Wednesday, April 18, 2012

All About Fabrics Series: Wool

Wool is one of the oldest fabrics in the world. It comes from sheep, rabbits (angora), goats (cashmere) and other animals. (Which means that the dog fur knitting woman on youtube is making a logical leap to using another animal fur.)

Wool keeps you dry and warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is resistant to mold and mildew and is very durable for a long life of wearing. Wool has been improved on over time, to offset the scratchy feel it can be known for, and it is blended with other fibers to give different looks and feel. Some wools can be scratchy but don't judge all wools by your childhood experiences. Wool can also be incredibly soft and comfortable.

Wool ignites at a higher temperature than cotton and other fibres, making it a good choice in carpet and draperies.

It is generally dirt resistant.

It can absorb up to 30% of its weight without feeling damp.

 Sources of Wool

Alpaca fleece is very rich and silky with considerable luster. It comes from the Alpaca.

Mohair is from the Angora goat and is highly resilient and strong. Mohair’s luster, not softness, determines its value. Mohair is used in home decorating fabrics as well as garment fabrics.

Angora wool is from the Angora rabbit. This soft fiber is used in sweaters, mittens and baby clothes.

Camel hair is from the extremely soft and fine fur from the undercoat of the camel. Camel’s hair can be used alone but is most often combined with fine wool for overcoating, topcoating, sportswear and sports hosiery. Because of the beauty of the color, fabrics containing camel’s hair are usually left in the natural camel color or dyed a darker brown.

Cashmere is from the Kashmir goat down. Separation of the soft fibers from the long, coarse hair is tedious and difficult, contributing to the expense of the fabric. The soft hair is woven or knitted into fine garments and can also be blended with cotton, silk , or wool.

Vicuna Wool It is the softest coat cloth in the world. The amount of coarse hair to be separated from the soft fibers is negligible and yields the finest animal fiber in the world. Vicuna is a member of the Llama family and is small and wild. Since it is generally killed to obtain the fleece, it is protected by rigorous conservation measures. This fiber is rare and very expensive, costing several hundred dollars per yard.

Types of Wool Fabrics Available

Boiled Wool is a fabric that is pre-shrunk. It is used in accessories and coats. The fabric is a dense, heavy fabric.

Broadcloth is an all woolen or worsted fabric with a velvety feel. (Woolen fabric are cozier whereas worsted are stronger and coarser fabrics).

Challis, a light weight soft wool fabric in plain weave, has a printed or woven design or flowers.

Chinchilla cloth is a heavy, spongy woolen overcoat fabric with a long nap that has been rubbed into a curly, nubby finish
Donegal was originally a thick and warm homespun or tweed woven by Irish peasants in Donegal, Ireland. Donegal now describes the wool tweed that has colorful thick slubs woven into the fabric. It's great for coats, capes, suits and jackets.

Flannel wool is a soft, lightweight fabric with a nap on one or both sides. In couture sewing, designers often line silk with flannel.

Gabardine is a tightly woven wool twill with a high sheen. This fabric is excellent for tailoring and wears well. It is great for suiting, coats, jackets and more.

Glen checks are usually seen in menswear and originated in Scotland. It is characterized by a variety of small, even check designs.

Harris tweed is a hand woven fabric from Scotland with a soft feel. It is used in suiting and for coats.

Heather Mixture describes tweeds and homespun’s that have colors of heather and sand of the Scottish heather fields.

Herringbone wool is woven in a twill that is reversed at regular spacing, creating a sawtooth line.

Homespun is a loose, strong, durable woolen woven either by hand or machine with a coarse feel.

Houndstooth check has a four pointed star check in a broken twill weave.

Jersey is a knit fabric that is usually knit in fine wool or sometimes, silk, and man-made fibers.

Lambsdown is a heavy knit fabric that has a spongy fleeced nap on one side.

Linsey-woolsey is a coarse fabric first made in Lindsey, England, of wool combined with flax or cotton.

Loden fabric is a thick, soft, waterproof, windproof, wool used in outerwear that has a characteristic green color.

Mackinaw fabric is a heavy double fabric in striking colored patterns.

Melton, a heavy, tick, short napped fabric without a finish press or gloss.

Merino wool is soft and luxurious, resembling cashmere. Made from worsted yarn, it is much more affordable than cashmere. It yields thin fabric that is suitable for clothing including, skirts. dresses and menswear.

Petersham, a very thick, waterproof woolen coating, usually dark blue, is used for men’s trousers or heavy coats.

Pilot Cloth is a coarse, heavy, stout twilled woolen that is heavily napped and navy blue. Used by seamen.

Rabbit Hair is used in woven wool’s as a substitute for vicuna to give a soft effect in the fabric.

Sharkskin is woven with warp and filling yarns of alternating white with black, brown or blue.

Tartan is a twilled plaid design, originally Scottish.

Tweed is a rough textured wool, originally homespun and slightly felted. This fabric is sturdy with a mottled color.

 Sewing Tips for Wool
  • Wool must be pre-shrunk: either through a dry-cleaners or using an at-home method (there is a really good post on how to pre-treat wool on Off the Cuff found here)
  • It is an easy fabric to work with; though it can be quite expensive
  • This fabric resists wrinkling!
  • Wools dye easily and resist fading (except in direct, prolonged sunlight)
  • Can be damaged by too hot an iron and by moths
  • Wool doesn't tend to fray or ravel excessively so seam finishes can be as simple as trimming with pinking shears; however, the luxury of the fabric can call for more accomplished finishes.
  • Any interfacing can be used with wool fabric; use the fabric weight and drape as a guide when selecting interfacing. Always test fusible interfacing before using it to make sure it doesn’t cause the surface of lightweight wools to pucker; if so, replace with sew-in interfacing.
  • Use all-purpose cotton (or cotton-wrapped polyester) thread , a standard presser foot and stitch length appropriate for the fabric weight.
  • Use a universal needle appropriate for the weight of the fabric
  • Use hem tape and try to avoid gathered waists and set-in waist bands unless you are a really accomplished seamstress
  •  When sewing, press seams open to reduce bulk, grading them for heavy or bulky fabrics. To grade a seam allowance, trim each seam allowance a little narrower than the one above it, keeping the layer longest closest to the garment outside.
  •  Lining will help the garment keep its shape and eliminates the need for seam finishing.


  1. Love this set of posts Nothy. I hope you continue with some of the synthetic fabrics.

    1. I am definitely going to continue writing tips and facts about synthetic fabrics. I am learning myself as I go along. I'm just going to wait to see what fabric inspires me next.

  2. wow...I am always amazed at how you compile all the info into a post. Very informative and helpful, especially on the washing and sewing part. I hope to do a refashion with a wool sweater sometime so it helps to know that wool doesn't fray easily. I like the softness of wool.


  3. I didn't realize that tweed was a specific type of wool fabric. I thought it was a print.

  4. Nothy, I buy thrift clothes a lot and I've noticed that a lot of suiting from twenty and thirty years ago, using pinking shears to finish seams. It mst be a good, realible finish if its last this long! I'm glad you suggested it. Its a good choice for wool, especially re-fashioned wool.

  5. I found my way over to your blog from a comment at Did You Make That? Having just read your interesting take on wool, I thought you might find Kate Davies' several posts on the matter worthwhile. From this post in mid-November last year she proceeded with a whole series of posts discussing wool. Happy reading.

  6. Thanks, I will go read her posts!

  7. I love the feel of wool but I avoid it because I hate the drycleaning bills!

  8. I use the dryclean in the dryer stuff. It works pretty well



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