Guide to Wool Fabrics: Sewing With Wool

“If I could use only one fiber, it would be wool. You can’t beat that versatility, from coziness to absolute luxury”.

                                                                                                               – Michael Kors

yarn

This week, I decided to focus on wool. I actually want to dedicate myself to learning more (and sharing this new-found information) about all types of fabrics. 

For some (very lucky) people, understanding which fabrics would be best for certain projects comes naturally. I, however, do not have this gift. The first skirt I made was (I’m embarrassed to say) very thick polyester that did not drape well.

So, I realized that there is a lot to consider when you are choosing a fabric: its weight, lustre, texture, and durability- all of these qualities combine to form the potential for your sewing projects. The fabric you choose has the potential to make or break your project idea. Even different varieties and blends of the same fabric type can drastically change the appearance of a project (cotton versus cotton-polyester blend, etc).

For the sake of not wasting more money buying inappropriate fabrics (not to mention wasting time making things with them), I decided to learn more about fabric. To avoid this post getting unnecessarily long, this post will focus on wool.

Why? People have been using wool for tens of thousands of years- and for good reason. Wool has natural qualities that make it “….flexible, resilient, insulative, absorbent, hygienic, and mold-able”. Wool is not only suitable for cold weather- it can also be cooling in hot climates. So, with the invention of light weight wools for summer has made it even more versatile. Plus, I’m always cold!

 

Here is some brief information on the construction of woolen fabrics. For the types of wool, scroll on down passed this section.

Weaving

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Wool refers to protein-based fabrics made using animal hairs. The hairs are spun into yarn and then woven into fabrics. Weaving refers to the process of interweaving threads- the warps (vertical threads) and the wefts (the horizontal threads) together on a weaving loom (Hallet, et al. 2014).While most wool is made from sheep and lamb fleece, wool can also refer to fabrics made from goat hairs (cashmere and mohair), rabbit hairs (angora), Llama hairs (alpaca), or camel hairs.  

There are two main types of weaving when it comes to wool: plain and twill. Plain weaves are the most basic types of weave. For this, the warps and wefts crisscross each other at right angles with each weft thread passing over one warp thread and then under the next warp thread. Fabrics produced using this type of weaving may be coarse or smooth depending on the texture of the thread count used (Hallet, et al. 2014).. Some of the fabrics produced this way include chiffon, organza, taffeta, and canvas. (See picture below).  khai-nguyen-7G780qpl6Y8-unsplash

In contrast, twill weaving results in diagonal lines (also known as wales) and the weft threads cross over and under two or more warp threads(Hallet, et al. 2014). The resulting fabric contains a more pronounced wale creating fabric which has a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ side. This type of weaving also creates fabrics that are more durable and water resistant (Hallet, et al. 2014). Some types of twill woven fabrics include flannel, serge, denim, gabardine, calvary twill, and chino (Hallet, et al. 2014).twill

 

Sewing With Wool

Wool is an ideal fabric for begginer sewists. It’s generally easy to cut and sew while also resisting wrinkling.

However, there are still some things to be aware of when it comes to sewing with wool.

  1. Wool shrinks a lot when you wash it in water! Too much water and moisture can irritate the fabric causing its fibers to interlock and mat resulting in a felted quality. When in doubt, have your wool fabrics steam-pressed by a dry-cleaner. If your fabric manufacturer indicates that your wool is machine washable, go ahead and wash the pre-cut fabric using detergent that is meant for wool.
  2. The majority of wools are thick and not ideal for draping or gathering. Trying to create gathers or too many pleats with thick fabrics (as I learned the hard way) could create unflattering bulk and, besides, is harder to sew.
  3. Make sure to pick the right needle. The majority of wool fabrics will do fine with a universal needle size of 80/12. If you’re using thicker coatings, use a heavier needle. For thinner voiles or challis, consider using a smaller or microtex/sharp needle.

Caring For Wool

If you want to pre-shrink your wool at home, you could try laying the fabric out flat and spraying it with a spray bottle until damp. Get a cleaned and damp sheet, lay it out flat. Then lay the damp wool fabric on top. Roll both layers together and wrap in plastic for several hours or overnight. Unroll and press with a hot dry iron until its dry. Do this in sections- ensuring each section is completely dry before moving on to the next.

