Recycled Fabric Samples – Quarter 1 Challenge 2022

Recycled Fabric Samples – Quarter 1 Challenge 2022

Lyn and Annie have set us a lovely Q1 challenge of sampling ways of recycling fabric.  They showed a great variety of fabulous techniques in their blog

In this post I will show you some wet felted samples I’ve made in response to the challenge, and my thoughts so far on what I might do next.

The quarterly challenges are supposed to push our boundaries.  At first glimpse, I do this all the time. I rarely write a blog without using charity-shop bought fabric and bashing on about how much I love using recycled materials, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat for me? Well, maybe.  But while I scour the local charity shops for silk scarves or old lace for nuno felting, I also pick up some second-hand fabrics asking myself – ‘what would happen if I tried to felt that?’ Although my intentions are good, I often don’t get round to trying out the more unusual fabrics. So, I decided I’d use the Q1 challenge to dig out a few second-hand fabrics I’ve bought in the past but not used and make some samples.

I like the colours and am interested to see what happens to the texture.  As you can see, the background is quite sheer.

First I cut a square, based on the width of the scarf. I laid out 2 fairly thick, even layers of midnight blue merino at right angles on the back.

Here’s the final sample. Shrinkage was about 50%

It’s interesting how much the velvet has been integrated into the felt.  I’d expected more texture. I like the result but immediately wonder how it would look with a lighter colour wool behind it. Maybe I would be able to see more of the original velvet’s pattern? Ideas for a future sample.

Next up is a black and silver sequin dress. I bought this because I like the way the sequins are distributed on the backing fabric: not packed very tightly and not widely spaced. Also, I like the way the black and silver sort of drip into each other.

Sequin dress bought in a charity shop

I cut a 20 x 20 cm square: I like this size as it’s big enough to see what happens and small enough to felt reasonably quickly.  It also leaves enough of the original fabric if you decide you want to make something from it. I laid 2 fairly thick but even layers of black merino on the back and wet felted.

I achieved about 45% shrinkage. I liked the result and started to think about how I could use this fabric – more of which later.

Here’s a second velvet scarf I wanted to have a go with

Unlike my first velvet sample, the background didn’t integrate so readily into the wool, so sat more on the surface. Maybe that was predictable as the background was less sheer but for me it highlights the value of making samples – you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get until you try it. Especially as my charity shop fabrics rarely have labels telling me what they’re made of. I like the texture: maybe this would work well to represent an animal. Shrinkage was about 45%

Sample 4 was a light pink fade-dyed silk scarf with lurex stripes.  I used 2 thin, even layers of natural white merino on the back.

Final sample: from square to rectangle

One of the most striking things was how much more it shrank in one direction than the other (about 45% in one direction, 30% in the other). The ripple of the lurex also gave great texture.

I could have fulled this harder but decided to stop. I wondered whether the uneven shrinkage was just because of the lurex stripes, but looking again at the original fabric I saw that the silk was much more densely woven in the direction of the stripes rather than at right angles to them. When wet felting, the more dense things are, the less they tend to shrink. I think this would make some fabulous fairy wings maybe. Alas I have no call for fairy wings at the moment. Put that on the back burner for a future venture.

Sample 5 is a section of a loosely woven silk fabric with a distinctive pattern.  I wondered what would happen to the motifs.

Shrinkage was 40%. Given it is loosely woven, I was surprised by the amount of ruching. The fibres retained a nice sheen.  I regretted my choice of natural white wool for this one.  I wished I’d used a turquoise blue or maybe tried 2 different colours to test how to show up the silk’s colours. I’ll put this in the samples box and maybe I’ll come back to this another time.

Sample 6 – I found this scarf particularly intriguing. Clearly a woven fabric but no information about the materials.  The weave made the fabric very stretchy but the threads themselves had almost no stretch in them. I thought maybe cotton or linen. Using the same method I went for 2 fairly thin layers of undyed white merino on the back. 

It was a bit tricky to decide how much to stretch out the fabric when laying it out so I ended up with a slightly larger sample than the others. Also, I don’t have an iron in the studio so I wet the particularly creased sections to help flatten them.

