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Felt Comparison: Acrylic vs. Wool

Reported by Cassandra Darwin

Felt is one of the hot trends in the craft world right now, from appliques on aprons and clothing, to pincushions, to scrapbooking; felt is everywhere! I thought I would take a chance to do a quick comparison of three different types of felt and some examples of projects that would use each one.

I’ll start out with a quick definition of felt. According to Wikipedia, felt is a non-woven fabric that is instead made by “matting, condensing, and pressing” fibers together. For the sake of our comparison, I will limit the scope of our comparison to two different felts that you can purchase at craft and fabric stores (acrylic and wool), and in the case of wool “woven felt” you can make it at home.

Acrylic Felt
This is probably the most accessible type of felt, found in craft stores everywhere. It is usually sold in small pieces like these, measuring approximately 9 inches by 12 inches and retailing for about $0.25 per piece.

Oftentimes you can find acrylic felt sold by the yard at fabric stores. This comes in handy for larger projects or if you need a certain color not available in the smaller sizes. Let’s get right down to the nitty gritty on acrylic felt.

Pros:

  • Widely available, and in a huge range of colors
  • The least expensive out of all three options
  • Because of the first two pros, it is the perfect material for trying new things and learning techniques before moving on to more expensive materials
  • Perfect for holiday decorations, card making, or other projects that will not be handled much and don’t need a long life
  • I know that at least a few brands use fiber from recycled soda bottles to make acrylic felt
Cons:
  • Relatively thin and not very strong – will pull apart
  • Usually not as clean of a cut, more loose flyaway fibers
  • Cannot be washed or laundered
Here are a few projects where I have used acrylic felt:
Adhesive felt scroll for scrapbooking
Die cut acrylic felt flowers for hair clips
Hand cut acrylic felt shapes for Valentine’s tags
Wool Felt
Wool felt is the next step up – it is more expensive, and often much harder to find than acrylic. Here are a few pieces that I picked up from different quilting and specialty fabric stores around San Diego:
The prices range from $2 for a few scraps to $6 for a 9 inch by 12 inch piece. I’ve also found that the texture, thickness, and quality vary in each little piece I collect. So for larger projects you would want to get all of the felt you need at one time for consistency.
Pros:
  • Stronger and more durable than acrylic felt
  • Stand the test of time for your heirloom projects, like applique on a quilt
  • Will withstand dry cleaning, and can be washed at home if you take care to not let colors bleed
Cons:
  • Much more expensive than acrylic felt – I feel like I should save my wool felt for the “special” projects
  • Because it is more dense and strong, some crafters prefer to use acrylic felt for softer, dainty accents like flowers and butterflies on dimensional projects
And a few examples using wool felt:
Applique penny rug that my mom made and gifted to me
A few more penny rugs in a local quilt store that I would love to copy
Woven Wool Felt
This type of wool felt is something I learned about last year, where you can shrink down knitted wool (like old sweaters) and use it just like a thicker version of wool felt (no raveling). Here is a quick how-to on the process.
Once you have the woven wool felt, you can use it just like wool felt but you’ll need to account for a thicker texture when planning projects. Here is one that my mom and I worked on for Christmas presents:
She had collected about 7 different wool and cashmere sweaters from thrift stores and then did the hot water washing routine described in the how-to link above. After that we had more than enough colors and textures to make 10 different cupcake pincushions. They were a big hit amongst the recipients and we all started planning what to make next. This is one of the pincushion patterns we plan to use for the woven felt:
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about the different types of felt.
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Cassandra has been scrapbooking and stamping for more than 15 years. Paper is her passion, and she says that she grew up wanting to own a stationery shop. She describes herself as "crafty" and enjoys projects ranging from card making and photography to quilting and crafts for kids. She was previously in corporate marketing but now spends her days at home with her young daughter. You can read more about Cassandra's adventures in crafting at the fresh crafts blog.

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5 Responses to Felt Comparison: Acrylic vs. Wool

  1. IamSusie June 2, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    Awhile back, I did some tests and found that usually the acrylic felt is totally washable and it does not shrink. Also, the felt commonly referred to as “wool felt” is usually rayon/wool blend. This felt cuts like butter and is soft and lovely to use, although it shrinks when laundered.

  2. Scrappy Rat June 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    For those selling their projects on etsy or the like, keep in mind that vegan customers will be put off by wool. I’ve been ready to buy several neat projects only to have to remove them from my cart because they were made of wool.

    Vegans (and some others) tend to avoid wool because of the way the lambs are treated. Among other things, having the skin removed (without anesthesia) from their anal/genital area to make keeping their wool clean cheaper and more convenient. Needless to say…ow!

    Allergies are also an issue with wool. It can be itchy for more than one reason.

    Synthetics tend to be more green as well due to the large amount of food and water needed to make wool via an animal, the waste and emissions created by the animal, etc.

    Just a few more considerations when deciding which to use.

  3. Beverly's June 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    What a well informed article! Did you get some of these pieces from Beverly’s? http://www.beverlys.com/santa-maria-store

  4. oval area rugs June 8, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    This is a very informative article. I like the way you differentiate the two.

  5. Darcie Helt April 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    thanks for this! what die did you use for your flowers…I am trying to find some dies for my big shot that will make smaller felt flowers..