Making Felt slippers from an old sweater/cardiganThis project resulted from a request to turn an old, but hardly worn, woollencardigan into slippers for a 40th birthday present. I did not start documenting ituntil I was part way into the project, so there are no photos of the originalsweater.I welcome feedback on the project, and constructive comments about how thepresentation might be improved.Step 1Getting all the requirements togetherAcquire a 100% woollen sweater/cardigan or similar knitted garmentpreferably made from 10 ply or chunky yarn. The garment I used was 10 plyfair isle knitting, so quite thick, making it a particularly suitable starting point.I see no reason why cabled kitting wouldn’t work, but you would have to becareful where you placed any thick knobbly textures, specifically not under thefoot. I think non-knitted 100% wool fabric of sufficient thickness would also besuitable, as we finish up with thick felt, and ability to stretch is not required.The larger the original garment, the more flexibility there will be for decidingwhat knitted designs to include/exclude. The cardigan I used had been knittedfor a large man, and I was able to get a slipper out of each sleeve, whichmade pattern matching easy, and left the rest of the garment for otherprojects.You will also need a pair of flat shoes (trainers are great - even better if theycome with insoles). I found the shaped, support-type of insoles wereexcellent, because when they were slipped into the finished slippers theygave the slippers an improved degree of firmness and shape which made iteasier to take them on and off.
You will also need:A piece of old sheeting or similar cloth, from which to make a pattern. Papermight also work, but cloth is easier to fold around the foot.A soft pencil, felt pen or other method of marking the pattern cloth.100% wool yarn of an appropriate colour (to match the sweater). I used adouble strand of 4 ply knitting yarn.A washing machine preferably with a hot wash and cold rinse cycle. Spin-drying is an added bonus.Hand soap, lux flakes, or whatever you like to felt with. I like a dispensingbottle of liquid soap, as it makes it easy to squirt out small amounts asneeded.A ribbed felting board – I use the plastic tray that goes under my dishdrainer rack (yes, I still wash my dishes by hand!!)Pair of sharp strong scissors to cut the felted knitting, and something tounpick the garment seams at the start.Large strong sewing needle that can be used with your choice of yarn forsewing up. It helps if it has a sharp point to puncture the felt easily.A general purpose felting needle. I used a peach WIZPICK needle.A few sewing pins.If you want soles, a piece of thick flat felt large enough to cut out two soles,or merino sliver or batt (150 - 200 g should be sufficient) to make a piece ofthick flat felt from.Time! Though it doesn’t have to be done in one episode. I probably spent thebest part of two days total, but 4 hrs of this was sewing the soles on while I“watched” TV, and some of it was spent taking photos.Step 2Turning garment into flat knitted fabricUnpick the garment seams to create individual pieces of flat knitted fabric.Step 3Making the Pieces of fabric into feltSet the washing machine to a hot wash/cold rinse cycle. I use a lowvolume/small wash choice as it gives greater force to the agitation and feltsfaster. Add whatever soap you are using for felting, and allow machine to fillwith water. Place the pieces of fabric in the washing machine, and continuewith the wash cycle.
I do not put the knitted fabric before the water, because of the added feltingaction of having the hot water falling on only some parts of the fabric. I amaiming for consistent felting and shrinkage.Stop machine and check for felting progress every few minutes. You areaiming for a firm felt (which may still has a small amount of stretch), wheremost of the shrinkage has already occurred, although knitting stitches are stillvisible. I kept resetting the cycle so the machine did not get rid of the hotsoapy water. The machine agitated for about 15 – 20 minutes total, but theamount of agitation needed is likely to vary widely, so check frequently.When you are happy with the degree of felting, continue the cycle to rinse outthe soap and spin-dry the felt.Step 4Making the patternI don’t have a foolproof technique for this. I can only tell you what I did. Thegood news is that small mistakes can be accommodated during the handfelting process. If in doubt error on the side of a little too big, because you canalways felt a bit more to shrink in size.Put your flat-soled shoe in the middle of the cloth you are using to make thepattern. Draw the cloth up in both sides of the front part of the foot to meet ina line running down the middle of the foot.Pin a seam along this central line from the top of the arch, over the toe andback along the centre sole of the foot to approximately the base of the toes.Pin another seam up the back of the heal, and along the underside of theheal. Taper both pinned seams off to nothing (like a dressmaking dart) on thesole so there is no bunching of the cloth.Draw a line from the top of the arch to the back seam on both sides of theankle that reflects the shape you want for the opening of the slipper. Myslippers were low cut (Croc – style) as requested by the customer, but youcould make them higher like a normal shoe, or anywhere in betweendepending on what you wanted in the finished slipper, and also to fit thepieces of felted fabric you have to work with.While the cloth is still pinned around the shoe, draw a line on the cloth on bothsides of the seam (on the left and right of the seams). Do not leave a seamallowance, because the slipper seam will abut the felt edges, not overlapthem.Take out the pins and remove the cloth from the shoe. Smooth any lines ifnecessary, and cut out the cloth pattern. Mark one side of the pattern cloth“top”.
