A Helpful Method to Begin a Blanket

Are you pondering whether to make a felted wool blanket? If you’ve been planning one for awhile, you may already have some sweaters collected. If you’ve just begun thinking about it recently, you may have gathered only a couple—or none at all.

Well, it’s nearly fall (for half the planet), which means sweaters are in resale shops around here and it’s a good time to go after them!

There are typically two things I think about when I look for sweaters. First, I consider fiber content and features. If you’d like to learn more about those, you can sign up here for my video, “Find and Choose Good Sweaters” (which will also add you to The Green Sheep email newsletter list).

Second, I need to think about combining colors. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

Here’s the very, very best question to ask when combining colors:
When you put two sweaters next to each other, DO THEY SING? Do they ask to be playmates? Do you hate to separate them?

If you answer YES, then keep those babies together. They are
going to be beautiful in a blanket!

That is an excellent place to begin. But of course, pulling in even more sweaters and their colors can become a bit complicated.

I’m not going to call you crazy if you buy up all the wonderful sweaters you can find (umm, yes, I’ve done that, more than once). But that approach can leave you overwhelmed with possibilities. Another way would be to have a few ideas in mind as you start browsing.

But where do you get ideas?

For me, it’s often from photos, lot and lots of photos. When I first began making blankets, I feasted on photos in order to learn what I liked about various color combinations.

Way back at my start in The Green Sheep, I headed to the library for books of beautiful interiors. I made color photocopies of mesmerizing color combinations for my own reference. (Unfortunately, I can no longer find the titles of these wonderful books.) The blues and gray-greens in the right-hand photo with that golden wood harp—Wow! That one is still a favorite, and I’ve not thoroughly capitalized on it (although there are echos of it in “Quiet at Last,” below).

I’ve long loved Arts & Crafts-era objects, design and colors, so I browsed those books as well, and even subscribed to a magazine for a couple of years. William Morris’ Bird upholstery on the ebony chair, below, inspired “The 70s Throw” in the pic just underneath it.

This little book, An Eye for Color, has sparked ideas for many projects. (I’ve actually mentioned it several times, initially here. It has played a part in several blankets, including “A Sunbeam to Warm You” and “Summer Nostalgia.”

Author Olga Gutierrez de la Roza organizes this book by color, populating it with photos of a wide variety of art pieces. She then pulls out several of the colors present in each and prints an accompanying “palette.”

The colors in this painting of the woman are deeper but similar to the colors in a fave photo I already showed you above. I’ll repeat it here (the one on the left). Right?? Over time I began to see patterns in what I’m drawn to.

This photo idea thing can work two directions: Method 1 starts with the PHOTOS and Method 2 starts with the SWEATERS. In Method 1, I use photos to help me dream up a complementary set of colors, and then  I look for sweaters to be part of that plan. In Method 2, I look at what sweaters I have on hand, and then use photos to get an idea of interesting combinations.

In a riff on Method 2, I also refer to photos to help me solve questions of how to mix several color hues and values in one blanket. (This is especially true when a client ships me a box of many sweaters, all destined for one custom-ordered blanket.) For the blanket that became “Happy Winter,” I started with sweaters in complementary color families—blues, purples, pinks, reds—but the mix of brights and pastels felt very choppy together. This pic below from Gutierrez’ book helped me understand how I needed to establish order and pattern to bring together the high-contrast colors smoothly. You can find the final “Happy Winter” below.

Happy Winter

A book of Hans Christian Andersen tales, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, helped me recapture a childlike freedom to play with the many, many pastel-colored sweaters that arrived in a client’s box to be put into a little girls’ bedspread. Those sweaters eventually became “Calliope’s Castle,” below.

Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color helped me understand the power of placing particular colors next to each other. I realized after-the-fact how influential the book had been, even years after working through it, when I stood back after finishing “Blessed are the Merciful,” below.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

There you have it. There are infinite resources out there, right? I encourage you to find what color combinations you like. Start anywhere! Capture and save online photos, search your bookshelves for beauty, sit in front of your favorite “picture book” section of the library and choose some print materials—magazines? art books? interior design books?  And always, always hold your sweaters next to each other and see which ones are begging to be partners. Have fun!

Where was I?

