Fabric Focus – Wool

Fabric Focus - Wool

The above photo shows just how myriad wool can be. Six swatches, all of them completely different. The details are from top left, working clockwise:

  • Waffled wool coating, £23.95 a metre
  • Blue grey line check floppy wool mix tweed suiting, £15.90 a metre
  • Chanel type tweed, £18 a metre
  • Armani type camel lambswool herringbone, £15.90 a metre
  • Polyester, viscose, wool boucle coating, £14.50 a metre
  • Wool reversible coating tweed, £15.90 a metre

All available from Stone Fabrics

So, yeah – wool ain’t cheap. (Though I’ve found some very affordable wool options on Walthamstow market.) It’s safe to say, I really like working with wool fabric.

Wool Montage

For details of the above makes, you can go here, here and here.

What do I like so much about wool?

  • It’s incredibly well-behaved, which I think makes it ideal for a beginner Sewist who may want to dip a toe into working with more high-end fabrics.
  • Many wool fabrics don’t fray, which means you don’t have to worry at all about finishing raw seams – hurrah!
  • It’s malleable, which means that things like dart points can be gently persuaded to disappear beneath steam from an iron.
  • It’s fairly well-behaved. Your fabric is not going to rebel on you.
  • Wool is very resilient – your make will last years.
  • This fabric resists wrinkling, is breathable yet insulating, flame-retardant and doesn’t get too heavy when wet.

Guys, what’s not to like?!!! Um…

What are the disadvantages?

  • Some people advise pre-shrinking your wool – see how here. (True confessions – I’ve never bothered doing this.)
  • Whilst working, you’ll want to keep your iron on a medium heat, otherwise your wool will scorch. Ideally, it’s worth using a press cloth when pressing wool.

ribbon-attached

  • You might want to use a clapper to make seams lay flat when pressed open. Wool fabric can be springy.
  • It can be difficult to hem without obvious bulges, because of the thickness of the wool. See my post here.
  • Very thick wools can become bulky to put through the sewing machine. Especially on areas where a lot of layers are coming together ie collars.
  • Making a wool dress? Keep an eye on the weight of wool. You’ll really want it to be pretty lightweight, to avoid the danger of sweltering in overheated rooms. You should also think about your sleeve options – will a cardigan become obligatory to cover bare arms, adding to those heat-trapping layers?
  • 100% wools will be dry clean only, so you’ll have maintenance expenses. But most wools also have an ability to self-clean, so you shouldn’t need to cough up for cleaning too often.
  • Some fabric, such as wool crepe, can be scratchy and will need lining.

Another online advocate of wool fabrics is My Happy Sewing Place. Check out this amazing tweed wool trouser suit she made. In fact, check out all her blog – it’s totally inspiring.

So, tell me. Inspired to sew with wool this autumn? Any tips of your own? Let me know!

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31 Responses to Fabric Focus – Wool

  1. Simona says:

    Great timing. Just about to start making my first coat.

  2. Debi says:

    Thanks for the shout out!! I was so excited to see a post on wool…how I love it so!! xoxoxo

  3. liza jane says:

    Wool is a wonder fabric. They actually make diaper covers from wool because it repels liquid! For some reason I am amazed by that.

  4. Szarka says:

    Good news – if you’re brave enough to prewash/preshrink your wool, it’s perfectly machine launderable! My husband and I met doing medieval reenactment, and all of our garb is either wool or linen, and gets pretty muddy, smoky, and ?-smeared on weekend events. Upon getting home, it all goes into the washer. The secret? Abuse your uncut fabric the way you want to treat it when you are using the finished garment. Obviously, I wouldn’t think to toss a Chanel-esque boucle suit jacket into the washer, so that’s a different situation. And these are play clothes that are either not-very-fitted (my husband’s tunics) or laced tight to the body (my kirtles), so they are not having to sustain any structure on their own that could possibly be lost in the wash.

    For modern clothes, I’ve had good success with menswear wool blends – I wear a pair of slacks weekly that I wash and dry with no trouble at all.

    • Nicki says:

      I actually did this after reading a post from Steph at Cake re: knitted fabrics. She said the same as you – treat the fabric the way you intend to long term. I figured if I have to dry clean something I am never going to wear it! So in it went on a hand wash cycle and came out fine. I was a bit scared though!

  5. MariaDenmark says:

    I actually just made two wool skirts – one for a class I’m teaching for a company (so using their pattern) and one from my own new pattern. First wool skirts for me – and I love them! They are warm! (Big advantage this time of year, to be able to wear skirts and not freeze to dead!) I’ve also made wool trousers and coats, and love working with the fabric. There will definitely be more wool in my immediate future! (actually – I’m going to use the remnants from one of the skirts for cushions for my living room very soon)

  6. Oh, my! I love working with wool as much as wearing it. Recently I discovered the joy of Linton Tweeds and now I am an addict. P.S. What a gorgeous coat! LOVE

  7. Wool is also a fabulous yarn to knit and crochet… and you can always use a no-rise wool detergent like Eucalan to make washing easy and risk-free.

  8. Shannon says:

    I absolutely love wool. I’m in the process of making a wool dress, but I’m one of those people who’s ALWAYS cold so I don’t think I have to worry about… er, overheating.

  9. Can I just say I love wool? Love it! I definitely agree it’s a dream to work with and amazingly malleable. Just a couple things I’d like to add:

    If you’d rather skip the dry cleaners, you can gently hand wash (don’t rub or squeeze too much, mainly let it soak clean), dry flat or on the line, and press with lots of steam at home. I have personally learned the lesson that even though it may look fine for the first few go-rounds in the washer, eventually it will felt/shrink (felt is also an excellent material to work with, but it might not be quite what you intended!). Some wools are also treated to be machine washable, like the jersey used for high-end wool long underwear, etc.

