Since the release of block 5 of my 2023 BOM happens to fall on my blogging day, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some wool appliqué information and tips, including a newer wool stitching video. Even if you are not participating in my 2023 BOM but love to do wool appliqué, I think you’ll get some good information from this post. So let’s get started!
First up, we need to talk about the different wool choices out there before you start a wool project. You’ve heard the terms: wool felt and felted wool. But do you know the similarities and the differences? Here’s some facts.
100% wool, also known as felted 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 them 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 is the more expensive of the two.
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 matt 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 appliqued because there is usually no fraying. This wool also looks just as good whether it is machine or hand stitched. Below are the examples of each:
The wool on the left is the 100% felted wool and the wool pieces on the right are wool felt. You can see the difference. You can use both types of wool in the same project. You can use all felted wool or use felted wool for the large pieces and mix in wool felt for smaller accents or vice versa. I have been known to use a large piece of wool felt for a background, because it’s less expensive, and then my applique motif is created with felted wool. It’s all based on what you prefer. Wool felt is not as soft as felted wool, so a project with a lot of wool felt will feel a little stiffer. But if it’s used in a wall hanging, that’s not a big deal.
If you find a a piece of wool clothing or fabric at a garage sale or thrift store and you want to add that to your stash, you can felt the wool yourself in your home washing machine. 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.
This process works best for 100% wool. If the wool piece you are felting is less than 100%, it will not felt up quite like pure wool, but even fabric that is 80 to 90% wool can work. You may have to repeat the above process until you get the result you like.
When it comes to stitching your project onto a fabric background, the first step I like to recommend is to treat the background edges with Fray Check to keep them from fraying into the seam allowances as you handle it while stitching.
This is not a required step, but I think it’s important so I do it every time I’m beginning an appliqué project.
My last thought on the background. If you decide not to use wool for the background and choose instead to use a fabric background, like I do the majority of the time, choose that background carefully. Make sure it showcases the wool you are using for the motif. A light background will be more subtle than a dark one. You can use just about any color and shade of wool. But with a dark background, you will need to make sure your wool is bright enough so it doesn’t fade into the dark background.
For example, the colors I chose for the wool flowers for the block on the left would not work so well with the black background of the block on the far right. As your background gets darker, your wool pieces need to be brighter for a good contrast.
Stitching and Threads
Finally on to stitching. First, I like to use an array of neutral threads. My preferred is Valdani perle cotton in size 8.
I like size 8 because it is a medium thickness. I think size 5 is too thick and size 12 is too thin. However, try out different sizes to see which you like the best. If you like to use embroidery floss like DMC, 3 strands of floss will mimic the thickness of size 8 perle cotton.
When you are stitching with a blanket stitch, you determine the length and distance between stitches. As far as I am concerned, there is no hard and fast rule there. But, if you want evenly spaced stitches, here is a fun tip:
Mark two lines on your thumb to guide your stitch distance.
Finally to end stitches, you can either knot the thread on the back, since these will be hidden when you put a backing on your project, or you can feed the tail of thread through the final stitches on the back as shown below:
This is what it looks like when done:
Now here are some fun stitches that can dress up your project. This first one is a crisscross pattern on wool stems:
You can also secure a stem on your project with a running stitch up the middle:
Circles on wool applique are usually stitched using the blanket stitch, but there are a few other ways to secure these. You can do a French knot in the middle of the circle with lines stitched in a way that creates a radiating pattern out from the center (photo on left) or do a pattern of French knots like in the berries on the right:
Here’s my updated stitching video for wool appliqué. I also cover points and inside corners.
2023 BOM Block 5
Now it’s time for the new block reveal. Here it is… BOM block 5:
Find PDF instructions for this block here: 2023 BOM Block 5. I will have a limited supply of wool only kits for this block for sale in my shop later today (Monday 5/15) at 5:00pm central time.
Well, that’s it for this week. Leave a comment or ask a question below and I will enter you into a drawing for my newest wool appliqué pattern, Winter Friends.
The drawing will be on Monday, May 22nd. Good luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Donna L.!**
Matti-ann Miller says
Great comments.., especially enjoyed your info re felting wool fabric.
Thanks for the tips on wool applique. I always have trouble getting those points to look nice. Great new pattern.
Donna L says
Thank you so much for the tips and tutorial. A refresher and options for stitching are always welcome!
I always enjoy your blog because of all of the valuable information. Thx.
Sharon M Aurora says
Stems and small pieces like berries are always hard for me. I like your tips for how you stitch them. That is one of the reasons I love reading your blog.
Jeanne Ebner says
Hello, I want to thank you for all the great info you share with us, I have really learned so much from your tutorials, you are so generous with your time. Take care.
Thanks for all the great tips you share! I enjoy getting these and helps me with my projects so much…
Diane Potter says
Excellent read! Thank you.
Donna S says
I love working with wool. Great tips steps on “how to”. Can I share your written tips with my quilt groups? Being of all ages, some do not have access to a computer. Been trying to encourage some to try wool applique. They always express the joy in seeing my wool work, but I feel they hesitate trying it themselves without more information. Thanks for your blog. Always enjoy reading it & often learn something new.
Hi! Yes, feel free to share my tips with your quilt group. 😁
Carol L says
Excellent wool sewing tips. Nice explanation of the difference between the two wools. Really have enjoyed doing your BOM’s. Carol L.
Tonia Smit says
I like your tutorials and blogs! Thank you!
Eileen Keane says
Thank you for the 2023 BOM! I’m beginning to love wool applique. If you use Fray Check on the edge of your background, how stiff is it when you want to join blocks together?
If you are careful to just apply a thin line along the edge, there is no stiffness. At least not that I have noticed.
Dede Snead says
Thank you, so excited for block #5.
I learned many years ago, the sometimes hard lessons in felting wool. My Dad worked in the woolen mills & we had lots of wool scraps. I especially liked your idea of marking your thumb. Thats one I will do for sure. Thanks for the blogs
I am so glad I met you at the mukgonago show. I just love all your patterns. Thanks so much for the tips.
I always look in the thrift stores for wool garments that can be used for felted wool. It is a great way to reduce the cost of my projects, especially for the bigger background pieces. I like the way you attached the berries with French knots! Thanks for all of the tips.
I love your thumb marking trick! I’ve been keeping a couple old wool sweaters for some reason… After reading your tutorial, I think I know the reason! Thank you!
Karla Larkin says
I love the marks on the thumb for measuring. Thank you for all the info. I even understand it! Lol