To care for your garments, use cedar inserts in drawers and closets to deter moths from eating them- this also applies to unused wool fabrics! If your fabric does get eaten by moths but is still salvageable, you can kill any larvae by tumbling in a hot dryer or placing it in the freezer for a few days. You could also wash it in order to felt it (if the nibbles in the fabric are small enough, the felting may cover the holes- however, your fabric will be denser than originally.)

Wool Types

WOOLEN SPUN YARN

Woolen spun yarn refers to wool that has undergone a type of processing called carding and drawing (Hallet, et al. 2014). These processes cause the woolen fibres to lie in all different directions creating a fuzzy texture and appearance (Hallet, et al. 2014). Clearly, woolen spun yarns are great for making cozy sweaters or other types of knitwear.

WORSTED SPUN YARN

During production, the fibres of this type of wool are aligned to ensure they’re all facing in the same direction. This creates a type of wool that is thicker and smoother than woolen spun yarn. It also has a more clean-cut appearance. This type of wool is perfect for projects that require less bulkiness (such as for fine tailoring or dresses).

SUITING AND WORSTED WOOL

These wools have smooth finishes that resist pilling. It’s also thinner and more flexible than other wools. It can be used for tweed jackets and suits, as well as, tailored garments. Fine suiting manufacturers indicate the level of thickness on the selvage edge of the fabric using an “S number”. The larger the number, the finer the fiber and the more expensive the fabric. For example, a men’s suit may be made using 100s wool. Suiting actually comes in a large variety of weights for all types of weather.

ALPACA WOOL

This wool creates a medium-weight fabric with a silky texture and is mainly used for coats and suits. To care for this fabric: dry clean and cool iron only (Clothes-press, nd.).

BOUCLE

This is the French fabric that was a signature of Coco Chanel. Boucle is a mixture that includes metallic and synthetic fibers as well as wool and silk. These fabrics are meant to be lined as they fray a lot. If you’re not using a lining, make sure to use bias tape to finish off your seams and hide the fraying edges.

COATING

This wool usually has a coarser weave and creates a heavy-weight fabric which is generally used for coats or capes. Care Instructions: dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side using a damp cloth (Clothes-press, nd.).

DOUBLE-FACED WOOL

This fabric is technically two fabrics combined in one. It’s made by weaving two layers together- wrong sides facing each other. So, it’s also reversible. Double-faced wool is mostly used for coats. but thinner variations may be used for fall/winter trousers, jackets, skirts or dresses. Care Instructions: dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side using a damp cloth. To hem, lightly pull apart the two layers at the edge. Then fold each hem allowance in and slipstitch the edges together.

WOOL CREPE

Wool crepe comes in many varieties but is most often woven using a twisted yarn. This creates a subtle textured surface. Crepe is soft, light to medium-weight and drapes well. It’s commonly used for dresses, blouses, and heavy coats. For making blazers, skirts, and trousers. Wool crepes that are fuzzier come in both top and bottom weights, as well as, coating. Care Instructions: hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side. It does tend to fray so it is recommended that you use clean-finish seams or lining.

CASHMERE

Cashmere is produced using wool from the underside of the Cashmere goat (Ezinma, 2014).  It’s light-weight but can be spun into either thin or thick fabrics. Interestingly, cashmere is actually warmer (when compared weight-to-weight) than other types of wool.  Care Instructions: hand wash or dry clean (Clothes-press, nd.). Avoid ironing.

WOOL JERSEY

This is light-weight, stretchy wool. It has thin horizontal ribbing on the wrong side and vertical ribbing on the right side. It can be used for children’s clothing or adults’ casual clothing. Hand wash or dry-clean and avoid ironing.

DOUBLE JERSEY

Double jersey is a medium-weight fabric with some stretch. It has vertical ribs on both sides and is firm compared to single jersey. It’s commonly used for suits. Care Instructions: hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side using a damp cloth.

FLANNEL

Flannel is a medium-weight and strong fabric with a plain or twill weave. It can be used for shirts, suits, skirts, blazers, dresses, and trousers. Care Instructions: hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side. Sewing tip: Cut pattern pieces in the same direction as the nap to avoid the finished garment appearing to have variations in shade.

