washing machine at home. It’s a process that takes time and practice, but you can do it. Here are the steps:
- Use a hot water wash/cold rinse setting on your washer. You’ll want to keep darks and lights separate, just like normal laundry.
- You can put the wool into an old pillowcase and tie it closed to avoid getting a washer full of wool threads.
- Add in some old towels or jeans to increase the friction during the agitation cycle. *Some people stop here and air dry their wool. They will repeat the washing cycle as many times as needed.*
- Next put the wool in a hot dryer to continue the felting process. Each piece of wool can felt differently. Repeat the wash and dry regimen as needed to get the consistency you like.
- Be sure to check each piece of wool through the felting process in the washer (and dryer if you use that step) because if it felts too much and becomes too dense, it can be ruined.
- Once the wool is dry, you can cut it into the pieces you want.
So, now with these basics, you are ready to get going on a wool appliqué project. You can choose your background fabric and wool with confidence. You can even felt it yourself! Leave me a comment below and you will be entered into a drawing for my Spring Blooms pattern!
The drawing will be on Monday, January 31st.
Happy Quilting & Stitching!