Thursday, March 21, 2013

Felted Dryer Balls

There was a lovely Dogwood tree (pictured at the right with my realtor hiding in the branches) in my front yard when I moved into this home, and the driveway was lined with two Pine trees and a Sweet Gum tree.  Two ornamental Pear trees tower in front along the boulevard, a huge old oak tree graces my front yard, and a Japanese Maple stands guard on the other side of my home.  The first winter following a dry summer caused the demise of my Dogwood before I even had an opportunity to make an essence of the flowers, and the next two winters took the two Pine trees.  The shrubs in front of my front porch on each side of the sidewalk also succumbed to the drought. The Sweet Gum tree survived to litter the driveway. 
The name is romantic, but it bears a “fruit” that is a useless nuisance, as far as I can ascertain. They are wooden balls about the size of a large gumball (and actually nicknamed gumballs), covered with holes not unlike filigree, but with sharp spikes.  They are actually quite pretty upon close inspection, and extremely plentiful.  I have asked people what they do with them, and the only answer I have gotten is to use them for mulch.  I have thought about spraying them silver or gold and using them as ornaments on a Christmas tree, but the spike are sharp and I don’t know if the spikes would withstand years of packing and unpacking without special handling or wrapping.  They litter my driveway and the grass around the tree.  Imagine my surprise when I searched for uses online and although the majority of sites echoed my frustration with them, there are actually people who sell them from as little as $4.50 for 30 of them on up the scale to even higher prices.  And even more surprising is the fact that people are buying them for crafting!  All that is needed is some hot glue to turn these abundant little critters into wreaths or garlands, decorated with ribbons and glitter.  I am in possession of a fortune in Sweet Gum balls in my yard! 

My friend, Melanie, told me she is making felted dryer balls that replace dryer sheets in the laundry, thereby using something natural, without chemicals, which many of us prefer.  I looked them up online and there appears to be a wide variety of methods for making them.  Some suggested putting potpourri in the center to add scent, and that sounded great until I thought about how this could possibly present a mold problem, with the moisture from the wet washed clothes put in the dryer.  It seemed to me that some kind of wood chip center might hold the essential oil scent better, so I tried breaking up some pine cones and sewed little pouches from used dryer sheets to enclose them in the center of the yarn balls.  Breaking up the cones was difficult, and it was a messy process!  Then I thought about the Sweet Gum spikey balls.  I placed one on a scrap of fleece fabric to safely enclose the sharp spikes, drizzled a dropper full of essential oil over the Sweet Gum ball, folded the fleece around it, and then wrapped the yarn around the ball, taking care to secure the fleece in my wrapping. 
One 3.5 oz. skein of yarn made only four dryer balls when using the pine cone center, but with the Sweet Gum balls and the added bulk of the fleece, I was able to get six large yarn balls from each skein.  I used Paton’s 100% wool yarn that said it was appropriate for felting, but there are many other brands on the market, I’m sure.  This one happened to be on sale at JoAnn’s when I looked online, so it won my vote!  The colors I chose were beautiful jewel tones, which are favorites with all of my children.
After winding the ball of yarn and securing the end by weaving it into the ball, I slipped each ball into a nylon stocking, tying a piece of acrylic yarn between each of the balls in the stocking. I tied them into a bow, so they would be easy to remove after the felting process in case I wanted to re-use the stockings.  I washed the nylon “caterpillars” with a load of bath towels in hot water and detergent, then dried them in a hot dryer.  One time through the wash didn’t felt them fully, so I repeated the process.  The scent is still there, and my clothes smell delightful when they are removed from the dryer. 
These are the colors I used, and the corresponding essential oil that I put in each color felted ball:  Emerald: Lemon Eucalyptus, White Tweed: Sweet Orange, Wisteria:  Lavender, Jade:  Tea Tree, Rosewood: Rosewood, Bird of Paradise:  Spruce
And now comes the verbal warning!  While making the felted wool dryer balls and scenting them with essential oils, I had all those scented woolen balls sitting out on a table next to my chair… with a very potent aroma wafting from those dryer balls!  That night I began feeling extremely nauseous, and thought maybe I just needed to sleep.  I was mistaken.  I was up ALL NIGHT violently purging from available orifices in my body.  I had not been exposed to anyone sick, to my knowledge.  I hadn’t eaten anything that could have given me food poisoning.  The last bout was around 6:00 in the morning, so the siege lasted about 8 hours total.  I didn’t know I had that much excess fluid in my body! 