Blue woven scarf final sample

Shrinkage was 45%. I really like the texture here.  Maybe I will use this when creating waves / sea water in a future wet felted coastal picture. I could lay it out in wavy lines with dark blue or pewter-coloured wool.

A small aside.  Why do I keep talking about shrinkage? I’ve been felting for over 10 years now but it took me a long time to understand how to full felt properly.  It’s very tempting to stop fulling when you get to about 25% or 30% shrinkage. And for some things, like pictures behind glass, that may be OK. But in my experience, the more you full things the better the quality, strength, appearance and durability of felt.  And the best way of checking how well you’ve fulled or felted something is to aim for a high shrinkage rate. 

Sample 7 – a silk scarf with a dense feather pattern.  I was interested to see what would happen to the pattern when felted. I put silk on both sides, with wool sandwiched in between.

I wasn’t sure about the white wool but think the silk has potential to represent something like lichen in a felt picture or sculpture – maybe using sage green wool. Or maybe marble? I cut this sample into strips to make bookmarks.

OK.  These are the seven samples I made specifically for the Q1 challenge.  The next question for me is ‘so what?’

I’ve included some thoughts on what I could make next with these fabrics. I decided to investigate further the potential of the sequin fabric.  I tried some 3D drop-shaped pieces, using a resist with the sequin fabric inside.  The first has potential for earrings, though I need to think about the earring fixings.  Or maybe part of a neck piece.

The second is a prototype for 2022 Christmas decorations. I think this has potential but I would include more colour and maybe texture in the outside. Also, I must remember to mark the front as I couldn’t tell which side to cut into. It’s difficult to see the scale in the photos – the earrings are 7cm top to bottom and the decoration 11cm.

Here are a couple of fabrics I’ve sampled in the past and how I’ve learned from the samples to make things – in this case plant holders.

This was a loosely knitted shawl.  I made a sample and loved the mossy look of it. In the sample-making process I cut off the ribbed edge and included it in this plant pot holder, to give a textured band.

Here’s another charity shop scarf that I incorporate into plant holders

Final thoughts:

  • re-using, recycling or up-cycling are not just good, eco-friendly ideas but can be really fun and give unique results.
  • small samples are fairly quick to make but give you loads of information about how fabrics will felt or work with other processes
  • making samples is a great way of sparking ideas about future projects
  • make sure you full wet felting really well
  • keep your samples as you never know when the learning and ideas might come in useful

The Q1 challenge is not just about felt-making: it’s about different ways of recycling fabric.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer with samples – just lots of things to learn. Do join in by posting your recycled fabric samples on the forum.

25 thoughts on “Recycled Fabric Samples – Quarter 1 Challenge 2022

  1. Wow! You’ve really demonstrated the wonder and usefulness of experimental sampling.

    The experiment with the sequin fabric has resulted in two great projects – the earrings and decoration are both lovely (I hope you can find another sequinned dress!). People are going to be amazed thinking that you stitched all those sequins in place yet they can’t see any stitches!

    The pot cover does look good with its textured mossy band and the pod shaped plant holders are very attractive too – what colour wool did you use with that scarf?

    And hey presto – one sample came into immediate use as bookmarks!

    Sample 5 looks like sunset over the shore.

    You have the ‘what if’ before you make the samples, but you also have the ‘what if’ after making the samples.

    Those textures would look good in felted art and now that you have the samples to keep with the fabric, you’re one step ahead in the planning of future pictures.

    1. Many thanks for your comments, Lyn. I have to admit, sequin dresses aren’t really my thing so I was very happy to sacrifice this one to the felting gods.

      For the green mohair shawl I used a similar green wool as I thought it helped focus on the texture.

      You’re right about sample 5 – I hadn’t seen that before.

      And yes, there’s always a ‘what if…’ – how will it felt and what can I then do with it? Lots of fun.

  2. Wow Lindsay, you have been busy sampling with great results. It is interesting how much the velvet got “eaten” by the wool. I would have expected to see more of the pattern than the result. The sequined ornaments seem like they would be really popular. I am not much into sequins either but that looks very holiday and I like the plain white exterior with the shiny interior as it gives a nice contrast. The feather bookmarks are also really interesting as the “spines” of the feather still show and remind me of a topographical map. I agree with Lyn that number 5 does look like a landscape. I look forward to seeing how you take these experiments further into your finished work.