It’s Baaack!
The Felted Wool Blanket Master Class will begin October 1, 2019!
(Enrollment starts September 24)

Interested in learning more? Read all about it on the course info page here. In addition, you may sign up for updates through my email newsletter, and I’ll send you my super practical video
on how to choose sweaters for any felted wool project.

It contains footage from the Master Class so you can have a peek at my teaching style!

(Note: If you’d like to see the video but you’re already on my email list, still click the button and complete the form for video access; your address won’t be duplicated.)

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This past weekend my husband and I were sitting in this ↑ coffee shop in central Wisconsin, coffees in hand, unfamiliar (to me) top-10 music in the background. It’s nearly the end of the summer season for this little lake town, and families of multiple generations were stopping in for ice cream. The teens and preteens mouthed the words to the piped-in songs, politely stopping to answer their grandparents’ questions. Hubby and I split an Amish doughnut as the shop proprietor told us this was nearly the last weekend for them. Erik chose a chocolate one. It was airy and delicious.

I pulled out my tablet of paper, as I had set aside this time to write. I’ve been pretty quiet here at The Green Sheep blog, and I thought I ought to explain.

Something internal happened to me this past year. I found I put it differently as the months went on. First I said, “I feel flat, like something died in me.” Or, “The bottom just fell out of me. I miss myself.” My intense joy in blanket-making was hollowed out too, and that shook me. Later I said, “I’m not sure I can face the things that need doing. Mostly I just want to go sleep.”

When I found tears popping into my eyes in just about any conversation, I made a doctor appointment.

As I began to recognize this as depression rather than just “feeling low,” I got better at making changes. I cut back on travel and on involvements. I’m getting better sleep. I sit on our deck and absorb the straight-up outdoors almost daily. I’ve revived the practice of reading fiction, something I used to do regularly.  I practice “Be still and know that I am God.” I pray, I trust. I plan little mental health breaks, I spend less time on social media. And, yes, I’ve added a tiny pill to my morning handful of supplements.

In retrospect it’s easier to see what was going on. (Always, right?!) In the language my speech therapists colleagues, I had spent all my Brain Bucks…and I was not socking away any new ones in savings. I was depleted.

But, guys, I’m delighted to tell you that the pendulum is swinging back. I’m making my first blankets in months. I’m taking my time, enjoying the pace and the process. I’m currently working on a custom order of three blankets and I’ll be sharing photos as soon as I can.

A handful of you have written over the past months, asking whether the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class will be offered soon. Your understanding and encouragement have meant a ton, even as I was honest with you about where I was. But thank you! Your hope became my impetus!

I’m still taking thing slowly, but I certainly feel the old Joanie I know and recognize has returned.

Skirt Skills

Nearly 3 months ago I began a 5-week online class to make a skirt of my own design, based on a “skirt block” which I created according to my own unique measurements (and they are unique! More on that shortly).

The class, called Skirt Skills,* is offered by Brooks Ann Camper, a custom maker of wedding wear. Essentially and amazingly, Brooks Ann is able to bring a bride’s dress from dream into reality.

She pretty much helped us newbies do the same with our simple skirts. I learned so much!

I’ve sewn many articles of clothing for myself and family members through the years, but fit has always been a bugger for me. I’ve tended toward patterns where shape is forgiving in order to compensate for my lack of…what? understanding? patience? knowledge? All of the above, really.

The process in Skirt Skills has been so interesting that I wanted to give you a glimpse into how the course worked and what I’ve gained from it. I’ll take you through the main steps chronologically.

1. The first thing we did in the course was reflect on particular skirt ideas to add to our wardrobes. I was looking for something simple for summer, straight or A-line, to wear mostly with simple knit shirts. In the back of my mind, I also was tempted to try cutting a skirt on the bias, as a particular bias skirt in Lotta Jansdotter’s book Everyday Style had caught my eye:

We then learned how to use photos to draw a custom outline of our selves. On mine, I drew some possible skirt designs. Here were my early, simple sketches:

That’s actually when my “unique measurement” problem first showed up. In the third drawing, I look like I’m leaning to my right even when I distribute my weight evenly over my feet. It turns out my left hip is higher (and fuller) than my right hip. Yikes. This affected every single step of this skirt-making project.

2. The next step involved taking lots of measurements in tights. (More than once, too, because I tried to do it alone but it’s tricky to hold the measuring tools straight and read them correctly. Things got easier once I asked my hubby for help.) I’ll share one small, humbling photo of me with elastics tied on to let you see the hip discrepancy I had to deal with. Yikes again. My crazy crooked hips throw off everything above them.

