How to Sew Felted Wool Slippers Out of an Old Sweater
I’ve never been much of a slippers person. Usually in the winter I go around barefoot in the house because I’m in danger of being too warm, not too cold. However, there have been a few cold days so far this winter where the house has felt rather chilly and I’ve been trying to bundle up rather than turn up the thermostat. I don’t have any super warm socks, so I decided that the next item I would make would be some felted wool slippers out of a sweater. So far I’ve made mittens, a beret, and some baby boots and shoes, so it follows that the next item to make would be slippers.
I actually ended up making five pairs of felted wool slippers, so the technique was pretty well perfected by the time I got to this pair. I didn’t love how my first attempt turned out, so my sister took that pair. Then I made a pair for my mom. Then I attempted another pair for myself, but they ended up too small, so I donated them to the women’s shelter. Then I made a pair for my brother-in-law. Finally I made this pair and, after all that practice, they turned out pretty nice.
I estimate that they took about 1-2 hours to sew, so they are a relatively quick afternoon project. (Not including the time to felt the wool) If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for someone, then these would be the perfect handmade option!
To Make Your Own Felted Wool Slippers, You Will Need:
- A 100% old wool sweater. Make sure it is real wool content, so it will felt for you. I know you can also use blends that have a high wool content, but I’ve never done that myself, so am not sure whether they felt differently or not.
- Needle & thread/ sewing machine
- Button to cover, or a decorative button of your choice
- Elastic to make the slipper fit tighter around the ankle, optional
The first step is to felt your wool if it isn’t already. You can put it in your washing machine on hot, with a bit of detergent and then wash as normal. If you put in a few sweaters, they will felt faster, because of the agitation. Check your wool once washed, and see if it is felted enough- if not you can repeat the process until it is. Then let it dry.
I would not recommend that you take a perfectly good wool sweater and felt it, because it always seems like a waste to cut up something in good shape that someone could actually wear the way it is. However, there are so many wool sweaters in thrift shops that are no longer in good condition. Whether it’s due to the previous owner accidentally shrinking them, or they are full of moth holes and runs, the thrift shops are full of them. This project is a perfect way to recycle and refashion those sweaters that are completely ruined and useless into something new! I’m using a green boiled wool coat and the binding from a grey cardigan.
To make your pattern, trace your foot and then round out the curve. You can make a “left” and “right” sole if you’d like, but it isn’t really necessary because the wool will mold to your foot. You can make one pattern piece with 1/2″ seam allowances and one without, or you can simply trace the pattern piece, adding the seam allowances on your fabric. My sole pattern piece measures 3.75″ wide by 9″ long.
The slipper top pattern is shaped like a “U”. Measure across your foot at the widest part and draw a semi-circle with that width. My foot is 5.5″, so my pattern piece is 6.5″ across with seam allowances. For length, I made it the same as my sole, plus 1/2″ for seam allowance (finished length 10″). You can double check the measurements of the outside edge of the piece with the outside of the sole. This isn’t super exact and the wool is a rather forgiving material to experiment with (if you make it a bit too long, you can always shorten it). Make the “U” cutout inside the semi-circle piece the width of the opening you want for your foot. Or, measure how high up your foot you want your slipper sides to be, and make your “U” in those dimensions. My upper pattern piece measures 10″ long and 6.5″ across. The cutout inside measures 5.25″ long by 1.25″ across. I’m a size 8.5 for reference. These dimensions include a 1/2″ seam allowance around the outer edge of the upper pattern piece. (For the pair I made my brother-in-law I added an inch to the length of the sole and then replicated that length onto the top piece.) Also note, I angled the back edge a little bit so it would slope into the heel.
Cut 1 upper piece for each slipper.
I’m sure you could make the slipper soles with one layer, but I did two layers of wool for extra warmth. Cut 2 insoles using your pattern with no seam allowance added. Cut 2 outer soles with the seam allowance added- see the picture below.
Felted wool doesn’t have a grain, so you can cut your pieces wherever they fit.
Place your insoles (the grey pieces) on top of your outer soles (the green pieces), smooth them flat and pin around the edge. Using a zig zag setting, stitch the two pieces flat around the edge to create one piece.
Next, stitch the top heel ends together. I lapped mine rather than using a normal seam, so as to reduce bulk.
Now take your top piece, and pin it to the sole, easing the fabric around to distribute the bulk. Make sure that the right sides are pinned together: this means that your insole is facing outward. I made my mom’s with the smaller insole on the outside, but I think they look better with that raw edge flipped to the inside of the slipper.
Once you’ve pinned the life out of them, sew around the edge with a zigzag stitch, following the edge of your insole. (I realized when looking at these photos that I added a 1/2″ seam allowance to the pattern, but sewed my seam at only 3/8″. It turned out OK though.)
Turn the slipper inside out and try them on to see how they fit. If they fit well, then you can grade the seam a bit to reduce bulk.
If the slippers fit well as they are, depending on the thickness of your wool, you might be able to finish the slippers off at this point with a blanket stitch along the top edge. If they are too loose to leave like that, then you can move on to the next step which is adding a cuff to the top.
I cut the binding off of the collar of a sweater to create a cuff at the top of my slippers. You can also use the hem of a sweater. (I used all of the hems we had on the other slippers, so all I had left was this one grey piece!) Cut the binding piece 1-2″ smaller than the opening of the slipper.
Stitch the ends of the binding together to form a loop.
Next, with right sides together, pin around the top edge and stitch the binding to the slipper top.
Then, fold the seams to the inside and pin it liberally! (If you think that you will want elastic around the top, you can add it now, which is a bit tricky, or you can thread it through at the end like I did.)
Now, for the trickiest part of the process, from the inside, stitch the pieces “in the ditch” or slightly onto the top slipper piece. This is hard to describe, but if you look at the photo, it should make sense. If your binding has a finished edge, you don’t have to fold your seam under, which makes this step a bit easier. However, my binding was a cut edge and I didn’t have enough length to felt it, so I decided to fold the edge under for neatness. I probably could have left it raw, but this worked out OK.
It isn’t perfect in all places, and the stitches show through on part of the cuff on the front of the slipper, (it must have shifted during sewing) but it is sturdy. And as my brother says, quoting one of the creators he follows, “It’s not just good, it’s good enough.” I’ve been trying to embrace that philosophy a bit more in my projects. I tend to be a perfectionist, but sometimes that means that projects don’t get done. I’d much rather that there are a few stitches showing, but I have usable slippers, than a pile of unused felted wool in a basket on my shelf.
Once I put the slippers on, I realized that the cuff was a bit too loose for my foot. While I could have tried wetting the slippers and shrinking them a little bit, I was afraid that they’d end up too small again, so I decided to instead add a small piece of elastic to the top of each slipper. I cut two pieces of this small round elastic, and then threaded them through the top of the slipper. I simply sewed the ends of the elastic together and then hid the end inside the seam.
Then for the final step, because this sweater had all these cute embroidered buttons, I decided to add one to the top of each slipper, just for fun!
And there are my cozy warm felted wool slippers perfect for the cold days this winter! Of course we only had a few really cold days since I’ve made them, but I’ll be ready for the next cold snap! They’ll be perfect for Christmas morning too.
I’m really enjoying making projects out of felted wool; it’s such a great way to use up old sweaters. We’ve had a bin of sweaters for years, and making all of these actually used up quite a bit of them- what will I do when they’re gone!?
Are you a slippers person? Do you think you’ll try making your own felted wool slippers? What project should I make next out of the wool? What other projects have you made with felted sweaters?