  3. Gosh you have been busy Linsday! What fabulous results too. Every one of these fabrics have been transformed and suddenly show such potential for a new life. I am trying to choose a favourite … it is really difficult although I do love the velvet but also the sequins or perhaps the mohair. Look I give up, they are all just plain gorgeous! Full marks on a completed challenge. Looking forward to seeing them incorporated into your work. Excellent forward planning for Christmas 2022 too!

    1. Thanks very much Helene. Very kind of you. It took me a long while to understand why making samples was a good investment and not a bit of a waste of valuable felting time. I’m a fairly patient felt-maker in that I appreciate taking my time to make something but I’m always impatient to crack on with the make. So I didn’t initially appreciate that spending time trying things out first was quicker than plunging in and hoping for the best.

  4. What great projects and samples!. The piece that surprised me the most was with the sequins.

    1. Thank you Lillian. I think I was lucky to find sequin fabric that had quite a lot of space between the sequins. I’m not sure how very dense sequined fabric would felt…..maybe an experiment for another time.

  5. I really like these samples, and you’re right, a good amount of shrinkage means the end project will be sturdier. I wish I’d known this a few years ago!

    I’ll confess I lusted after those plant holders 🙂

    1. Thank you, Leonor. I’m glad you like the plant holders. I start with the plant and sort of ask it (not out loud of course!) what kind of home it would like. Sometimes they somewhat ungratefully outgrow their space but the plants I choose are usually pretty slow-growing and appreciate benign neglect!

  6. Lindsay,
    I love seeing all your samples, and the magical results of felting. As someone rather new to the world of Nuno felting, your samples make me think of all the possibilities I have waiting for me in my stash of things. I think my favorite sample is the loose woven silk piece (#5). The way the fabric ruches up, turns it into a frame worthy piece of art, or a background for things to come. One thing I am learning from this beautiful group of artisan’s, is to let go of my compulsion, that things must be perfectly known before trying! I need to embrace Auntie Mame’s (Rosalind Russell) motto to “live, Live, LIVE!”


    1. Thanks very much Capi. I really only learned to embrace making samples from others on the Felting & Fiber Studio: it took me a while to understand that it is more wasteful to dive into a bigger project without making a sample than to start small with a sample and understand what results you are likely to get. I find this particularly true for nuno felting. Fabrics do often surprise me in how they felt. Hope this courage’s you to try felting some of your fabrics.

  7. Great samples Lindsay. I love them all but the plant pots at the end are just so perfect for the plants they house. I am much more likely to make samples now than I was at the beginning too. I didn’t want to waste a single fibre a sample I couldn’t use. I need to reorganize my fabrics. I think maybe smaller bins with less in them so I can see them better.

    1. Thank you, Ann. I hear you on sorting fabrics into smaller boxes. I have 2 large flip lid bins full of (mainly silk) fabric. One is labelled ‘natural, neutral & pale’ & the other ‘dark, bright & high contrast’. The classifications are ok as far as they go but it would be much easier to see what I have if they were in smaller boxes with narrower descriptions.

  8. Lindsay, I’m late to the party but can only echo all the comments above….brilliant samples & the pots, particularly the blue, are gorgeous.

    Samples are important & like you it took me a while to get my head around them. Have you noticed any difference using higher/lower micron fibres? Another whole set of samples!

    You only have 2 large boxes? I have 4 such large boxes, organised into colour groups. I won’t mention the other box (granted it is smaller) with sequinned fabrics….you are ahead of me on that front. X

    1. Ha, ha, thank you, Antje. I have 2 huge flip top containers full of (mostly) silk plus, I admit, one other plastic box marked ‘fabric’ which is not silk and a little label on another box that includes among other things ‘fabric overspill’ – which could be anything that doesn’t fit in the fabric box! I try not to buy non-silk fabric, or more precisely fabric I don’t think will wet felt, (though I’m often tempted) as I don’t generally sew and so it doesn’t get used. This is beginning to sound like ‘confessions of a hoarder’!

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