Monday, January 12, 2015

Thoughts on Making a Felt Vest

How I Approach Making a Felt Vest
Pat Spark  © 2015

There are many different ways to plan a felt garment.  I am a plus sized woman and to get something that I would actually wear that fits me, I prefer to do the following: 

1. I find a sewing pattern that I think would look good on me. Or I make a pattern by tracing off a garment that I have that fits me well and is made from a woven cloth since anything knit stretches too much to make a pattern for felt. I make sure to have a full pattern piece for the back and a piece for the left and right fronts. If the back pattern piece is placed on a fold, I just lay it on folded paper and cut out the full back pattern.  If the sides are straight, I usually tape the pattern pieces together at the side seam.  

A sample of a sewing pattern from Rosemary Eichorn I used to make the white felt vest below. She wrote a book on sewn mosaic vests and the patterns she used in the book were quite good for "art" vests.  (The Art of Fabric Collage: An Easy Introduction to Creative Sewing.

Unfortunately, her patterns are no longer made, but maybe you can find them on Ebay.  

Pat Spark drawing of vest

2. I cut the pattern out of an old piece of cloth (from an old sheet) and baste it together to see how it fits. 

3. I make adjustments on the cloth pattern until it fits well.  I open up the cloth pattern and make paper versions of the adjusted cloth pieces.   I can then use these pattern pieces on felt yardage and cut out the pieces and sew them together. 

Or if I want to make a seamless garment I do the following: 

4. I make a 20 Inch (50 cm) square sample using the types of textures, cloth and fiber I want to use in the final felt garment.  I carefully take before and after measurements of this sample so I can figure out the shrinkage.  Since I often lay fiber in only one direction, the resulting shrinkage will be greater in that direction and the square becomes a rectangle. 

5. Now that I know the shrinkage in each direction, 
A. I slash the paper pattern vertically and spread the pieces apart to allow for the width wise shrinkage.  I tape this altered pattern to another piece of paper and cut around it.  

Pat Spark drawing of vest II
Vertical Slashes
B. Then I slash the new paper pattern horizontally and spread the pieces apart to get the height shrinkage allowance. These pieces are then backed with more paper to stabilize them.

Pat Spark drawing of vest III
Horizontal Slashes

I redraw the pattern, smoothing out the contours. 

6. If the pattern is a simple vest with straight or slightly curved sides, I can use the back pattern piece to make a template for the seamless garment. To do this, I just use the enlarged back piece and add to the pattern at the neck, arm holes and the bottom.  I do this so I have no chance of accidentally running over the edge with some fiber and hooking together the front and back at these places.  The two overlapping fronts will be done one at a time to connect onto the back.   
Pat Spark enlarged vest pattern back

But usually, I want a more shaped garment so then I have another choice.  I make an enlarged template for each pattern piece. Then I lay out the fibers, textures, etc. using the templates as guides. I felt them down to size and sew them together.  (Or use the Embellisher - needle felting sewing machine - to attach them together.)  I usually extend the enlarged pattern pieces at the shoulder and the side seam so I can overlap the back piece and have an interesting felted edge.

Pat Spark enlarged vest pattern front

7. I haven’t tried the technique some people use which is to make each of the enlarged pieces of felt but keep the seam edges unfelted.  When the pieces are at pre-felt stage, you can overlap the unfelted seams and felt them together.  Then continue to felt the whole garment.  This looks as though it would allow a more shaped look but still be felted together instead of sewn. 

NOTE: In the following photos, the back pattern piece was extended at the side seams, to overlap the front pieces, while the front shoulders were extended to overlap the back piece.  Complicated I know, but I do this to help break up the vertical line caused by a sewn seam. Also, I LOVE irregular felted edges and don’t necessarily like straight, cut edges.

“Roses, Ruffles and Ripples, Oh My!” Felt vest by Pat Spark, © 2013.
(Textures influenced by Vilte Kazlauskaite.)

Pat Spark white felt vest
Vest from the Front

Pat Spark white felt vest from the back
Vest from the Back 

Pat Spark white felt vest from the side
Side Seam, Back Piece is Extended to Overlap the Front

Pat Spark white felt vest shoulder seam
Shoulder Seam, Front Piece is Extended to Overlap the Back
Pat Spark white felt vest
Detail of Front