Fabric Facts: Essential Tips for Sewing with Wool

Most of the UK was covered under a blanket of snow this week as 'The Beast from the East' and Storm Emma brought us freezing conditions. As the big thaw begins on the streets, we are still hanging onto our warmest and cosiest clothes just in case! We were really happy that so many of you love the coat patterns in our shop windows (and in the last blog) and have been planning to sew your own winter coats. Wool is a great fabric choice for a coat or jacket because, as a natural fibre, it will keep you warm in the colder months and cooler on the warm spring days we are all dreaming about!

Ray Stitch Essential Tips for Sewing with Wool

Wool fabric comes in a huge variety of weights, blends, patterns and weaves and does not always have to be used for outerwear; dresses and even shirts can be made using a lightweight blend. Sewing with wool can seem daunting for even experienced garment makers, especially because of the price, but it is generally a stable fabric to work with and you can get great results as long as you bear a few things in mind.

SHRINKAGE:

You can expect wool to shrink, and in some cases by a lot. But pre-washing isn't really as straightforward here as with other fabrics. The general advice is to always pre-treat your uncut material in the same way that you will be treating your finished garment, but often wool says dry-clean or handwash only. Dry cleaning fabric by the meter would be expensive, use lots of unnecessary chemicals and we have yet to find a cleaner that would do it! If you do hand wash, make sure you do not agitate it much, do not wring and dry it flat to ensure it retains it's shape as far as possible. Something to keep in mind is that wool should need much less cleaning than other materials, due to its natural properties so often a freshen up with fabric spray or a steam in a hot bathroom would be enough. Both of these techniques would be good for pre-treating your base cloth before sewing.

Alternatively, there is a technique called the London Shrink Method which involves basting the selvedges of your fabric together and wrapping (or rolling) it up in very damp bed sheets. Allow this to sit for 24 hours before unwrapping and laying the fabric out to dry. Cut the basting stitches away and if you need to press, make sure you use a low heat and a press cloth.

BULK:

The heavier wool fabrics can create a lot of bulk in the seams so make sure you choose a pattern accordingly and use techniques to reduce bulk (The Sapporo Coat is a great one for this due to the dropped sleeves, while The Coat pattern uses princess seams.) A thick wool cloth will not fray much so pinking shears can be used or consider grading your seams. Lining a garment is a great way to hide unfinished seams as well as making the item feel better against your skin (wool can be a bit scratchy to the touch)

TYPE OF FABRIC:

Wool cloths can be woven or knitted just the same as other fibres, and each produces a fabric with different qualities. Woven wool cloth tends to be more stable, with little to no stretch which makes it ideal for structural garments and outerwear such as coats. Knitted wool fabrics are generally much softer, finer and behave more like jersey with lots of stretch - ideal for dresses and shirts with more drape. Hand feel is also important to consider as some heavier wool cloth can be quite rough to the touch, however, garments can be lined.

TYPE OF NEEDLE:

On the whole, a pointed needle is best when sewing with natural fibres, and a sharp needle will be required when working with heavier wools. However, a ballpoint or jersey needle might be better when sewing with finer knitted wool fabric to allow the needle to slip between the fibres. For best results always make sure you use a new needle when starting a project and you may even need to change needles during the process if you are making a heavy coat.

PRESSING:

When pressing your garment during construction you must be very careful - a hot iron will damage your fabric irreparably and too much steam could cause more shrinkage. Always use the 'wool' setting on your iron and use a steam cloth so you are not putting the iron directly onto your fabric. You can also steam instead of pressing, which means the iron never actually touches the cloth. Hold the iron an inch above the fabric and let the steam do the work of getting rid of the wrinkles. Allow the garment to dry naturally and do not pull out of shape whilst it is damp.

Essential Tips for sewing with wool

We stock a wide range of wool and wool blend fabric, in a variety of weights and drapes so we are sure to have the right material for your project. Check out our ranges online here. We also provide swatch packs of our wools so that you can see and feel for yourself before committing to purchase. If you are unsure of matching a pattern to the right type of wool then please just ask  - we are happy to chat on the phone or in person to help you make the right decision.

A garment made from wool feels like an investment not only in cost but time too, however once made it will last you years (as with all woollen garment make sure you store them well to prevent the moths from getting to them.) Happy sewing and if you are embarking on a coat as your next project we would LOVE to see... tag us on Instagram or Facebook using #raystitch.