Make your own dryer balls – no special tools required

Six handmade dryer balls are shown with a variety of decorative stitching on their surfaces

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

A selection of possible tools used to make your own dryer balls: includes three large-eyed needles, a bodkin, and a crochet hook
Possible tool options: A – large-eyed needles, B – bodkin, C – crochet hook.

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.

A selection of possible materials to go in the dryer ball core.  Samples include threads, fabric trimmings, worn out socks, and a variety of wool fabrics in different  weights and textures
Any and all of these materials can be combined to form the core of a dryer ball. Threads, fabric trimmings, and old socks will all work as long as they are clean and 100% wool.

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.

The smallest bitsof wool are bundled together in the centre of the core.
The smallest bits go in the centre of the core.
Larger scraps are wound around the innermost layer.
Larger scraps are wrapped around the initial bundle.
The biggest piece going into the core is saved for last.
The biggest scrap was saved for last. It will cover the bundle nicely.

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.

How to start the wrap by holding the yarn end under your thumb and then wrapping over it .
Starting the wrap. Note that the core bundle looks rather blocky at this stage. The wrapping will soon change that.

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.

Early stages of the first layer wrapping.
Early wrapping and already the blocky core looks rounder.
bare patches along the sides need to be filled in.
Rotate the core while you wrap so that bare patches like this one get filled in.
Inner wrapping about half done and the round shape is well established.
The wrapping in about half done and the ball is well rounded now.
Inner wrapping is done.  The core is completely obscured.
The inner wrapping is done and the core is fully obscured. No hint of holey socks now.

Outer wrap

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.

Starting the outer wrapping layer.
The outer layer of wrapping is underway.
Using a needle to tuck in the tail end of wrapping yarn.
Using a needle to tuck in the tail end of the wrapping yarn.

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.

starting the stitching thread by running it through the ball before stitching.
The stitching yarn was pulled through the ball to hide the end before starting the actual stitching. Hold onto that short end while you make your first few stitches, then trim it flush with the ball’s surface so it disappears from view.

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.

a variety of stitches shown on the sample ball - a chain stitch swirl, a straight stitch starburst, and some parallel lines of running stitch
A chain stitch swirl, a straight stitch starburst, and some parallel rows of running stitch form a casual design on this sample ball.

Alternate uses

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.

Use fabric scraps to make zero-waste “freestyle fringe”

Child's fairy dress decorated with several rows of "freestyle fringe"

It’s hard to sew without creating scraps, especially when you’re starting with odd bits and damaged pieces. It’s also true that the smaller the scrap, the trickier it can be to use it up, especially if it is also irregularly shaped. This “freestyle fringe” technique is a simple way to use up all those bits and pieces. In this post I’ll explain what to collect, how to sort your scraps, and how to make the fringe. In subsequent posts, I’ll explore some ways to use freestyle fringe on clothing, accessories, and household items. Grab your scrap bag, and let’s get started.

Red monster face made using freestyle fringe
“Zero-waste monster” made using several rows of freestyle fringe.

What to use

Freestyle fringe can be made of almost any kind of fabric, as long as it’s not really stiff. I have used denim and velvet but I wouldn’t try stiff canvas or fake fur. You need to be able to scrunch it up and sew through a few layers without straining your machine (or hands if you’re hand-stitching). The softer your fabric is, the easier it will be to work with.

The fiber content of your fabric doesn’t really matter but if you want to be able to wash it, all the fabrics should have compatible washing instructions. Silks and some cottons are prone to leaking dye when they are washed. A five minute soak in warm water will show you if that’s likely to be a problem.

Wash anything that is dirty. Discard anything that is smelly or has oily stains. Those are likely to transfer and could ruin anything they come in contact with. Holes and tears are fine. So are faded parts, permanent (non-oily) marks, snags, runs, and unraveled edges.

Prints and solids all work as long as they fit your colour scheme. (More about that in the sorting section.)

You will also need a foundation fabric to sew your fringe onto. It could be a strip or a patch. It depends on how you plan to use your freestyle fringe. What you use for your foundation doesn’t affect how the fringe is made. I’ll be using a large rectangle for my illustrations but you can alter that however you want.

Fabric scraps sorted for colour theme of "at the beach"
Scraps selected for an “at the beach” colour theme.

Sort your stash

Freestyle fringe works best with a colour theme. It can be a single colour, like red, or a range, like pinks and purples. You can also choose an event (eg Christmas) or place (eg the beach) and build your colour scheme around it.

Sort through your stash of scraps and pull out anything that fits your colour scheme. Make a loose pile of those selected pieces and put the remaining scraps away for another project.

Now take a good look at your pile of colour sorted scraps. Are there any bits that stick out like they don’t belong? You could use them as accents but remove them for now.

Are the colours starting to work together or is it still a jumbled mess? If you chose a few colours (eg blues, browns, and yellows for a beach theme), you might find that they look better to you if they are subdivided into smaller colour piles. A rainbow colour scheme will look messy all thrown together, but quite nice when it’s organized into smaller piles with colours flowing from one to the next.

Continue sorting and weeding until you like the way your scrap pile(s) look. Remember that anything that sticks out in the pile will also stick out in the fringe.

Making freestyle fringe

Chop it up

This is where the “freestyle” in freestyle fringe really comes into play. You will not be cutting out pieces, you will be chopping up your scraps into usable bits. They will not match! I find triangles easier to use for my basic rough shape because they let me use all those angled bits and strange shapes. If you have mostly strips of fabric for your scraps, then you might find rectangles work well. It doesn’t really matter, Neither does grain direction.

Several rows of freestyle fringe made using rectangles instead of triangles
Several rows of freestyle fringe using folded rectangles instead of triangles.

Decide roughly how long you want the pieces to be. You can base this on the size of your scraps or on the space you want to cover with your fringe. Cut your scraps into rough triangles that are about that length. They can be wide or skinny. Just cut so that all the fabric is used.

If your scraps were subdivided into smaller piles, keep the triangles sorted that way.

One row of triangles scrunched and stitched onto a foundation fabric for freestyle fringe.
First row of scrunched triangles stitched in place for freestyle fringe. You can see the variations in the size and shape of the pieces.

Sew it together

There’s a bit of “freestyle” in the sewing of the fringe too. Instead of gathering each piece, you’re just going to bunch it up with your fingers and sew over the bunched up triangles one by one to form a strip. You can overlap the triangles or not, depending on your preference. You can bunch them a lot or a little, again depending on your preference.

I usually use my presser foot for a seam allowance gauge but if the fabric is fairly coarse, I would leave a larger allowance. Stitch length is average and thread is usually something that blends in.

If you’re working with just one colour pile, then grab triangles at random and stitch them in place. If you are working with more than one colour pile, you will need to decide how you want to organize the colours in your fringe. The pink and purple fairy dress in the feature illustration has a top row of just purple, the next row with mostly purple, the third row with mostly pink, and the bottom row with all pink.

Closeup view of fairydress with freestyle fringe showing colour changes in the fringe layers
Closeup view of freestyle fringe between the ruffles of this fairy dress. The fringe is all purple at the top layer and gradually changes to all pink at the bottom.

That’s all there is to it – just chop, bunch, and stitch. It’s simple way to use those awkward leftovers from other projects. Coming soon: projects and instructions for using freestyle fringe. Stay tuned!