Thursday, March 8, 2012

Washing Wool Fabric

A glimpse into my wool stash
Earlier this year I posted about washing silk fabric and received such a wonderful response from everyone that I thought I would share about another fabric (fiber) that I love working with.  Wool.  This is a wonderful fiber and for so many reasons.  Some of my favorites include the fact that it instantly turns an ensemble from a casual look to a classy and sophisticated look.  (Made a lovely cotton shift dress lately?  Try making it up in a light weight wool suiting and you've got a perfect dress for the office or an evening out).  Secondly, I love the warmth that wool provides.  Despite the unusually warm weather we are currently experiencing this winter, a wool dress or skirt is still the perfect choice when getting dressed on a winter morning.

We've all heard that wool can shrink quite a bit when washed, and that it is best to always dry clean it.  This can scare many of us away from using wool for our sewing projects.  Boy do I have a secret for you . . . okay, it's not really a secret just something I know that you might not.  You can pre wash your wool fabric at home instead of bringing it to the dry cleaners!

I have been using wool since I first started sewing, and I have used this method of pre washing every time.  Even though I consider this a tried-and-true method, I still do a test swatch EVERY SINGLE TIME, and I recommend you do the same :)

A snapshot of my test square and a pattern I'm considering using with it
The first step is to do a zig-zag stitch over the raw edges of your fabric to prevent any unnecessary unraveling.  

Next, run some hot water over two towels, I use two towels for 3-4 yards of wool fabric.  (Think your thick bath towels).  I like to really ring them out so they are not dripping as I transfer them to my dryer.  If you see water droplets while transporting the towels, just ring them out a bit more.

Place the wet towels in your dryer with your wool fabric.  Set the dryer on high and tumble dry for 30 - 40 minutes.

I like to run my test square with a bit of clean laundry, since they need to be dried anyway.
(Don't look too closely for any unmentionables, I tried to hide them with t-shirts anyhow).
Here is my lovely wool with a yellow and purple bath towel just before turning on the dryer.
Take the fabric out of the dryer and lay flat to cool.  Now you are done.

I like to let my fabric cool while laying across my bed (we don't have that much floor space).

How easy was that?  Believe me, you saved a lot of money over taking your fabric to the dry cleaners!  Again, please do a swatch test before you wash your entire yardage of wool.

A fantastic thing about wool is that it is antimicrobial.  Which according to Wikipedia, means that it kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or protozoans.  So your wool garments do not need to be washed as often as your other clothing.  In fact, wool is less likely to retain odors and can be freshened up just by airing out.  For a slew of other great and fascinating facts about wool, check out this website.

What do you think?  Are you less afraid to work with wool now?  Do you have any other tips to share on working with wool?

Live in this moment and love life!
Annabelle


39 comments:

  1. I am totally impressed! I love wool but haven't sewn with it for a long time (raising children does that to a girl) but I'm ready to begin again. Thanks so much for sharing this info.

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    1. Oh good luck with bringing wool back into your sewing journey. I'm totally impressed that you raised 5 kids - that is way more impressive than finding a cheater's way of working with wool ;)

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  2. Once again you have saved my behind! Thank you for this as I have two lengths of wool I was, ermm, scared to pre-treat but I know what to do now! Thank you!!!

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    1. Vicki, I am so glad you found this helpful! If you have any questions along the way, just ask. I've used this numerous times and it always works.

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  3. Excellent! Love that you can do this. I do stay away from wool because of the washing thing, not any more.thanks Annabelle!

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    1. Gina, I am delighted that this will help you move past the fear sewing with wool. Looking forward to any future projects you will be making!

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  4. awesome!!! I've never sewn with wool but this definitely makes it less daunting - thanks!! :)

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    1. Yay! Wool makes some fabulous garments, if you have any questions about working with it, I would be happy to help. (Your Pastille would be lovely in wool).

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    2. ooh yeah... you're right, it totally would!!!

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  5. Great post! I knew you could steam wool this way and I knew wool was wonderful but, I had no idea it was antimicrobial. That's fantastic! Thanks for sharing that link. Now, I think I love wool even more :-)!

    Once again, I'm envious of your stash! Though, I was fortunate to find two beautiful wools while on vacation this summer. The pattern you show looks interesting from the teeny bit I can see ;-)

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    1. Hi Jennifer, I feel like I'm a bit geeky, but I love finding out all sorts of facts like this. It makes sewing even more interesting. I'm terribly sneaky with only showing a bit of my pattern ;)

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  6. I sew for clients who want wool pants that can be washed so we wash the wool before cutting in the same was they will wash it after it is sewn. Sure it can shrink in length and width but the saving in dry cleaning bills and the saving of the chemicals in the environment is worth it. The wool takes on a new feel, softer and loftier. Clients who worry about silk being hand washed in water are amazed when I ask them about women in India who wash all their clothes by beating it on a rock in the river...no dry cleaners in sight!

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    1. I have yet to try washing a wool garment after it has been made. I still use the dry cleaners and air it out. It's good to know that it is possible and I love that it not only saves on dry cleaning but eliminates chemical usage. Thanks for sharing your insight!

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  7. Hello there :),
    I awarded you because your blog is wonderful! (See my blog for details.)

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  8. Yes, the shrug with my striped dress is the one I knitted! I would love to sew with wool, but it is so expensive, and it is so hot here that I haven't much use for it (except maybe for tropical weight wool, that might be useful). I did wonder how to prep the fabric as steaming it with my iron didn't sound like much fun. How do you wash your finished projects made out of wool? Do you send them to the cleaners? Handwash? Do tell. ....!!

    Oh, and the wool revolution site looks fun!

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    1. Hi Caroline - I am pretty lucky that I can get wool for such a reasonable price, otherwise I probably wouldn't sew with it either. Now if I could just find apparel cotton at reasonable prices, I would be the luckiest of them all :)

      I admit that I haven't done much with my finished wool projects. Because of wool's antimicrobial properties I have gotten away with air drying most items. I have taken some to the dry cleaners (yuck, I'm trying to avoid this altogether). I would like to explore handwashing wool, but haven't yet.

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    2. oh well, if you do you'll post about it, right? :) I'm with you about cotton; i love sewing with it ...

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    3. Yes Caroline, if I start hand washing my wool garments I will share tips.

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  9. That is awesome! Thanks for sharing, that will certainly make life easier!

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    1. Tors, I am so glad you found this useful! Please do share when you make a project using wool.

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  10. I love that wool doesn't hold smells, it's such a great quality. I have to say that I probably test this to the limit by hardly ever washing my wool items (shush!).

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    1. I won't tell! (Plus I am the same).

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  11. Thank you for the much-needed tutorial on pre-treating wool. Sometimes I am unsure of the wool content in fabric (especially when dealing with fabrics from my stash). I will definitely try this method. You make it seem so easy.

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    1. Yes, it really is super easy. I have never had any problems with this method - and I wish you the best of luck on your sewing journey using wool :)

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  12. Thanks for sharing this. I always wash my wool too, I just put it straight in the washing machine on the wool/ delicate setting (cold) and add wool soap. Only once did I end up felting it and that's because I put it on the 'cotton' setting (60 degrees C XP).

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    1. That is so great that you can just throw it in your washing machine, mine is pretty old and does not have a wool setting - but I am hoping to get a new one within the year so hopefully I can start washing my wool that way. Thanks for sharing this advice!

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  13. Just came across your post. I didn't know how to prewash some wool fabric. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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    1. I am so glad you found this helpful! Wool is such a wonderful fabric and much easier to sew with once you know how to properly wash it.

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  14. Hi~

    I am just about to make a red wool coat, and I was wondering if this method would take care of getting the extra red dye out of the fabric. Also does the fabric shrink very much when you pre wash it like this? After I make the coat I was planning on only dry cleaning it so I was a little unsure of the best method to pre-wash it. Thanks so much for the helpful post!

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    1. Hello - to be honest I am not sure how much extra dye will be removed from your fabric using this method. I have only used it on grey, brown and navy fabrics that did not seem heavily saturated with dye. None of the dye has really transferred to my towels (which are light in color). But yes, this will shrink your fabric. On a 3 yard piece of fabric that 60" wide, you can lose between half and inch to an inch both lengthwise and widthwise. I hope this helps!

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  15. OMG, Annabelle! Thanks so much for posting!!! I've been researching online for a while, and calling dry cleaners asking how I can pre-shrink my yardage of wool. Dry cleaners won't do it because they have a set price for completed garments. Again, this is good information.

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    1. Hello Lorraine, I am so glad that you found this to be of great use! Best of luck with your wool sewing endeavors :)

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  16. OK - try that again.
    Hi Annabelle
    Thank you for this but I am a little confused with your instructions (apparently the only one). You mention not being afraid of washing wool fabric and go on to say to put it in the dryer with wet towels. You don't say if the wool should be wet or dry, but even if you do this with dry wool fabric, what do you do when you want to actually wash it? I was under the impression that the agitation in the washing machine was part of the shrinking problem.

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    1. Sorry for any confusion in this post. The wool should be dry, the steam created from the towels will help to shrink the fabric, while avoiding felting it. When I go to wash the garment later I use the same process - tossing the finished garment in the dryer with some damp towels. Because of wool's antimicrobial properties, it doesn't really need to be washed. If you have a stain, I would spot treat the stain, but still not wash the entire garment. If the garment really needs to be wash, I would hand wash in cold water and use a soap that is safe for wool and let the garment air dry. Does that help?

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  17. Yes, thanks. And thank you for responding so promptly. I really need to get on with this garment and this was holding me up.

    I'm surprised it doesn't usually need to be actually washed.

    Sorry for the duplicate posts - I didn't notice the 'wait for approval' thingy.

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    1. No problem - you caught me at a good time :) I've found that a lot of my wool garments can go for many wears before needing a "freshen up" - it is really an amazing fiber. Even my wool sweaters can go longer than my sweaters made of acrylic, cotton, etc. Best of luck with your sewing endeavors.

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  18. Thanks. I'm thinking it will be hard to flat air dry 5 yards of fabric, but maybe on (dry) towels on a bed or something, folded over.
    Thanks again.

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  19. Dry cleaners wanted $20 per fabric (which is the price I bought them for) and I had two wool fabrics of 2 yards each. Maybe I'm a cheapo but there's no way I'm gonna spend $40 just to get it cleaned. I put them in my washer on permanent press, and now they're air drying. I think they may have shrunk a bit but I don't care as long as it's still wool! lol

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    1. That's ridiculous! I hate bringing things to the dry cleaners. A bit of shrinkage from washing never bothered me with wool. I hope whatever you are making turns out well.

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