SILK

This fabric can be made from wool, cotton, or polyester. Silk-wool mixes tend to be medium-weight. This fabric combines the softness of silk and the warmness of wool. Mainly used for suits and jackets (Clothes-press, nd.). Care instructions: dry-clean, warm iron on the wrong side using a pressing cloth.

TARTAN

This fabric (also known as plaid) is defined by a design pattern of woven stripes of various colors and sizes. It’s generally created using a twill-weave and is of medium-weight. It can be used for skirts, kilts, dresses, coats, and trousers. Care instructions: dry-clean and warm-iron on the wrong side. * Be extra careful when cutting out your fabric pieces to match the plaid patterns at the seams of your garment. In this case, you are likely to require more yardage/meters than your sewing pattern suggests- try adding 1/4 to 1/2 of a yard for each garment.

TWEED

Tweed is heavy-weight and very sturdy. While some tweed fabrics may feel course to the touch, some varieties (such as Harris Tweed) can actually be very soft, breathable, and tactile. It can be used for skirts, suits, jackets, and dresses. Be sure to insert a lining if the fabric causes uncomfortable itching.Care instructions: hand wash or dry-clean and iron on the wrong side using a damp cloth.

VENETIAN

This is a medium-weight fabric with a shiny finish. It can be used for dresses, skirts, jackets, jackets and suits (Clothes-press, nd.). Care Instructions: Dry clean and warm-iron.

FELTED AND BOILED WOOLS

These types of wool are intentionally washed with hot water to create the felted quality. When washed, wools fibers shrink, bunch up and interlock causing the holes between fibers to be filled up (this practice is called fulling) It can be used for hats and slippers. Boiled wool is lighter weight and tends to have a curly surface texture. It’s best suited for structured outerwear. Wool felt is a non-woven fabric but can be treated the same as a woven. It’s recommended to use either a lapped seam or an abutted seam to avoid creating too much bulk. Care instructions: hand wash gently in cool water being careful not to wring or rub. Do not iron. Sewing tips: use a heavier needle for thicker wools- up to 100/16 depending on the fabric weight. Only quality machines are able to handle this fabric. Also, teflon presser feet may be useful.

CHALLIS, VOILE , AND GAUZE

These are generally top-weight fabrics and are perfect for dresses, blouses, or scarves. While Challis is lightweight, drapes well, and is breathable, some variations are also suitable for skirts and pants. Wool voile is similar to cotton voile- it is transparent with a smooth finish. Wool guaze has an open weave and is ideal for decorative top layers (as it is also transparent). Avoid using these fabrics for structured garments or close-fitting clothing. Lining is likely required. Because these fabrics fray, french seams or bias binding is recommended.

MERINO WOOL

Merino wool has very delicate and smooth fibers. It is also antibacterial and has natural moisture-wicking properties. It is also warmer than most other types of wool. Some suitable applications would be undergarments and apparel.

GABARDINE AND TWILL

These types of wool come in a variety of weights, resist wrinkling, and drape well. It’s also water-resistant. Use for outerwear or else tailored and fitted trousers, skirts, and jackets. Garbardine tends to pucker at the seams, so, it’s recommended to clip the seam allowances- especially around curves. Use a wool press cloth when pressing and be careful not to over-press.

Thanks for reading and happy sewing!

References

A-Z Guide to woollen fabrics from clothes-press.net (n.d). Retrieved November 9, 2018 from http://clothes-press.net/different-fabric-types/woollens

Crosbie, B.A. (2002). Choice of fabric key to perfect party dress.Retrieved from Toronto Star

Enzima, M. (2014). Fashion Design Research. Retrieved from https://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzkyNjIwNF9fQU41?sid=7ba4c379-3a5b-433f-adb2-b8b56ff98d58@sessionmgr101&vid=4&format=EB&lpid=lp_118&rid=0

Hallett, C., & Johnston, A. (2014). Fabric for Fashion : The Complete Guide. London: Laurence King Publishing. Retrieved from https://libsecure.camosun.bc.ca:2443/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=926187&site=eds-live

Scottish Tartans Authority (n.d). Retrieved November 2018 from http://www.tartansauthority.com/tartan/tartan-today/harris-tweed/

Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion.

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