Friday, 20 May 2016

Upcycling Old Woolen Suits

Last summer, I dip dyed two cotton cushion covers in a Japanese Indigo plant vat, overestimating the strength of the remaining indigo. Hoping the washed out blue result would pass for shabby chic, beach style, I put them up for sale in Crafts by the Sea.
"No takers, then, Beaut?"  My companion, Elinor Gotland, looked up from her knitting and caught me smuggling the dusty cushions back into the house.
"Well, business has been slow for everyone.  These just need to be spruced up."

"Face it, Beaut, shop soiled or not, those cushions are as dull as tea without sugar. Speaking of which, you really should try this lemon and ginger kind."  I can't much be bothered making ordinary tea, now I've sworn off sugar.  Elinor just hates waiting for a caffeine withdrawal headache to force me toward the kettle.  She stared at the cushion covers.  "I was thinking clouds, but no, sheep with a blue rinse, that's what those blotchy tie dye patterns remind me of."
Refreshed and revitalised by my fruit tea, I positively raced upstairs to find himself's old navy winter suit.  I went through a phase of buying 100% wool jackets from charity shops, certain the fabric would be marvellous for some future project.  This ended when I discovered that deconstructing them takes an age, so much interlining, padding and double seaming shapes a man's suit that they are probably bulletproof.  When you finally peel off the woven wool surface, much of it is rigid with stiffener, ironed on to the inside. Remembering I had saved that navy suit anyway, after some rootling in more likely spots, I found it in the boiler cupboard with all the others.

Iron on backing does mean you can cut out a shape from fabric and it won't fray at the edges.  Sew it on, add a couple of cuff buttons for eyes and some art yarn to be grass and voila, Blue Ewe cushions. Celestial sheep.
Rather than stripping a jacket down, it is possible to upcycle whole sections.  The intact garments survive a washing machine wool cycle and a press with a hot iron far better than the dry clean only label suggests.  Instead of being a beast to unpick, the pockets can prove useful. This file cover, with handy pen holder, was made by wrapping the complete lower half of a brown wool jacket round a file and oversewing the top and bottom edges. Adding elastic to hold on a pencil sharpener and a rubber was overkill, such things could just as well go inside the front pocket, really. Next, a pocketed cover on a notebook, decorated with extra buttons from the button stash, then a pocket on a pencil pot.

Exhilarated by all this Putting of Saved Up Stuff to Good Use, I could hardly bear to chuck out the scraps. Sew a couple of small squares together, stuff them with waste material, needlefelt on a scrap of wool and felt the whole thing in a hot wash. Stitch a brooch pin on the back and you have a wool badge.

I went to show them to Elinor.
"Mmm, try one on then, Beaut. Oooo, Suits Ewes."
"Oh, very funny.  Just wait til you see how I have woolified my sunhat."
"Well, this hat ticks all the boxes for Chelsea Flower Show.  To be the Belle of the Great Pavilion, all you need now is a ticket."
"Actually, Elinor, I have two."


  1. I hope the second one isn't for "little ms sarcasm"?:) your entry about recycling suits reminds me of a large bag of (handwoven, but not by me) offcuts I received from a retired handweaver... have had it for years, thought of making a blanket out of it - but then came the sofa dogs, who make woollen blankets (aka handwash) a no-go... well, the bag has been here for several years; several more won't make a difference:) that happens to scavengers of all things woolly...

    1. Nope, himself and I are having two days in London. I am going to visit old haunts - the Conran shop and Daunt bookshop, eat French patisserie and visit Chelsea- a very long held wish. my mum borrowed my unused pegloom and has already made a rug for my sister from her immense cotton fabric stash. I have convinced her that my pile of men's shirts and old suits could become a unique gentlemen's outfitters style rug. Could you make curtains with your offcuts?

  2. I hope you'll have the right weather for it - dry, but not too hot would be perfect? nothing worse than having to walk with umbrella, when thousands of others do the same:(
    and no, I don't think the offcuts are large enough for this, unless I'd make patchwork curtains - not something I'd fancy:) I think some of them I might turn into bags - and I wanted to see how this fabric felts as well... has been here for several years, won't do any harm to let it "mature" for another few:)
    enjoy Chelsea!

    1. perfect weather - show blew me away, exhausted now. Sure the perfect project always materialises if you hang on to things long enough. In fact, sometimes, just after you finally threw things out.