My first set of dryer balls was the bumpy plastic kind that left blue streaks on the inside of the dryer. Eventually they cracked and were relegated to the recycle bin. By that time, felted wool dryer balls were making their appearance on the market. They were certainly quieter than the plastic ones, and I knew they would last longer. But they were beyond my budget so I invented my own using fabric and yarn scraps. Here I’ll show you my version so that you can make your own dryer balls for yourself or as a gift.
Tools and materials
As promised, the necessary tools are pretty basic. You will need a large-eyed needle or a bodkin or a medium size crochet hook (somewhere in the 2-4 mm range a.k.a. US sizes B-G). Scissors could also come in handy, but they aren’t absolutely necessary.
Your materials need to be 100% wool and they need to be clean. You will need yarn for the outside layer. However, the core of a dryer ball can contain woven or knit fabric scraps, yarn pieces, or even unspun roving. As long as it is clean and 100% wool, it can be used. My dryer balls have sewing scraps and bits of worn out socks in them.
Make the core
Roll your core materials up into a fairly smooth ball a little smaller than your fist. Start with the smallest pieces and roll them up in the larger pieces. Loose edges and flaps will disappear when the ball is wrapped with yarn.
Take one end of the wrapping yarn and hold it under your thumb while you hold and wrap the core. Once the yarn end has been wrapped over a few times, it will stay in place without needing to be held. (This layer will be barely visible when the ball is done so if you have some “less-preferred” yarn, use it here.
Wrap all over and around the core, working in all directions for an even layer. The wrapping should be snug but not stretched hard. If you need to add a new piece of yarn, just start it the same way you did the first one. There’s no need to tie knots.
If you used ugly yarn for the core wrapping, now is the time to switch it out for a colour you like. Keep wrapping, working smoothly and evenly. Unlike a commercially wound ball of yarn, you don’t want the strands all lined up side by side. You want a network of crisscrossing lines that are not easily disturbed. Continue wrapping until the ball is tennis ball size. Use the need;e/bodkin/crochet hook to tuck the yarn end under.
Secure it with stitches
One snag is all it would take to unwind the whole ball and leave you with a real mess in the dryer. This final layer is not just decorative. It holds the ball together. The way it looks, however, is up to you.
You can cover the ball in random stitches or design intricate patterns. Sometimes I embroider, like in this sample, but I often use a crochet hook to chain stitch instead. You can be as plain or fanciful as you like so long as when you’re done, there are no large uncovered patches left. If you can follow a piece of wrapped yarn for more than 3 cm (1″) without it being stitched down, it needs to be secured.
This step can be the most fun. It also takes the longest. You may want to start with a basic design for your first ball before you tackle a series of family portraits on the next ones. Monogrammed dryer balls make nice gifts for students moving away from home or for bridal showers. The lettering doesn’t need to be fancy to feel personal.
This technique would work to make unbreakable Christmas tree balls. Take a look at Temari balls for extreme design inspiration. Design options open up when the balls don’t have to be dryer safe.
Closely stitched balls are also ideal as baby gifts. When baby becomes toddler and starts snagging the dryer balls for play, (s)he might as well have a personalized set that doesn’t keep disappearing on laundry days. A quick surface cleaning followed by a trip through a hot dryer will take care of just about any dirt that accumulates.
These balls are not recommended as pet toys because teeth and claws would quickly expose the yarn wrapping and create a choking hazard. (I have not found this to be an issue with children because the balls are too big to fit in their mouths. Besides, the fuzzy wool is not pleasant for human chewing.)
Whether they’re for yourself or to share, dryer balls are another good way to put your scraps to good use.
An aggressive stomach bug interrupted my other projects this week. In that impatient time between too sick to care and well enough to get up, I decided that it was time to fix the holes in my blanket. All I needed was sharp scissors, a blunt needle and some scraps of yarn. Best of all, I could do the job lying down. In this post I’ll show you how I did it, and how you can darn things too.
First we’ll look at factors I considered when deciding if this technique was suitable for my project. Then we’ll cover what tools and supplies are needed, and how to actually do the repair. I’ll finish with some tips on making the repair job look good. After all, there’s no point fixing something if you don’t want to use it afterwards.
Should I darn it?
Darning is a way to reinforce fabric or fill a hole without adding the kind of bulk you get with patching. It usually looks the same on both sides of the fabric when you’re done which is important for something like a blanket. Most of the time, the darned spot is clearly visible when finished, although it can blend in on some fabrics, especially if they are fairly textured or if you have a small hole to fill and very fine threads to fill it with. Darning is strong and, when carefully done, the transition between original cloth and the darned portion is virtually impossible to feel.
That smooth transition between original and darned is what made it so popular for socks. A patched sock would cause blisters but a well-darned sock would be comfortable to wear. Darning was also done to reinforce high-friction areas (eg the heel of a sock) before they wore through.
