How to Make a Fulled Wool Quilt
Make your own plush fabric and turn it into a warm, sturdy quilt.
By controlling the shrinkage process, old woolen clothing or new woolen fabric can be made into fulled wool, a plush fabric that doesn't fray or stretch. The process entails pouring boiling water over the fabric in a washing machine, agitating it and drying it in a dryer. The boiling water will release a significant amount of dye from the wool, so it's recommended that you full wool in small batches one color at a time. Most washing machines can handle only about two yards of wool at a time, so cut pieces accordingly. And bear in mind if the wool you're fulling is very thin, it will take longer to shrink and you'll lose more length and width in the fulling process.
Here's how to full wool, make a quilt out of it and put the lint and scraps to use:
Materials and Tools:
medium-weight 100-percent new yardage wool or old woolen clothing
large canner kettle for boiling water
long-handled tongs and gloved pot holders
plastic bin for transferring wet wool
Orvus or Ivory Flakes laundry soap
small handheld strainer
pressing cloth (such as muslin)
washer and dryer
lightweight iron-on interfacing
10-ounce custard cup
square of muslin
1. For woolen yardage, cut off the selvages. For recycled woolen clothing, remove all buttons, cut open all seams and darts, remove all hem tape and cut around all buttonholes. Try to remove all interfacing. If some of it won't come off, it may loosen or come off in boiling water in step 5. The wool will ripple around any stabilization point.
2. Fill a sink with warm water and add one tablespoon of Orvus or Ivory Flakes. Soak the woolen yardage or clothing pieces in the water for about 30 minutes. You won't need to rinse out the wool before putting it in the washing machine.
3. Bring a large canner full of water to a boil.
4. Transfer the wet wool to the washing machine. Carefully pour enough boiling water over the wool to cover it, plus a few inches. You want the wool to agitate in as little water as possible.
5. Set the machine to agitate for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, check the wool. Don't be surprised if you have some soap-sudsing.
6. Using long-handled tongs, pull an edge of the wool out to check it. If you can pull a thread from the edge, the fabric isn't fulled yet. Set the timer for five more minutes and start the agitation again.
7. Continue checking the wool at five-minute intervals until you can no longer pull a thread from the edge. When the fabric is properly processed, the edges of the wool won't fray and you'll no longer see the woven structure of the wool.
8. Using the tongs, transfer the wool to a plastic bin. Using the small strainer, scoop as much wool lint out of the soapy water as you can. This lint shouldn't go through water pipes or a septic system, and it can be used later to make woolen pincushions. Rinse the soap out of it and set it aside.
9. Return the wet wool to the washing machine and set the machine for a cold-water rinse. You may need to rinse the wool twice. There will be a little more shrinkage during the cold rinse cycle. Check for and remove wool lint after the rinse cycle and reserve.
10. Examine the wool. At this point, it should be about ¼-inch thick. If you want it to be thicker, go through the process again. Bear in mind that thicker wool is less flexible.
11. Dry the wet wool in the dryer. Check after 30 minutes.
12. When the wool is dry, spritz a pressing cloth with water and iron it dry on top of the wool.
Making a Fulled-Wool Quilt Block
Because fulled wool is very thick, you can't use the normal right-sides-together, ¼-inch seam-allowance style of construction. Here's the basic construction sequence:
1. Cut pieces without seam allowances-cut to what will be the finished shape and size.
2. Position two pieces next to each other, edge to edge. Check that these edges match and are clean-cut. Flip both pieces over.
3. Fuse a 1¼-inch strip of lightweight iron-on interfacing to hold the two edges together. The strip of interfacing holds the pieces in place when you use machine-joining stitches. If you're planning to do hand embellishing on the blocks later, the non-woven interfacing is a little softer to stitch through.
4. Fuse pieces of the block together until the whole block is done
5. Take the whole block to your sewing machine. You'll use the machine's joining stitches to sew all the seams. Look for stitches that go equal distance to the right and left of the presser foot center. A medium-width zigzag stitch works well. Don't shorten the zigzag too much-you don't want a satin stitch. And try to plan the order of stitching so that the end of one line of stitching will be later covered by another line of stitching. If you use the zigzag stitch with invisible thread, it will sink into the nap of the fulled wool and become almost invisible.
7. Use strips of interfacing to join the blocks and rows.
Fulled wool is very sturdy and can support the weight of heavy embellishing. Embellishing techniques that work well on fulled wool include beading, silk ribbon embroidery, hand and machine embroidery, couching, buttons, charms and ribbon work.
Multiple rows of machine decorative stitching look nice, especially done in silver-lame metallic thread or variegated threads. As a general rule, you'll need slightly thicker-than-normal fibers for embellishing. Be prepared for your embellishments to sit up high on the fabric.
Obviously, you don't need a batt with a fulled-wool quilt. For backings, try cottons that are slightly heavier than quilters' cottons, such as 100-percent cotton lightweight upholstery fabrics in 60-inch widths or 9-ounce heavy flannel sheets.
Fulled-wool quilts can be machine-quilted on either a home sewing machine or a long-arm sewing machine, or you can invisibly hand-tack them. You can't quilt in the ditch, because there are no seam allowances. Pin-basting is hard to do on a fulled-wool quilt, but a tack-basting gun works fine. Binding can be either a double-layered cotton binding or a single layer of unfulled wool.
The wool lint you get during the fulling process and any small leftover pieces of fulled wool can be recycled into woolen pincushions. Here's how to do it:
1. Sort lint and leftover wool pieces by color.
3. Put ½-cup of minced wool in a blender and fill it with water.
4. Chop the wool in the blender for about 30 seconds until you no longer see individual minced pieces. You'll see clouds of colored wool fibers floating in the water. Pour the water-fiber mix through a strainer and set the wet colored wool on a plate.
5. Repeat the process for different colors until you've processed about three cups of dry minced wool.
7. Flip the cup over so the ball of wet wool is in your hand. If it sticks to the custard cup, use a spoon to get it out.
8. Cover the wet ball of wool with a square of muslin, twisting the muslin around the bottom of the ball and securing it with a rubber band.
9. Throw the ball into your dryer with a load of laundry. After one cycle squeeze the ball to see if it's still damp. If it is, return it to the dryer.
10. When the ball is totally dry, carefully peel off the muslin. Decorate the ball with beads, silk flowers, tassels, buttons or the like if you desire.