6 Expert Tips for a Seamless Sewing Experience with Wool Fabric

wool fabric sewing tips

Wool is a great fabric for a lot of reasons. It keeps you both warm and cool and is naturally flame resistant. Wool is water resistant and has water-wicking properties which make it likewise good for avoiding odors that come from sweat. That means you don’t have to wash wool as often as many other fabrics. As a matter of fact, air drying outdoors is the best way to clean wool items in between laundering. But if you have never sewn with wool before, it can be intimidating for two reasons: cost and shrinkage. And technically, we can narrow that down to one. After all, no one wants to pay a premium price to make something that is just going to shrink. So, the following tips will help you get the most value for your wool fabric projects in top shape.

Tips For Sewing With Wool Fabric

1. Pre-wash and Dry the Wool

No one likes to pre-wash. We want to jump right in and start those sewing projects with the crisp fabric we bring home from the store. But with wool fabric, you really cannot afford to skip the pre-washing step. And make no mistake; the pre-wash can be a lengthy process if you are washing a lot of wool. There is a lot of advice out there on the best way to wash wool: hand wash, machine wash, wash with other items, or wash alone.

I tend to take shortcuts, so here’s what I choose to do. I wash wool in my machine alone on the smallest water level if it’s a small piece of fabric, no more than 3  yards. Use a detergent specifically made for washing wool. I still use Woolite, and it works fine in my high-efficiency (HE) washer). A little goes a long way so even the small 16 oz. bottle lasts my family a while. Be sure to use the gentle/delicate hand wash cycle on your machine. I use cold water to keep colors from running too much.

If you choose to wash your wool fabric with other items, don’t fill your machine more than halfway and still use the gentle, delicate, or hand wash cycle on your machine. The reason I don’t wash wool with other items is to avoid friction in the wash tub. When other fabrics rub up against wool in the water, it can cause felting. The same is true for washing your wool by hand. You should not wring or even swish too much. Just let your wool fabric soak in your detergent and water.

One way or another, your wool fabric has to dry after being pre-washed. I toss my wool fabric into the dryer on the lowest heat setting. It takes several cycles to completely dry. Sometimes I run it through twice then lay it flat to dry. (If it is a large piece of fabric, I just keep drying it because I don’t have a lot of room for drying.)

People believe washing and drying wool makes it shrink. The truth is that it adjusts the fabric’s fibers. Wool is a natural product made up of a lot of short fibers. Each fiber has its own identity — some are coarse, some are wiry, some are wavy or crimped, and some are downright curly. When those individual fibers are processed into wool fabric, they don’t lose those individual qualities. So the waves and the crimps, and the texture affect how each fiber lies beside the other.

When they get wet, the fibers tend to shift together and dry in a new place. This gives the illusion of shrinkage. But with some time and patience, you can return a piece of “shrunken” wool to its original size by wetting it with a mix of water and hair conditioner, then stretching it back out on a flat surface to the correct size.

Read More: How To Prepare Wool Before Sewing

2. Press It

After laundering, be sure to press your wool fabric to take out the wrinkles. Press from the wrong side for the best results. You can even steam it if needed. Pressing out the wrinkles helps you cut more exact pattern pieces from your fabric.

3. Cutting the Pattern

Work on a flat, level surface and pin your pattern pieces securely to the wool fabric. There is no such thing as having too many pins in  your patterns. Cut wool one layer at a time. Don’t double your fabric and try to cut multiple pieces at once. If you have to place a pattern on the fold, pin, pin, pin!  Avoid the temptation to lift the fabric and cut around the pinned pattern. Instead. use sewing chalk to trace the pattern directly onto the wool.

If your wool has a distinguishing pattern, like plaid, you will need to match it during the pattern-cutting process. This means you may need more fabric than your pattern calls for. When selecting wool in a very obvious pattern, it is a good idea to order a couple of yards more of it, so you have plenty for matching and for mistakes if you are new to sewing. Another good idea is to baste the pieces together to see if the patterns match before going through all the work of piecing them together.

4. Use Silk Thread

Silk thread seems like a luxury, but silk is really strong. Since there is no wool thread, silk would be a great strong choice for sewing on wool fabric. Mercerized thread is a cheaper option to silk that will also be sturdy enough for your wool sewing.  It is basically cotton thread that has been processed to be stronger. If you plan to do any basting, use your cheaper cotton all-purpose thread for that step, just to save money.

Related: What Type of Thread To Use for Wool

5. Use a Ballpoint Needle

A ballpoint needle is your best choice for sewing on wool. You don’t want a sharp point to penetrate the fibers. The ballpoint will shift the weave slightly to find its spot. Use 70/10 or 80/20 needles for lightweight wool and 90/14 for medium weight. Use 100/16 or 110/18 needles are best for heavy-weight wools.

6. Seams

Finish your seams simply by trimming them with pinking shears. The zigzag edges help discourage fraying (wool doesn’t fray much anyway). Be sure to press the finished seams open to help avoid bulk.

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