3. I took the measurements and then did a smidge of math to determine my block dimensions and to decide on dart width, length, and placement. I drew each one of those onto heavy paper for the first draft of my skirt block.

4. Next, I traced around the block to transfer all those measurements to a piece of fabric for my muslin or mock-up. (I used an old sheet after I made sure it squared up nicely). You’re seeing the mock-up here after tons of adjustments, multiple bleeding finger pricks where I pinned it closed at the side seam, and many moments of setting it aside and going to the Skirt Skills Facebook page to ask Brooks Ann yet another question. I kept adjusting until I got it to sit correctly on me.

5. Once all parts fit correctly, I transferred the changes back to my brown paper block. I then went the extra step of sewing up a second mock-up to make sure it would actually fit correctly and could be used for future patterns. Yes! It worked!

With that, I made a more permanent skirt block out of poster board, below. To accommodate my unruly hips, I chose to have all FOUR skirt pieces mapped out for my block (so there’s a separate Left Back and Left Front that’s not pictured here). If I were symmetrical, I could get away with just two pieces.

6. Shopping! I made a trip to Holland, Michigan, to visit my daughter—during Tulip Time, no less. I arrived a couple hours before she was off work in order to GO TO FIELD’S FABRICS!! I lived in Michigan for 10 years and was smitten with that store. I miss it here in Illinois.

I came home with more fabric cuts than I had intended to buy (of course), but this class has inspired me to boldly try sewing more clothing. I particularly liked this interesting and heavy blue and white cotton, very Scandinavian (I’m married to a Norwegian who loves his blues) and with an abstract hint of tulips. Well, I see tulips; I’m not sure about anyone else. I wondered if the fabric was too heavy, but what the heck! I talk all the time about being willing to experiment while making blankets, so it came naturally to me to experiment here as well.

7.  I made a pattern for an A-line skirt off of my skirt block, following Brooks Ann’s guidelines, tailoring it to my own likes as far as width, length, darts or no darts, etc. Here’s that pattern, created from a skirt block copy. I traced around all pattern pieces directly onto the fabric, adding wide seam allowances for any adjustments needed during the making of the skirt.

8. After stitching in the darts and basting up the long seams, I was at another point of decision. Pockets or no? Zipper hidden or exposed? and at which seam? I had several zippers on hand to choose from—ones I’ve cut out of wool sweaters over time. No surprise!

I nixed the pockets. The fabric was too thick and the pattern too busy to make them a good idea. And I YouTubed my way through inserting an exposed zipper for the first time. Pretty simple! Mine’s not perfect, but I don’t think its shortcomings will be too visible. I’ll just have to keep moving :).

Eleven weeks later, my custom-designed, custom-fit (by ME) skirt is finished. So cool!

I learned to use a few new sewing tools along the way: a hip curve, a needlepoint tracing wheel (I already owned one, but here is a similar one), a thimble (I tried this leather one), and new Gingher dressmaker shears.

Guys, I have never ventured into the self-drafting world before. Blocks and slopers, muslins and mock-ups—I had heard this terminology but basically ignored it because it sounded like way too much to delve into.

But it’s fascinating! My patience for re-dos does not yet quite match my desire to solve any given fitting problem before me, but it is improving. I was proud of myself for persevering through my asymmetry trials. And now that it’s behind me, I can barely remember the frustrating moments.

A HUGE shout-out to Brooks Ann Camper, her Skirt Skills course, and her patience and willingness to work with me through every single confusing thing I ran into. I’m thrilled with what I learned and understand much more how satisfying and worthwhile it is to take the time to get things right for one’s own body.

I find I can’t stop thinking about other skirt designs and what I’d have to do to my skirt block to actually form what I’m imagining. Pockets should be in my future shortly!

*This is an unsolicited review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Roundup: 15 Felted Sweater Experiments (by me!)

Writing recently about my granddaughters’ wool clothing made me reminisce about all the items I’ve played around with out of felted sweaters. Today I’ve put together a Green Sheep roundup of THINGS-THAT-AREN’T-BLANKETS. Some of them are one-offs; some of them I chose to make a batch of and sell on Etsy. I posted about nearly all of them on this blog.

