Sewing with some fabrics is a lot harder than sewing with others, and wool can be a bit of a challenge whether you’re sewing by hand or with a machine. Sewing with wool is a bit different because it is thicker and has a unique texture as well, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to work with. In fact, you can easily learn how to sew with wool with just a few extra tips to remember as you sew.
Wool can be thick or thin because there are many different blends and weights. If the wool fabric you buy has the “Woolmark” label on it, this means that you’re getting fabric that is 100% new wool. It is recognized internationally as a quality product, but you can also buy wool blends that are a little less expensive and are made up of wool plus other types of fabric.
Before You Start Sewing with Wool
If you’re wondering what type of wool to use for your project, consider this: you should use a heavyweight wool fabric if you’re going to make jackets and capes, and a lightweight wool fabric if you’re going to make pants and skirts. There is also fabric called wool felt, but this is used mostly for making dolls, felt crafts, and other types of crafts.
When you’re learning how to sew with wool, you’ll need to learn these different wool types before you get started. If you’re using wool felt for crafts, you should choose that material over acrylic felts because they last much longer and look better in the end. Sewing with wool is always easier when you know what the different types of wool are, so it’s important to learn these from the very start.
How to Sew with Wool: Is Prepping Necessary?
Prepping your wool fabric is crucial when you’re sewing if you want the project to turn out perfect. Keep in mind that wool is very prone to shrinking when you use water that is too hot. The first thing you’ll want to do is read your washing instructions carefully, especially the instructions regarding pre-washing. In fact, pre-shrinking and pressing should never be attempted until you read all of the instructions first.
Each type of wool has a different set of instructions, and the pre-washing instructions are some of the most important. The project itself, the water temperature you’ll be using after the project is complete, and even the type of wool you choose to work with are all important when you’re being instructed what to do with the wool before you get started.
One thing you should do is check the label of the fabric to determine if you can wash the fabric or if it needs to be dry-cleaned. That’s important, and while you’re at it, check to see if your wool fabric needs any type of special laundry detergent. Even if it doesn’t, using a laundry detergent made specifically for wool fabrics is never a bad idea anyway. This ensures that your project will be cleaned properly and will last for a very long time.
Another important tip when prepping your wool fabric is to use some moth repellent if you can. Moths love wool, and a good repellent will preserve the fabric and help it last for many years to come. It is just an added boost when you’re creating a masterpiece made out of wool and you intend to keep it as long as possible.
Finally, if you aren’t sure how easy it will be to work with your wool fabric, consider cutting out a small swatch of it and do what the instructions tell you to do so you can discover how the fabric “reacts” to those instructions. After all, it’s better to mess up on a small piece of fabric than on the entire project, after which it’s too late to do anything about it.
Important Tips When Sewing with Wool Fabric
Prepping wool fabric is one thing, but when you’re working with it so your project can come out just right, there are some things that will make the process a little easier on you. These include the following tips:
Select Your Fabric
If you combine fabrics, you’ll get some great-looking garments. For instance, wool and soft fabrics such as silk go well together. Or you can take scraps of various colors and textures and make a shawl or scarf. Combining fabrics usually turns out well.
No Direct Heat on Wool
Wool never does well with a lot of heat, and an iron can easily scorch the fibers in the wool. Try using a press cloth in between the iron and the fabric. If it’s an undyed fabric or light-colored, it’ll work best because it won’t allow dye from the cloth to transfer to the project you’re working on.
Select the Right Pattern
Keep in mind that your pattern needs to be suited to the wool fabric you’re using. There are different types of wool and wool blends, and since wool is usually thicker than other fabrics, it doesn’t do well with all patterns.
There Is Always Shrinkage
An important thing to remember about wool is that it always shrinks. While this is sometimes what you want, shrinkage is not always a good thing. If you buy preshrunk wool or preshrink it yourself, you can avoid some of the problems associated with shrinkage. To preshrink it yourself, simply put it in a low-temperature dryer with a damp towel and let it run for a while.
Use the Right Scissors
Sharp scissors aren’t just a suggestion when working with wool fabric; they are a must. The sharper the scissors, the easier it is to cut the pieces properly. Use a rotary cutter and cutting map for all of your straight edges for the best results.
Use the Right Needle to Sew with Wool
Just as a sharp pair of scissors is a must-have item when working with wool, so is the right needle. Wool fabrics need a ball-point needle because it can easily slip through the different fibers without cutting or snagging them. Pointed needles usually have tiny barbs at the tips and can therefore snag if you’re using wool with a lot of texture.
