Donna enjoys using her arts background to create fun craft projects with a special focus on using repurposed or handy household materials.
A friend of mine recently offered me a bag of old sweaters. I was thrilled with this gift and particularly fell in love with a wool cardigan with a fair isle design around the neck in a pretty orange and greens. Sadly, the sweater didn't fit me. I was just about to put it in a bag to donate to a thrift store when I realized this pretty sweater would make a really festive felted pumpkin to display on my mantle.
There are a lot of ways to repurpose old sweaters into stuffed pumpkins. This tutorial shows you how to capture the beautiful design of your favorite sweater and reinvent it as a special fall decoration.
What Is Felting?
Felting is the process of intertwining and meshing wool fibers until they become a solid matted material. The resulting material is quite warm and resembles the pre-made felt you can buy in the fabric store. Felt material, in particular, good for crafting because you can cut it without the fabric fraying or unraveling. The felting process takes water, lubricant (usually liquid soap), and agitation. This process is quite easy and can be done in your home washing machine.
Materials for Making a Felted Pumpkin
- A sweater that is at least 70% wool—your sweater will shrink during the felting process so it is best to use a large sweater that you can cut up to make your pumpkin.
- access to a washer and dryer, and liquid washing detergent
- Some sturdy thread that matches your sweater and a larger sewing needle—I actually used clear fishing line to sew my pumpkin, which worked great!
- Old tee shirts or fiberfill to stuff your pumpkin
- Twine or yarn to make your stem
- White craft glue
- Acrylic paint (optional) to decorate your stem
- Ribbon or leaves to add to your pumpkin
How to Felt Your Sweater
- Remove any buttons or closures from your sweater. You can use these for other projects.
- Put your sweater in a large pillowcase and tie the end of the case in a knot. This is not essential, but will keep sweater lint from getting all over the inside of your washer. If you do have some lint inside your washer when you are done felting your sweater, you can just wipe it off using a damp towel.
- Set your washer to the largest load size and the hottest setting you have available. My washer only has a hot wash with a cold rinse, so that's what I used.
- Put your pillowcase in the washer with a little bit of liquid washing detergent. Use about half the amount of detergent that you would for a normal wash load.
- Run your washer and let it go through its normal wash, rinse, and spin cycle.
- Your sweater will be fully felted when you can barely see the individual stitches in the weave anymore (see photo above). If your sweater hasn't felted completely, follow Steps 1–5 again. Another way to test if your sweater is completely felted is to dry it, then try cutting the collar off. If your fabric stays whole and does not show any signs of unraveling, then you should be able to use the material to make your pumpkin.
- You can either let your felted sweater air dry (which might take many hours) or put it in the dryer for 20 to 30 minutes on high heat.
Your sweater will shrink considerably, particularly in length, during the felting process. My sweater shrunk about 5 inches all around.
Turning Your Felted Sweater into a Stuffed Pumpkin
1. Once your felted sweater is dry, lay it out and cut out the area of your sweater's design that you want to use to make your pumpkin. Leave about a 1/2 of an inch to an inch border around the area for seaming.
I wanted to use the fair isle design on my sweater for my pumpkin, so I cut out the wide area between the shoulders for my material. This area was part of the rounded neckline of my sweater that decreased in size toward the neck. This area made my finished pumpkin a little oddly shaped. If I had used more of a rectangular shape for my material, my pumpkin would have been more even and rounded overall.
Do not throw out the rest of your felted sweater! You can use this for other craft projects. I plan to make some felted Christmas crafts with the rest of my sweater.
2. Fold your fabric in half with the back side of your sweater facing out and match up your side seams.
3. Use a long piece of sturdy thread and a large needle to tightly sew your side seam from the top edge to the bottom edge. Do not cut your thread when you are done.
4. Using the same thread, make a running stitch along the bottom edge of your material. Then pull on the thread to gather the fabric to close the bottom of your pumpkin. Make a few more stitches to secure your gathers and tie off the bottom of your pumpkin. If you still have about 12 inches of thread, do not cut it off yet.
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5. Now turn your pumpkin right side out. If you still have a long piece of thread attached to your sewing needle, make a stitch through the bottom and pull it up through the center of your pumpkin to the top edge.
If your thread is not long enough, tie off your old thread. Re-thread your needle with at least 12 inches of thread, make a couple of stitches through your bottom center and bring it through your pumpkin to the top edge.
6. Now begin to stuff your pumpkin, being careful not to lose your needle and thread in the process. Stuff around your thread with fabric pieces or fiber fill to shape your pumpkin. You may want to put some small rocks or heavy scraps of fabric in the base of your pumpkin to weigh it down.
7. Once your pumpkin is stuffed, use your attached thread to make a running stitch along the top edge of your material. Do not pull it together to gather yet.
8. Now put your stuffed pumpkin aside and start making your stem.
Making a Stem for Your Stuffed Pumpkin
Below are directions for making a stem for your pumpkin from twine. If you do not want to use twine or yarn, you can use a piece of twig or some cork for your stem.
1. Cut about 8 to 10 strands of twine or yarn to make your pumpkin stem. I made each of my strand 12 inches long, but the width and length of your stem materials should be in scale with the size of your pumpkin.
2. Fold your strands in half lengthwise. Using another piece of twine or yarn, tie your grouping together about an inch from the fold (see photo above).
3. Working on a surface that can get dirty, coat your loose strands of twine or yarn with white craft glue.
4. Using your hands, spread the glue over your twine or yarn. Twist them together and begin to shape your stem. Be sure your stem is completely coated in white glue.
5. Let your stem dry completely, probably over night. Check it occasionally to make sure it is not untwisting. If needed, add more glue and reshape your stem.
Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Felted Pumpkin
1. Make sure your stem is completely dry. Then hollow out a little hole in your stuffing to insert the base of your stem into your pumpkin. You can use a little hot glue to hold it in place.
2. Now begin to put together top edge of your fabric along your running stitches to gather it around your stem. Pull tight to shape and depress the stem into your pumpkin. You can add a little hot glue to hold your gathers against your stem.
3. Tie off and cut your thread.
4. Trim any excess length off your stem if needed.
5. (Optional) I chose to paint my stem with some off-white paint to give it a worn farmhouse look. I used a dry brush to carefully apply some acrylic paint to my stem, letting some of the twine still show through.
6. Add other embellishments like ribbon, leaves, and curling vines as you wish.
© 2015 Donna Herron
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 24, 2015:
Thanks, Rachel! It's so kind of you to leave such wonderful comments. It definitely encourages me to keep crafting and posting :) Hope you are having a wonderful weekend and cooking up something delicious! Thanks again!!
Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on October 23, 2015:
Hi Donna, another clever and pretty project. You really have a gift for these crafts and the imagination to go with it. I love that sweater pumpkin, it almost looks like you could keep it right through Christmas. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to the next one.
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 22, 2015:
Hi Sally - I have another red sweater that's definitely going to be felted and turned into something else. Thanks so much for your comments! They mean a lot, especially coming from a felting expert like you :)
Donna Herron (author) from USA on October 22, 2015:
Thanks for the smile, poetryman!
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on October 22, 2015:
Hi Donna, those old sweaters sure come in useful sometimes. Love the end result, it could almost double as a Christmas decoration. Good job!
poetryman6969 on October 22, 2015:
What the well dressed pumpkin will be wearing!