    Also, be sure to store wool clean, and in something with a tight fitting lid or a zipper to keep it closed when you’re not wearing it (like over the summer) to protect it from moths eating it for lunch! It isn’t a problem with things you wear regularly, only when they’re stored for a while.

    That blue coat, it’s totally lovely. One of my sewing goals is to make my next winter coat myself.

  10. Sewingjen says:

    Well wouldn’t you know – I have just bought some gorgeous felted wool, black with a fabulous magenta swirls to make up a Vogue 8693 jacket, which I made up last year in 2 fabrics and was so easy and is always admired! Also good for the “larger lady” Ahem!!!

  11. Amy says:

    I’m a big wool fan as well, wool and tweed rock my boat fo’sho! I’ve not made any clothing in wool yet since I’m still a cack-handed noob but I’m in the process of making some cushion covers from felted wool jumpers and they’re very satisfying. Wool is so forgiving of crooked seams, one gentle pull and it straightens right out!

  12. I’d love to try making something in a wool from the London Cloth Company (www.londoncloth.com) – it looks like quality wool. A mill in Hackney, no less.

  13. paigesato says:

    trying my first make in wool–the woodland stroll cape from Liesl (Oliver & S). can. not. wait!

  14. My absolute favorite fabric is wool crepe. It’s springy, soft, light, and it makes my heart happy.

  15. Daniela M. says:

    I would love to work with wool but up to know the price has scarred me away. I would love to make the Colette Beignet Skirt from a wool Crepe but haven’t found anything in the right price range yet. Where in Walthamstov market have you found the wool? I was there a couple of month ago and was actually looking for wool but couldn’t find any. Are you going to buy any of the fabrics you show? I love the pink ones and Chanel type of course 🙂

  16. Catherine says:

    I havn’t had many chances to sew with wool yet. The chain-store fabric shops sell wool at the start of Autumn, but their all black or grey or brown. No fun colours. And their very thin – the kind that you do still need a cardi for. And believe me it really does get cold enough in Sydney for a coat and cardi! I guess for next winter ill have to buy some from overseas. Perhaps some nice boucle?
    I’ll be book marking this post for when that finally happens!

  17. Stephanie says:

    I love working with wool, even the wool blends. They just behave the way they are suppose to!

    Also love your coat.. I finished making a cape a few months back but this winter want to give a coat a go..

    Thanks for the post.

  18. Clare says:

    Hi Karen! I love working with wool, like you said it’s incredibly well-behaved. I have three upcoming projects that involve wool and I have managed to source some lovely options from Dalston Mill and Lewisham. It’s not cheap but I think it’s such a worthwhile fabric to invest in.

  19. LinB says:

    Another of the wonders of wool: it insulates even when it is soaking wet. That is, when you encase your feet in woolen socks, even if you step into a puddle or if your fishing waders leak or if you just have really really sweaty feet, the wool will keep your feet warm. Ditto for finding yourself trapped in a pouring rain, when wearing woolen underwear and outerwear. I find that woolen items offer the best sort of warmth for a cold time of the year. They gently reflect your own body warmth back onto you. It becomes much more self-regulating than, say, polyester fleece — which extends the promise “I’ll keep you warm!” but delivers more of a sort of purgatorial heat, in my experience.

  20. kay says:

    I love working with wool. As for preshrinking, the key to ask when purchasing is asking if the fabric ic needle ready which means preshrunk.

  21. Donna says:

    I generally steer myself towards patterns that work with a heavier cotton for the cooler months. I don’t often think to make things with wool, but have been inspired

  22. Speaking of wool, how goes it with the Marc Jacobs dotted dress? Sarah of Goodbye Valentino was in the store yesterday and asked me if you had ever finished it, and I wasn’t sure what to tell her. I guess this one didn’t make it? —Meg

  23. I love wool, and am finishing a Marfy jacket in scarlet wool at the moment. I can’t wait to wear it!

  24. Colleen says:

    Hi there. You are the expert I am needing. I have a lot of wool that I tend to not use because I find it difficult to bring to a dry cleaner to have them steam shrink it. I did make a wool rayon crepe dress last year and then when I had it cleaned it definitely turned out to be smaller. If it’s 100 percent wool, do you find it’s not that big of a deal to not shrink it? I sometimes fear I won’t ever use the wool I have…..

  25. I’m working on my first wool jacket. Hope to get it finished before it turns too chilly. Interesting to hear views on whether to pre-wash or not.

  26. Nicole says:

    I just worked with wool for the first time to make a little pea coat for my nephew. I’m a beginner, so I’ve mostly only sewn with quilting cottons or poplins in the past, and was very scared about using a “grown-up” fabric. The wool was so dreamy to work with! It was super easy to cut, super easy to pin, and sewing up like a dream too.

  27. Yes yes, I love wool! Using wool really helped me feel more confident about sewing my Sew for Victory jacket earlier this year, for many of the positive sides of wool that you listed. If I weren’t on a knitting kick I’d be sewing with wool right now for sure!

  28. Rose says:

    So I have a fantastic plaid wool (https://www.etsy.com/listing/153326563/soft-plaid-wool-12-yard?) that I’m thought of making a skirt with, as well as a tweed (https://www.etsy.com/listing/128454628/lovely-wool-tweed-herringbone-in-brown?ref=shop_home_active) that I thought would make some nice slacks, but I’m afraid of making slacks and working with the wool, which is why I listed it. Maybe I should pull it and make a pair of wool slacks lined with fleece so I can stay warm in the winter…

  29. Rose says:

    PS, is it rude to like to the fabric? I don’t wanna be rude, if so you can just publish my comments without the links!

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