04 March 2015

How I Make Embroidered Balls

A big shout out to Mel, who reminded me that I had taken photographs of the process of making an embroidered ball last October. I have been meaning to write up the instructions. So Thank You, Mel for giving me the kick I needed!

Start to finish minus how to embroider. If truth be known, I really don't know how to embroider. I just wing it. We will talk about embroidering later on in this post.

This is how a wool covered ball comes into existence:

Supplies needed:

2 bottle caps
metal bits or small beads
plastic bags
felted wool sweater remnants
thick cord
crochet cotton thread
regular sewing thread
embroidery thread
needles and pins
sharp scissors

You'll need two plastic soda bottle caps or bottle caps about that size, some little metal junk or plastic beads and some tape. If you don't want your balls to rattle, don't bother with anything to put inside the two caps. If you want your balls to rattle louder, use metal bits. The heavier the bits, the louder the rattle. Do note that the rattle, even using metal bits, is not terribly loud.
These caps came from a plastic water bottle. The metal bits are from a broken clip. You can use whatever is sitting around that will fit inside your bottle caps once you've taped them together. In some balls I have used a bead soup consisting of mostly plastic seed beads and other very small beads. The beads make the rattle sound like maracas, but the sound is not loud at all. Metal caps would work also. Your caps need to be the same size so they fit tightly together.

You'll also need three plastic grocery bags. Any old plastic bags will work: bread sacks, potato bags, noodle bags, any clean plastic packaging. I use grocery bags.

If you're using bits for a rattle, stuff them inside one bottle cap and tape the two together. Like this. Give it a shake to see if you like how it sounds. If not, undo the tape, readjust things and try again.

Once you are happy with how it sounds, start taping the grocery bags around the bottle caps.
Layer one.

Layer two.

Layer three.
The ball should fit comfortably in your hand. If you want a larger ball, add more plastic. If you want a smaller ball don't put as many layers.
You get to decide the size of your balls! 

You will need some thick cording of some sort. This is acrylic macrame cord that is about 1/4 inch thick. Any old thick cord you have laying around will work. I've used much thicker macrame cord, sisal rope and seams cut from sweaters and other cast off clothing. 

You need to take your thick cord and give your plastic ball a few wraps of it. No need to cover all the plastic. You'll know you have enough thick cord when your ball magically becomes more roundish~!
Now you need some thin cord. This is crochet cotton. Any thin cord will work. Acrylic yarn, crewel embroidery thread, whatever you have a lot of. Cause it does take a fair amount of thin cord to cover the ball. I happen to have a lot of crochet cotton. Use whatever you have! 

Start winding and 

keep on winding till you've covered the ball sufficiently.  No need to completely cover your thick cord. Just make sure you don't have any big gaps between the thick and thin cords. You'll need those thin cords to sew the wool onto.

You'll need some thick sweater fabric. This blue wool was once a sweater. Acrylic sweater material will work also, but wool is much, much easier to sew! You'll want to felt the wool sweater in the washing machine on the hottest water setting, then throw that puppy in the dryer. You'll want the label on your sweater to say 100% wool.  Solid colors work best but I have made balls with a houndstooth pattern that turned out quite nicely. So use whatever you have!
Acrylic sweaters WILL NOT felt. Don't even bother trying!

To begin, cut either a triangle shape or a circle out of the wool. Measurements are not important. Eyeball it. No bigger than what you see in this picture. 

Start where your thin cord ends so you can tame that end. Put your wool shape over the end and pin it down so it lays against the ball. I usually put a pin in each point of the triangle and go from there. If you jab the pins in completely they won't fight with the thread.

Neatness isn't a requirement. I actually don't know how to sew any more than I know how to embroider. As you can clearly see. Sew your wool shape to the ball with regular sewing thread. Color doesn't matter either. Use what you have!

Cut another shape that will butt up against the first shape sewn on. Pin it in place and sew it to the ball. 

Repeat that process. You'll have to figure out what shape is required and cut it accordingly. Wool is very forgiving so you really don't have to be exact about it. I always keep the scissors handy to snip off whatever isn't working. Make sure you sew each piece you add to the one next to it.

Just keep adding to it.

When you get to the end you really should leave a larger hole to fill than what you see here. It's easier to cover the stitching with the embroidery if you don't have lots of stitching close together like this ball has. It probably won't matter if you are a neat seamstress. I am not!

And your ball is now ready to be embroidered!
It amazes me that they always turn out round!  It is like magic!

We're going to talk about embroidery.

Embroidery is not hard to do. You can teach yourself by watching youtube videos or visiting some embroidery blogs on the world wide web. There are a lot of places to find out the different stitches and how to do them.

Any embroidery thread will work for this project. If you'd prefer to applique your ball, feel free to do so! I've had great success with that as well.

How you decide to decorate your ball is totally up to you! I find that the chain stitch is my stitch of choice for wool balls. It goes quickly and I've mastered it. It also is a bold stitch that doesn't hide in the wool like the straight stitch does sometimes.
I always use all six strands of embroidery thread! You can use however many of the six strands you like. 

Here's the finished wool ball. 
I try to put my embroidery stitches over the stitches holding the cover on. You won't be able to put knots in your embroidery thread, not unless you want knots to show. To make sure the embroidery thread stays, start your first stitch as far away from where you want it to come out as the needle will allow. I like long needles for this. And hide the ends by putting them securely under the wool cover. The longer the thread you leave under the cover the less likely it is to come undone.

My balls are generally about the same size as a tennis ball...give or take. Some are a tad smaller, some a tad larger.

Here are some other finished wool balls.

These three are embroidered with crewel embroidery yarn. The orange one has an acrylic sweater fabric cover. It was a bear to sew.

These are all wool. The two yellow ones are cashmere sweater fabric. It works OK, but the thicker the wool, the easier it is to embroider the ball and the smoother the ball ends up. You can also see one of the houndstooth wool fabric balls. 

The two yellow balls have nubby cotton sweater fabric covers. Again, not as easy to embroider as the thick wool covers.

A couple of DOD balls with felt applique instead of embroidery. Both of these balls are about the size of a softball which is a lot bigger than a tennis ball.

There are no patterns to follow for the embroidery. I just go for it with the embroidery and end up with what I end up with. 

These balls could maybe be used as dryer balls. I haven't tested any of them to say for certain they'd hold up to the abuse of the dryer. 

I can tell you the cats LOVE playing with them!

They'd probably make pretty good dog toys also, if your dog wasn't a big chewer. I've not tried them out on Fred dog cause he'd have the covers off in no time at all! 

You could also use them as baby toys.

This is how I make embroidered wool balls. I hope this inspires you to make your own recycled wool balls!

Thanks for reading!
be good to one another!
It matters!


A Mynah Production said...

I love this tut! I gotta go to the thrift store and find me a wool sweater!

I love the swirls and circles that you sewn on all of these balls.

Maybe a jingle bell inside?

Unknown said...

Thank you for the tut! Would not imagine that this is how they are maid.

lisa yvette vadnais baer said...

Absolutely gorgeous! Giving one to a dog would be a crime!