Fun with felt

Recycle your old sweaters into seven fun felt crafts. (Alexandra Grablewski/Disney FamilyFun magazine/MCT)

Store-bought felt has long been a craft-closet staple, and no wonder: it's soft, sturdy, and inexpensive, doesn't fray, and comes in your pick of candy colors. Recently, however, more and more crafters have begun exploring the possibilities of felt by making it themselves.

The easiest way is to felt a wool sweater by shrinking it in the wash. But to really get back to basics, you can make felt from scratch, using just water, soap, and wool fibers. Here we offer seven projects that show off this versatile material.

Felting a sweater is a great way to get more life out of a favorite top that's outgrown or damaged. Use your felted sweater to make a sleeve for a hot to-go drink, or create one of our cozy bags.

For the tightest and strongest felt, use a sweater that's at least 90 percent wool. Wash it in hot water (along with a few pairs of jeans or towels for extra friction) and dry it on high heat.

Repeat, if necessary, until the fabric's weave is tight enough to be cut without fraying.

Roly-poly beads

If you can roll play dough into a ball, you can make a bead by wet-felting wool batting or roving. (Both are combed wool fibers available at yarn and craft stores, but roving comes in a thick cord.) It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the fibers to slowly tangle and shrink into a solid, tight ball. For a quick project, use one ball as the star bead of your bracelet, and use more conventional baubles for the rest.

1. To start, pull out a small tuft of wool roving or batting, about the size of a dollar bill, and roll it tightly into a ball. Wrap it with thin layers of wool, crisscrossing each layer, until the ball is about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. (After felting, this ball will be about 1/2 inch wide.)

2. Mix a couple of drops of dish soap into 2 cups of very hot tap water. Use a spoon to dip the wool ball into the hot water, until it is saturated.

3. Wait a few seconds for the wool to cool, then, working over a sink or bowl, begin gently rolling the ball between the palms of your hands. Keep the pressure light: imagine the ball is a fragile egg. (If you press too hard, the surface will wrinkle.)

After a minute or two, the wool will start to form a skin. Start slowly increasing the pressure as you roll the ball, occasionally dipping it back into the hot, soapy water. You'll know the ball is completely felted when you pinch it and it has hardly any give. Rinse the ball in cold water, then squeeze it in a towel. Set it aside to dry.

To make a bracelet, use a sharp embroidery needle to thread wool balls and small beads onto beading cord (we used Stretch Magic).

Dressed-up vase

Slip a felt "dress" over an empty plastic bottle for a vase that will rival the beauty of any bouquet.

First, trace the outline of a wide-mouth, 20-ounce plastic bottle onto a piece of paper. Draw a vase shape around it that's at least 1 inch wider (or download our template for a 20-ounce bottle at FamilyFun.com/magazine).

Cut out the template, pin it to two stacked pieces of felt, then cut around it. Seal the side edges of the vase with fabric glue, leaving the top and bottom open. Decorate the vase by adding smaller felt shapes with glue. Lay it flat to dry, then slide the vase sleeve over the plastic bottle.

Book blankets

Give a favorite book the protection it deserves with these felt book covers. Customize your cover with a notebook pocket, faux button closure, or penholder.

To make a cover, open your chosen book and measure the width and height. Add one inch to each measurement and cut out a piece of felt with those dimensions. For the inside flaps, cut two additional pieces of felt the same height as the main piece and two-thirds the width of the closed book's front cover.