Darning is also often used to repair hidden parts of a garment, like behind a lapel or within the fold of a pleat where there is no concern about it being visible. If the repair is going to be visible or if the hole was large, a patch is usually the preferred solution.
I chose to darn my blanket instead of patching it because I didn’t want the extra bulk and ridges I would get with patches. I would have to patch both sides of each hole so the bulk would be even more noticeable. It is also a coarsely woven fabric so there weren’t that many missing threads to replace. I knew the repaired spots would be visible but that was okay.
Tools and supplies
Darning by hand is a very low-tech task, requiring only scissors, a support device, needle, and thread.
The scissors should be sharp and fine enough to snip individual threads right at the fabric’s surface.
The support device is something to support the fabric while you’re working on it so that you don’t change the shape of the hole, or accidentally stitch through other layers of the fabric. A darning egg (traditionally a wooden or stone egg) is used for sock heels. Some people like to use an embroidery hoop but that can be awkward to fit into place. A clean piece of cardboard or folded paper works for most flat spots. Ideally it would be a few centimeters larger than the hole but it often comes down to what will fit behind the fabric while you are working on it.
The needle should be blunt and just large enough to hold a single strand of the darning thread.
The thread (or in the case of my blanket, yarn), should be similar in weight to the fabric’s threads. My blanket is 100% cotton and very soft. I have cotton embroidery floss, and several different weights of crochet cotton but those are all too smooth and shiny to be a good match even if the colour were perfect. There was some “dishcloth” yarn and a lighter weight soft cotton cord that I thought might work. I preferred the look of the dishcloth yarn but it was definitely too heavy so I pulled it apart and used it half-thickness at a time.
Sometimes you can pull threads out of other parts of the piece you are trying to repair. You don’t need a lot for darning so if there is an especially generous seam allowance or wide hem, you may be able to harvest some perfectly matching thread from it. With some fabrics, the threads are too soft for this to work, but it’s worth a try.
Preparing the hole
Darning is detailed work and you need to be able to see what you’re doing. So the first step is to trim away all the loose thread ends. Snip just a few at a time and try to trim them flush with the surface of the fabric. Sometimes you will have a few isolated threads still intact across the hole. Don’t cut them! It’s just the whiskery loose ends you want to get out of the way. Check and trim from both sides of the fabric if you can. Don’t be concerned if some ends are much farther from the edge of the hole than others.
Once the threads are trimmed, you can stabilize the hole. Good darning adds threads to a hole and its surrounding area without distorting the fabric. If the hole is very tiny and/or already backed by other layers of fabric (eg the underside of a collar), you shouldn’t need anything extra to stabilize it. If it’s in a wide open area and you can snap an embroidery hoop over it, that’s a simple solution. Basting (or even stapling, if it won’t mark the fabric) your piece to a few thicknesses of paper is another way to secure it. You will need to keep your basting stitches (or staples) 5-10 cm (2-4″) away from the edges of the hole so they don’t get in the way. Now you’re ready to stitch.
Darning is sort of weaving, sort of sewing. You will be going over, under, over, under the individual threads of the intact fabric around the hole. You will also be laying down threads across the hole, and then weaving across them to create new fabric. It’s rhythmic work, done in a grid. Are you ready? Thread your needle.
Find your starting point about 10 threads outside the edge of the hole. Chose an intact thread to follow. Working alongside that thread, stitch over, under, over, under the individual threads you cross as you work your way to the opposite side of the hole and into the fabric on the other side.
Step across a few threads, one at a time, and then work your way back, parallel to the first thread you put in. Keep going back and forth like this until you have covered the full width of the hole with some extra on either side. Your ground threads are now in place.
I did it a little differently on my blanket. I stitched well beyond the edges of the hole and I cut my threads instead of turning and stepping to the next one. That’s because I wanted to merge the new colours into the old and I knew I could count on the fuzzy texture of the yarn to keep all those individual strands in place. Aside from that, the principle is the same. I went over, under, over, under through the intact fabric and straight across the hole, using existing threads as guides.
The second layer of threads is put in like the first but at right angles to it. Use an existing thread as a guide, just as you did before. When you get to the hole, instead of being empty, it now has all those threads from the first layer strung across it. Weave over, under, over, under them as you work your way back and forth across the hole. You are weaving a loose piece of cloth inside the hole. Keep going until the entire hole is covered, along with some fabric on either side.
Third layer (filler)
The ground work is done but right now the brand new cloth where the hole was is still thinner than the main fabric. We need to fill that in without jamming too much extra thread in the main fabric around the hole. The way to do that is to continue stitching/weaving but only in the thinner new area, not back into the main fabric.
If you insert two new threads between every pair of threads from the first two layers, you will keep your over, under pattern intact, while firming up the new cloth. If that is still noticeably thinner than the main fabric, add more filler, but do this gradually so that you don’t end up with a thick stiff wad.
When you’re satisfied with your work, just trim your thread close to the fabric surface. You’re done!