(But I didn’t post about this kitty, so he’s a bonus. The pattern is not original to me, although I did adapt it for felted sweaters. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the original (a library book?) to give the designer credit. Does this little guy not look like a rodent from the back?? It would be fun to play around with the pattern and see what other animals it could become.)

Now: On to the roundup!

Here are 15 non-blanket experiments (i.e. with the exception of leggings, tunics, slippers and hooded jacket, I drew up my own patterns). The list starts with the WAY-backs, from 2010, and comes up to the present. The links go to original blog posts, most of which were pretty spare in terms of info. But there are a few more pictures. Maybe they can get your own creative juices flowing ;)

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1.  Sachets

2.  Coasters

3.  Running Leggings

4.  Draft Dodger

5.  Baby Lovies

6.  Fingerless Gloves

7.  Christmas Stockings (The prototypes. Later ones.)

8.  Ponchos

9.  Sewing Kit

10.  Sweater Coat

11.  Slippers

12.  Mittens (My first try! My next ones. Later ones.)

13.  Assymetrical Hooded Jacket

Gray jacket

14.  Vests

15.  Children’s Leggings and Tunics

These are all a lot of fun to try and to tweak. Certainly, having felted sweaters on hand gives a new dimension to gift-giving. And still? After all is said and done, making blankets is the thing I love the most ♥

Wooly Leggings and Tunics


[Credit for all the beautiful photos in this post: Grace Claus, mama of the girls]

Before winter is gone (and how I will rejoice to wave goodbye to this very long, very cold winter!) I wanted to show you how I used felted wool sweaters in Christmas gifts for our granddaughters.

My daughter was looking for some Merino wool bottoms and tops for the girls, things they could wear to play indoors or layer to be outdoors. There are lovely ready-mades for this purpose, like this and this…but my DIY nature made it hard to avoid experimenting with what I had on hand.

I first searched online for simple leggings patterns and chose Sew Can She’s pattern for the 3-year-old and Life Sew Savory’s pattern (because it had smaller sizes) for the 10-month-old. Thank you, Caroline and Emily, for such great (and free) patterns and instructions!

Next I looked for little-girl shirt patterns I already owned. In a bundle of patterns I had bought from Sew Like My Mom a year ago I discovered the Posey Tunic. This pattern includes several sleeve and hemline variations. Nice versatility! I chose long sleeves and adapted it for each granddaughter.

Unfortunately, in my haste to finish sewing and then package up the gifts before Christmas, I neglected to take photos. Recently my daughter helped me out by taking several for me. Although I love the look of an item freshly sewn and pressed, these pictures tell a better story: These clothes look like they have been happily well-used this winter!

For every one of these garments, I needed to mess around with the layout because of the repurposed aspect of this project. Pieces of felted wool sweaters turn out to be all sorts of unconventional shapes and sizes! But I measured and squeezed and pieced together in order to get everything I needed. Using sweater sleeves with their finished edges works especially well for the legs of the leggings.

Here are the leggings, with small appliqués added to the front of each pair to easily differentiate front from back—especially for a 3-year-old dressing herself.

And here are the tunics. For the 3-year-old who loves purple and pink, the closest I could find in my stash turned out to be a maroon beaded sweater with crocheted edging. A little grown up, but I picked it anyway. I love the edging. And for the little one, I found a very sweet gray and barely-pink striped cashmere. There wasn’t much of it, so I complemented it with plain gray cashmere for the sleeves and neckline.

I’m pretty certain I’ll do more of these or something similar in the future. They were relatively quick to sew and they satisfied my itch to give some handmade gifts. They also gratified my fondness for figuring out a puzzle and fitting the pieces together just right. I highly recommend all the patterns I used!

Have you tried projects out of felted wool sweaters? Big or small, it’d be interesting to hear what you’ve experimented with. Comment in the comment section below ↓↓ and proudly share your project ideas. I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with.

Class Begins!

Hello, Folks! Just a quick post to say the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class starts tomorrow! You can step right in and begin forthwith to create your own felted wool blanket. This is a great time of year to work on a blanket, as life is a little quieter than usual…plus, um, it’s cold.

Want to learn more? Go here to read all the info about the class. You can sign up there too.

(Please note: Enrollment for the class will stay open an extra week (through January 26) as I inadvertently caused a frustrating sign-up glitch when I first launched enrollment. Ugh! If you have any trouble signing up, contact me directly and I’ll help get you squared away.)