Step 5Cutting out the felt slipper piecesLay out the felted sweater pieces of fabric (use an iron to press flat ifnecessary). Keep any felted yarn ends for needle felting in step 9.Lay the pattern cloth on top with “Top” facing up. Now you need to findanother piece or area of felted fabric upon which you can lay the cloth patternupside down.If there are stripes or other defining patterns in the felted fabric, make sure thepatterns meet up along the seams in an acceptable way. Also, make sure thatthe stripes/pattern are in the same position on both slippers, so they look likea pair when finished.If your pattern cloth will fit onto sleeves it is fairly simple to match stripes etc,for consistency. If not you may be able to make two sides of a cardigan work,but check how any pattern will meet on the font seam in particular. You mayfind that the front and back of a sweater match well. If none of these optionswork, you may have to accept unmatched patterns in your slippers.Pin the pattern cloth to the felted fabric and carefully cut around it. Flip thecloth over before pinning and cutting out the second slipper.You will end up with two pieces of felted fabric, each looking like this.
Each piece makes one slipper.To make the toe of the slipper more rounded, round the points (on left inphoto) a little more. The point can also be reduced by hand felting in step 7and needle felting in step 9.Step 6Sewing up the slippersUsing a strong 100% wool yarn of an appropriate colour, and the sewingneedle, stitch the front and back seams. Abut the felt edges and stitch overand over, taking the stiches about ¼ inch (6 mm) into the felt fabric on eachside of the seam.
Don’t worry about the stitches showing at this point (that can be fixed later).The aim is to get a strong and firm join between the two abutting edges.Step 7Felting the seams and shrinking the slipper to fitWorking on one slipper at a time, immerse it in warm water until it iscompletely saturated. Add a little soap and begin felting. This should be avigorous process. Put your hand into the slipper and rub on a smooth butuneven surface, such as a dish rack draining tray, old-fashioned washboardor coarse bubble wrap. Of course, if you have a felting board it would be ideal!This process should result in a little more shrinkage that will accommodate thefullness caused by making the pattern go around the outside of the shoe, butcheck for size reduction beyond this, and stop if the slippers will become toosmall. Remember to test size according to how you want to wear the slippers– with or without socks or stockings. If you have insoles, you can shrink theslippers to fit the insoles.Whatever you do, make sure you shrink both slippers by the same amount!If you are concerned about the strength of the seam, use a little merino sliverand felt it across the seam on the inside of the slipper. Use a felting needle ifthere is difficulty in making it stick to the slipper felt. I did not think this wasnecessary, so did not do it in the slippers I made.Step 8Finishing the openingA firm band around the opening will help the slipper keep its shape, make iteasier to take on and off, as well as being easier to walk in. For my slippers Iwas able to use the band that went around the front opening of the cardigan,and which was felted along with the other pieces of knitting. Alternatively youmay be able to use welts cut off the bottom of sleeves or body of the sweater,or other strips of felted knitting cut from the felted sweater pieces.
Make the band slightly shorter than the finished opening size, to ensure theslipper fits snugly and to accommodate any stretch due to wear. Pin the bandover the felt edge of the opening, and ease the felt edge into the length of theband. Pin, then stitch in place using the wool yarn. Hand felt the band to ahard felt to ensure it is firmly attached and that it isn’t going to stretch out ofshape.Step 9Hiding the seam stitchingCut small lengths of the appropriate colour of felted yarn from the felted knitfabric and needle felt over the seam junction and stitches to hide the join.Additional needle felting in a sideways direction will also help blur the seamline and fill any small gaps where the edges have not felted together properly.
Step 10Adding the soleA separate sole can be added to give more padding and better insulation fromcold floors. It could also be replaced when it wears through, thus extendingthe life of the slippers.I used 7 layers of merino to make a thick solid piece of flat felt large enough tocut two soles out of. You could also consider making felt insoles if you don’thave commercial insoles.Use the insole as a pattern or make a pattern up to fit the slipper. Pin thepattern onto the sole felt and cut out. Remember to flip the pattern over beforecutting out the second sole.Pin the sole to the slipper, making sure that you put the right sole on the rightslipper and left sole on the left slipper, if in fact you can still see a differencebetween the shape of the left and right slipper! (I couldn’t). Use the needleand wool yarn to stitch the sole firmly to the bottom of each slipper. I used aclosely-spaced blanket stitch.Step 11Finish the slippersAttach bows, buttons or any other embellishments you’d like to add to finishmaking the slippers.Insert the insoles.
Your slippers are now ready to wear.If they are intended as a gift, try finding a shoebox of the appropriate size, linewith tissue paper and pop the slippers into their nest for a real unwrappingsurprise. You could even decorate the box for that special person.