Wool is a very elegant and classy dress-making fabric. It is also a very long-lasting fabric and one of the most comfortable fabrics for our body (keeping us cold in a warm climate and warm in a cold climate). And easy to sew. This makes it a very popular dressmaking fabric if money is not a deterrent and you do not mind that it is an animal-derived fabric.
Here are some points to take care of when sewing with wool fabrics.
How to sew WOOL
Buy appropriate wool fabric for your need
Wool is available in many varieties. There are woven wool fabrics, then there is knitted wool. Then there are worsted wool and woolen fabric. Then there is tightly woven even felted wool and there is open-weave wool(wool gauze). There is thick wool and lightweight wool- thick insulating wool is only suitable for cold climate. Which one you would choose depends on your need.
Some of the features to look out for when buying wool are the way the surface of the wool feels under your hand, how it looks, how fine are the fibers, are the fibers long or short, does it feel itchy against your skin, etc. And also how warm you want to be – but do not confuse the thickness or coarseness or weight of the wool fabric with how much warmer it can be – sometimes thin wool can be more warmth-inducing than the thicker versions.
The two main varieties are worsted suiting fabric and wool coating fabric. Worsted wool is made of Worsted yarns which are long-staple fibers, The worsted yarns are stronger and smoother than woolen yarns so fabric made of these yarns has a tight smooth surface. The fabric does not sag after some time. It is very durable. The worsted wools are expensive. They are best used for making suits, jackets, etc.
Woolen yarns are soft, bulkier with a fuzzy texture but weaker so the woolen fabric is also the same – soft to touch, bulky. The woolen fabrics are used to make blankets, sweaters.
If you are a beginner in sewing you would buy woolen fabric than worsted. Woolen fabrics are easier to sew. And very forgiving as it is not as costly as a worsted suiting fabric. If you are making drapey unstructured designs then also choose woolen; worsted is stiffer.
The best way is to choose good quality wool is to buy a branded wool. Usually, You would get wool that has undergone minimal processing and is made without the use of harsh chemicals.
Most of the wool available in the market are blends – usually, silk, nylon, or other wool varieties are blended – this gives the fabric many extra characteristics not available in the original. Some of the blends which are highly valued are Alpaca wool- Nylon; Mohair- wool, Alpaca-wool, Buffalo wool- merino
If you wanted to make fine quality scarves, and dresses choose Cashmere – it is a very soft fabric. If you want to make nightwear choose wool flannel. Flannel is also used as a lining with insulating properties. For high-quality tailored garments like jackets, trousers buy Gabardine. Wool tweed is what you would buy to make Chanel-style coats. You can buy tartan wool for making pleated skirts, jackets, and dresses. Mohair wool is the best for making coats, jackets. Merino wool is very soft wool – you can make underwear and all kind of clothes with it. Wool challis is printed soft wool – it is usually used to make ties and drapey tops and dresses. If you want a coarse wool fabric you would go for homespun fabric. A wool jersey is a knit wool fabric and is beautiful for a form-fitting garment. When you want lightweight wool, go for wool voile. And a two sided woven wool can be made into jackets which doesnot have to be lined.
Wool is expensive – To counter this you can add other fabrics along with wool or varieties of wool that are less costlier can be added along with wool. Ensure that the care instructions match
Wool is easy to cut and sew
Most of the wool seams are sewn with the regular 2.5 mm stitch with an 11 no (size 75) universal sewing needle using cotton thread. For a better finish, flat-felled seams are used. If your wool fabric is very thick, increase the stitch length. If you have a knitted wool fabric use a ballpoint needle. Heavyweight wool fabric will need a 12 no needle and lightweight wool fabrics will need a 10 No sewing needle.
The fabric edges may have to be finished in some wool fabrics – some fabrics have a matted felted finish and this prevents fraying of the edges. But for all other fabrics, you will have to either use a zig-zag stitch or an overlock stitch. A 3 stitch overlocking stitch is usually preferred. A very good finish is to bind edges with bias binding tape made from lightweight fabric – this is done for all high-quality garments.
When cutting plaid wool fabric ensure that you align the patterns.
Marking on wool with ordinary chalk may prove to be somewhat difficult because of the texture. You can use wax chalk for this.
Do not forget the trim, grade, and clip the edges. Everything that you would use when sewing with thick fabrics is applicable here.
Wool is prone to stretching
You may want to stay stitch the edges after you cut; stay tape can be applied to the back of neckline edges etc to prevent stretching. Some wool fabrics like worsted fabrics (gabardine) have a hard tight surface and will not have this problem. You also have to be very careful when pressing to avoid the wool from stretching out of shape.
Wool should be preshrunk before sewing
Wool is notorious for shrinkage. If you are sewing with pure wool do not forget to wash it before sewing or at least apply some steam before using it. You have to apply the steam with your iron box on the wrong side of the fabric. This way the fabric would not shrink
Some wool will be marked dry clean only, in which case prewashing is impossible. So you will have to dry clean the fabric. If you are not doing any of these, at least add some extra yardage when you buy to account for the shrinkage and add this to the pattern as well.
Beware of shine when pressing wool
Wool fabric can develop shine in ironing. Wool does not wrinkle much but you will have to press wool from time to time – like pressing open the seam allowances, removing some stubborn wrinkles that have developed due to wrong storage.
If you press on the right side of the fabric it can develop a shiny look that is not so appealing. Use a pressing cloth to prevent this. A wool pressing cloth is preferred for this. Do not move the iron back and forth as you press.
If the shine is already there, and you want to remove it, use a steam iron over a damp pressing cloth to remove the shine. and then brush the surface with a dry wool piece.
You can use steam to speed up the pressing part. Wool fabrics respond well to steam but do not use steam on very stretchy wool fabrics or very textured fabrics.
Wool can be damaged by heat
You have to be careful when ironing /pressing with a hot iron – though it is a thick fabric the fibers are delicate and can be damaged with too much heat. Use only a moderately hot iron on it.
Wool may need backing
Usually, wool garments are lined. A lining makes sure that woolen fabrics do not sag. It gives a nice structure to tailored garments. And with napped wool you would want to line because the fabric can cause irritation where it touches the body.
As for interfacing, any appropriate interfacing can be used. Medium-weight fusible interfacing is used for lapels and collars for most wool fabrics. If you feel that the fusible interfacing is not working use sew-in interfacing
Related post : Different types of interfacing.
If you live in a very cold area you may need even more insulation than what wool may provide – you can get this by adding an interlining inside the lining and outer wool fabric layer. Flannel is used as interlining inside wool fabric. Check out this post on the best interlining fabrics.
Check the nap of the wool
Some wool may have a nap and in this case, you will have to ensure that you are cutting all pattern pieces in the same direction
Decide on the face of the fabric
It can be a little difficult to decide which is the front of the fabric – and as soon as you find it, mark it. The print is usually brighter on the face of the fabric. The selvedge is also smoother.
The grainline has to be strengthened
You can make a small snip at the selvage of your wool fabric and take out a single thread through this snip. You will get a gap there. Cut through the gap to straighten your fabric. Check out this post on different methods to find the grainline of fabric.
Reference: Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide