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Sewing with Wool fabric

Continuing our fabric series, today’s post is all about wool. Wool is synonymous with warmth and is used primarily to make winter garments. If handled correctly, a wool garment will last for many years. Figuring out the best way to treat your wool can be a little challenging because wool is a sneaky material. It will shrink up and felt if washed in the machine but it can be tumbled in the dryer! You can dry clean your wool to pre-treat it, but here at Colette Patterns we try to stay away from chemicals when possible.

Wool must be steamed in order to shrink. To pre-shrink large amounts of wool, finish the cut edges of the fabric with a zig zag or serge them to prevent fraying. Wet a large towel until it’s between damp and dripping. If it’s dripping, squeeze out the excess water. Put both the towel and the wool fabric in the dryer on high heat for around 45 minutes. If the wool is still wet when you pull it out of the dryer, lay it flat until it’s dry.

To pre-wash your wool, fill a basin with luke-warm water and ever so slightly move the fabric around in it until it’s completely soaked. If agitated too much, the wool will begin to felt. If your fabric needs it, only add a very small amount of soap. Gently squeeze the water from the fabric and lay it flat to dry.

These types of woven fabrics can be easily found made from wool.

Challis and Crepe

Challis (pronounced shall-ee) and crepe are both lightweight and have a lovely drape. Challis is a plain weave with a smooth hand. It’s often semi-sheer and usually comes in colorful prints. Crepe is a twisted weave with a stubbly hand and stiffer drape than challis. These two fabrics are easy to sew with and can be made into most garments. Like most wool fabrics, the edges should be finished to prevent unraveling. Challis is thin enough for French seams. Depending on the thickness of the wool crepe, French seams may add too much bulk.


Gabardine is a twill weave fabric. It has a prominent diagonal rib. The fabric is medium weight and has a lovely drape. Because it has high wrinkle resistance, gabardine is perfect for pants, skirts and tailored garments. Gabardine is too thick for French seams, which would add substantial bulk. Pressed open seams work the best with this fabric as well as wool coatings.


Wool coating refers to wool fabrics used primarily for making warm winter coats. Coating comes in many kinds of weaves and thickness. Some popular types of coatings are melton, boucle (pronounced boo-clay) and boiled wool. Melton wool is thickly woven then felted. It has a soft, smooth hand and is quite thick. Boucle is very textured with a nubby surface. It’s loosely woven and when made into coats, must always be lined. Boiled wool has been knitted and then felted. It has a little bit of stretch to it and is also bulky. Because coatings are usually quite thick, look for patterns with simple designs such as Lady Grey. Fewer design elements mean less bulk at the seams. A press cloth should always be used with these fabrics to avoid sheen.

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin is the Colette Patterns design assistant. You can follow Caitlin at her blog, the story girl.



March 22, 2011 #

Whoa. Have you ever put your wool in the dryer with a wet towel for 45 minutes? Just curious how that worked out, because I’ve never heard of that. I typically sponge wools prior to cutting and recommend future dry-clean or delicate handwash/dry flat.

In fact, I’d be interested in a post about/with your references.

I think these is a great online full text reference for people wanting to learn more about textiles. They cover a lot of what you’ve been talking about the past several weeks, but in more detail, with photographs of processes:


March 22, 2011 #

Sure. It works beautifully. Steam shrinking in the dryer provides enough heat and moisture to shrink the fabric, but not enough moisture or direct agitation to felt the fibers.

If you do a google search, you’ll find many references to this technique online, including a lot of sewists’ personal experiences on places like Pattern Review. There are several different methods for shrinking wool, though.

Here’s a post from Pam at Off The Cuff, which lists almost the exact same steps. I like that she points out that it makes sense to apply heat and steam before sewing, because you will be applying it (through pressing) during construction.

Those books at look interesting. Perhaps we’ll do a roundup of fabric reference books. I think the only drawback to the vintage ones is that they often include different terminology.


March 22, 2011 #

Thank you for this post. It is very useful for me. I had a trouble with wool dress that shrieked. Now I will know how to pre- wash my wool fabrics. I put a link in my blog about your fabric series!

Jill Parmer

October 8, 2012 #

Do you know of any retailers for boiled wool? I did find two, Felt o Rama, and Filzfelt, and have ordered samples. I’m looking to make a coat, and love bright, rich colors. Thanks.


October 22, 2012 #

I’m making a coat out of boiled wool. Since boiled wool has already been “boiled”, does it still need to be pre-shrunk?


June 13, 2013 #

I’m confused. The impression I have from your post is that you use the tumble drying method for large amounts of wool and the hand wash (in water) for amounts too small for the tumble dryer. Is this correct or are you meant to do both? I’ve previously only used tumble drying. Many thanks for all your hard work.

Sofia Selden

August 16, 2013 #

I am interested in finding white/off-white wool challis for dyeing – specifically indigo and procion dyes. I am unable to find this fabric in any store, even B&J (NYC) can’t find it. thanks.

Marysia Paling

October 20, 2013 #

Hi there,

Have some beautiful Linton Tweed to make a Chanel Style jacket……..will try out the tumble drier method. Previously I had wool/silk mix from Linton for the Chanel jacket I made for my daughter…………and tooks hours ( and I mean hours) steam shrinking it…………….Looking forward to trying out this method.

Thanks so much girls, love the blog.