At first, I thought I had picked up a bug somehow, but I was not feeling sick in any other respect, other than the purging.  I kept thinking about those darn dryer balls and “smelling” them while I was purging.  Then it finally occurred to me that perhaps I was experiencing a “proofing” from the essential oils.  A proofing occurs when an herb or tincture triggers a full-body detox.  I’ve had that happen with herbs but never before with essential oils, and I use them all the time.  I am always careful NOT to have them come into contact with my skin directly.  Perhaps it was something in that specific set of oils that brought it on, the synergistic blend formed when the oils combined.  Whatever caused it, I probably needed to have it happen.  I really believe it had something to do with the essential oil blend, especially since I was “aware” of it when I was around the scent afterward.  I felt fine the next day, for the most part.  Whenever I got near the woolen balls, I felt a little twinge of nausea, but it passed quickly.   

So, if you are foolish enough to do a marathon of scented dryer balls in the course of a single day, you might want to put the wound balls into a plastic bag to keep the scent enclosed somewhat, at least, unless you are feeling particularly adventurous and want to experience a full-body purge.  This just further illustrates how very powerful the essential oils can be.  Here are some photos of the finished balls, with the three grandchildren who had fun helping to unwrap them from the stockings.  There are a few balls missing, as they already had gone home with the aunties who were visiting the grandchildren and their parents.
If you are in need of the Sweet Gum balls, I have a plethora of pretty pods in my yard, and you can have as many as you want to pick up and carry home at no charge!
Here are a couple of photos of two of the grandchildren, sewing on their very own microwave bowl potholders.  Charlotte's sour face in the photo of Quentin sewing is because he got to sew first! It was the first time either of them has sewn on a sewing machine, and the adults were on the edge of their seats, anticipating a finger caught in the sewing seam... but there were no mishaps.  We had a wonderful time during their spring break, and I'm looking forward to the two older grandchildren spending time with me this summer.  Charlotte would get too homesick, so her parents aren't letting her come to stay alone.  She is family oriented and her first question was... where are all the people?  I was home alone when they arrived around midnight.  She is used to all the aunts, uncles and cousins coming to spend time with them.

 Ava, their older sister in the middle with the felted dryer balls, loves to iron.  Her first question was, "What can I iron?"  Last summer, she neatly ironed all my bags of scraps.  This trip, she found my Ziploc bags of strip sets for the Hidden Wells quilts and pressed all of those and neatly folded them, ready to be cut and sewn into blocks.  I sure wish I had her around all the time! 

My wish to all of you is that you have some little ones to share your talents with... we need to share our gifts with these who will become the future generation of quilters. 


  1. Hi Alaena, Your felted balls are very cute. We also have houses with those trees and gum balls. I have been wondering what to do with them.

    Great idea.

    I envy you your grandkids. I only have one and at 16 she is no longer interested. *sigh*

    Daphne in Orange

  2. Leave it to you to figure out something to do with those annoying sweet gum droppings. LOL! Do not step on them bare footed..just sayin'! LOL! My brother has a gold mine of them in his yard..he wants to cut everyone of those tree's down but he lives in one of those Coventry Neighborhoods where every thing has to be approved before you breathe.

    Love the pictures of the kids sewing and those dryer balls you made.

  3. Thanks, Ladies... I noticed in the photos that the kids had arranged all the balls according to color! So funny!! I don't know which one did it, but it must be an early sign of OCD, which tends to run in my family. LOL!