Most of the time, it’s hard to darn something invisibly, so how do you make it look good?
With my blanket, I’m making my darned spots deliberately large and blotchy. The contrasting threads run well into intact fabric in all directions. Once all the holes are darned, I want to stitch some smaller patches of colour and even some random lines of colour. So the holes govern the placement of the original colour blocks but the whole blanket will get an infusion of colour splash.
I also considered turning each darned spot into a specific shape, like a flower or a circle or a butterfly. I could use a template to draw that shape as a frame around each hole and then darn the area to fill it. (That was more planning than I was up to for this project.)
The darns could have embroidery or fabric painting around them to make them look like deliberate parts of a design. Alternatively, the design could be complex or textured enough that the darns get lost in its richness.
There are many, many ways to use darning on textiles, both decoratively and for repairs. Like most simple techniques, there’s a lot you can do with it once you get comfortable with the basics. I’m sure I’ll have more posts about it as time goes on. In the meantime, I hope this has been enough to get you started.
Remember that pit in your stomach when someone jostled your elbow and, in a split second, a favourite outfit was condemned to never being worn again? A splash of wine, a drop of grease, a smudge of ink, and you knew it wasn’t going to come clean. Did you discard it immediately, or add it to a pile of “if only…” garments – things you can’t wear as is, but can’t bear to give up on? Working with “if only…” garments is my specialty and this post shows one of many ways I rescue stained clothing using those stains for design inspiration.
The skirt in this example came to me with rust stains scattered across it. The gauzy material was not going to withstand heavy stain-removal tactics so the barely-worn skirt was supposedly headed for the scrap bag. Instead, I wanted to bring it back into circulation as a stronger form of itself.
My first impression of this skirt was its very feminine frilly texture. I thought that called for a soft and almost monochromatic treatment, so I went to my stash of fabric flowers and pulled out a handful of suitable pinks. Instead of using the flowers as is, I took them apart and re-combined the petals into entirely new flowers. These weren’t nearly as bulky as the original flowers and their texture was enhanced.
Next, I went to my basket of embroidery floss and pulled out more pinks and some bright pollen yellows. It took no time to discard the yellows and focus on the pinks. Botanical accuracy wasn’t the goal here, and the contrast was too jarring. Instead, I selected some golden glass beads to add to the flower centers. The beads would cover up the holes in the middles of the flowers, and they would hint at dew drops and pollen without clashing with the narrow colour scheme. My embellishments were ready. It was time to tackle the skirt.
The skirt was as clean as it was going to get. I spread it out in a well-lit work area and carefully inspected it for stains and any other damage. Every spot got marked with a pair of brightly coloured pins. (Two pins so if one fell out, there was another for backup.) When all the trouble spots were pinned, I had a map for flower locations.
Every spot got covered by a flower and then more flowers were added to pull the “scattering” together. I wanted drifts of flowers, not splotches or a solid bush, so I played with the arrangement until I was happy with it. Then I pinned it securely, and put it on a mannequin so I could see how the design looked “in 3D” and from many different angles. A few adjustments, and the flowers were ready for stitching.
My needle needed to be sharp enough to pierce the tightly-woven flowers without pulling threads, large enough to carry several strands of embroidery floss, yet fine enough to fit through the holes in the beads. (That’s why I can have twenty needles at hand and still be looking for a different one.) Every flower was attached to the skirt with a round of lazy daisy stitches topped off with a bead to cover up the hole in the middle of the petals. This left the petals free to move while adding decorative interest to their centers.
When the stitching was done, the skirt was ready to wear again, and most importantly, it was also still hand-washable. I’ve done some testing on the durability of fabric flowers through machine washing and drying and most of them perform very well. (I’ve written a separate post about that testing. You can read it here.) So the flowers could handle machine washing but the skirt itself could not. Also, cotton embroidery floss should be pre-shrunk or replaced with several strands of standard sewing thread if you are not washing by hand.
The other consideration for washability is the beads. Most glass beads can withstand a fair bit of wet and heat. Some plastic beads don’t do so well with the heat of a dryer. Harsh detergents can do more damage than the water or the dryer heat, especially if metallics are involved. So if you’re trying this for yourself, consider how you want to clean the garment when you are selecting what you want to decorate it with. If you want to wash and dry by machine, make a test swatch of your materials and throw it in with a few laundry loads to see how the components hold up.
This “drift of flowers” technique is very handy. You don’t have to be able to draw to use it, and it doesn’t have to cover a large area so it can be very quick to do. One client came to me with a velvet cape that was to be worn in a wedding just a few weeks away. The cape had arrived at her door with some black spots on it and anything we could do to remove them would mark the velvet. There wasn’t enough time to get a replacement cape from the original supplier so we covered the spots with a drift of flowers. Not only was it a quick fix, but the client decided she liked the new version better than the original.
So if you’re looking for an easily adaptable way to disguise a spattered stain, you might consider “planting” flowers.