Boiled wool is not a term you hear too much anymore. More often you will hear it called "felting". Whatever you call it, the result is a thick, durable, waterproof fabric that makes the perfect winter mitten for pennies. The only time I knit mittens anymore is for the fun of it.
At our local thrift shop Wednesdays are half price days. That means that I can usually find a 100% wool sweater for about $1.50. If it is a large I can make several pairs of mittens out of it. Merino and lambs wool make for a softer end product than just plain wool, so if you have a choice go for the nice stuff (cashmere, anyone?).
The sweater choices are usually numerous. After all, no matter how well you take care of a sweater eventually it will wear out.
Making the Mittens
Nearly anyone with a sewing machine, some scissors, and the ability to trace their hand can make a pair of homemade mittens in an hour or so.
Felt, or Boil the Wool
The first thing that you will need to do is to wash the sweater in the hottest water available and then dry in a hot dryer. What you end up with is a sweater that is a miniature version of what you started with. Now you will want to cut along the seams. It won't unravel, the wool has pulled together and become very tight. You should end up with two large pieces of fabric, one from the front, and one from the back. You will also have two smaller pieces of fabric from what were the sleeves.
Make Your Pattern
Place your hand down on a piece of scrap cotton, newspaper, or anything else you can make a pattern from. Hold your fingers together and hold your thumb away from the rest of your hand for a mitten shape. Trace around your hand and thumb with a permanent marker. Be sure to trace an inch bigger so that you will have a seam allowance and wiggle room.
I use scrap fabric for the pattern because it lasts forever and I can reuse it as much as I like.
Cut Out the Mittens
If you place the bottom edge of the pattern on the bottom edge of the sweater you can use the ribbing for cuffs.
Cut out the pattern and pin it to the wool. Now, carefully cut around the pattern until the first Mitten shape is cut out. Repeat once more. We will call this shape A.
Now, flip the pattern the opposite way and cut out two mitten shapes. We will call these shape B.
You will have four shapes all together. Match one A and one B. If there are right and wrong sides to the fabric then put the right sides together.
Stitch Up the Mittens
Measure in ¾ inch from the edge of the mitten and sew from the wrist, around the thumb and fingers and back down to the wrist. Keep the bottom open so that you can put your hand in the mitten. Do the same with the other two pieces. Trim the seam to about ¼ inch and turn the mittens right side out.
Waterproofing and Care
Now, for the warmest most waterproof mittens anywhere you can soak them in water that you have added a bit of lanolin to. Squeeze the water through them gently and hang to dry. You may need to freshen up the lanolin once a season. You can find lanolin in the baby section of many stores. It is the natural oil found in wool.
When your mittens need a wash just gently hand wash them in warm water with a little baby shampoo or Castile soap. Rinse carefully and hang to dry.
An Addictive Hobby
Felted wool mittens make a wonderful gift as well as being an addictive hobby. There are so many beautiful sweaters with holes or wear that you will find yourself looking through the sweaters in thrift shops in July with an eye toward winter.
Losing mittens will now be seen as an opportunity to make more!