Pay Attention to Your Lining
This should go without saying, but you don’t want wool right up against your skin because of its rough texture. This is why the lining on your wool fabrics is so important. Choose a very fine lining such as polyester or even silk because it is comfortable, gives the fabric a nice finish, and reduces the overall bulk that most wool fabrics have.
Reducing Bulk Is Easy
Wool is sometimes very bulky, especially if you use the heavier-weight wool. Using French seams should always be avoided because they can make the fabric even thicker. If the seams are too bulky to use a serger for finishing, try using bias to bind the edges instead. Pinking and grading can also help reduce the bulk in your seams and also keeps them very flexible in the end.
What About Cutting with a Nap?
Some designs, such as plaid or tartan fabrics, should be cut individually so that the design runs the same way. If you fold fabric that has a specific design, it can slip and therefore cause the plaid to be out of line. Make sure all of the pieces of your pattern are cut individually to make sure that the design runs the right way and matches up properly.
Sewing with wool requires that you iron every step of the way, using a pressing cloth each time. If you’re using a steam iron, you have to test the fabric first during the preparation process to make sure the wool can handle it. Some wool shrinks when you iron it, especially if you’re using steam, which is why keeping an eye on the amount of steam and heat you use is so important.
Knit or Woven?
Wool fabrics can be woven or knitted, and each one produces a different outcome for your project. Most knitted wool fabrics (e.g., jersey) are soft, warm, and stretchable, while woven fabrics work best for neat garments such as fitted suits, skirts, and dresses. Woven fabrics hold pleats and folds well, and un-felted knits usually have cut edges that resist fraying. Learning the pros and cons of woven versus knitted wool fabrics is your first step to choosing the right fabric for your project.
Speaking of Fraying
Wool is very textured, and each type has a different resistance to fraying. If the wool fabric you’re using is lightweight, it is more likely to fray than the heavy-weight fabrics. You can therefore use techniques such as French seams for these fabrics, but for wool fabrics that are mid- or heavy-weight, less bulky finishing techniques such as pinking will usually work best for you. When you’re learning how to sew with wool, fraying is the one thing that you’ll always have to deal with.
What About When Your Project Is Complete?
The tips mentioned above are important, but if you think that wool fabric is only good for garments or outerwear, think again. You can save all of your wool scraps from all of your projects and use them for a variety of craft and applique items. You can also learn some easy stitches, such as the whip stitch and the blanket stitch, and use them to fancy up lots of your finished wool articles.
You should also consider that wool is no longer just for heavy coats and winter skirts. Keep in mind that there is wool fabric available that’s very lightweight, and these can be used for dresses and skirts, including those made with an elegant drape. Wool is also available in a huge range of colors and prints, and the lightweight wool fabrics can usually be worn all year long.
Naturally, you’ll need the right materials and techniques to make sure that the project you’re working on is easy to do, which is why many experts recommend using silk thread instead of polyester thread when working with wool. Polyester thread works fine with thicker wools, but the silk thread usually works best with wool fabrics that are more lightweight.
The more you work with wool fabrics, the more comfortable you’ll feel with them and therefore, the more projects you’ll be able to create. If you want to create an item that you feel needs a little stretch to it, try looking for wool that is blended with either spandex or lycra. Remember that 100% wool is more itchy and scratchy than wool/silk blends, making the latter the perfect fabric for skirts and dresses.
Wool is also sometimes blended with synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon, which means that these fabrics are lightweight but still have a wool-like feel and texture.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you store your wool garments carefully. Remember that moths love wool, so storing all of your wool fabric and wool items in a sealed container is always a good idea. Both zippered garment bags and vacuum-sealed storage bags work great. And unless the fabric specifically says that you can wash the item in the washing machine, it’s best to go ahead and get them dry-cleaned.
Learning how to sew with wool is not complicated, but it does require that you work with the fabric a certain way, and it starts with pre-washing it and making sure you take care of it the right way even before you start to cut out the pieces. Wool fabric can be lightweight or heavy-weight, and it’s good to know the difference so you can choose a project that will look fantastic when you’re done.
Sewing with wool can be a good option for all types of clothing and outerwear, as well as many different arts and crafts projects. Many sewists even keep their scraps of wool so they can create other masterpieces later on. Wool fabric is a lot more versatile than you think, and learning to work with it is not at all difficult.