A Fashionable Stitch » sartorial sewing

Fabric Friday: Wool Knits

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Oh the rarity that is wool knit. Today’s Fabric Friday is all about wool knit. So what does this mean exactly? Again, wool is the fiber type and knit is the type of fabric (weave/knit structure) we’re dealing with. Knitted fabrics are actually knitted on large knitting machines. They are either knitted flat – meaning they have selvedge edges running along each vertical edge – or they are knitted in a tube. I’ve seen both in different fiber types, but let’s get back to wool.

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Wool knit is not easy to come by. I rarely, if ever, see them (even as a fabric store owner with some good fabric getting connections). When I see them, I snatch them up like they are going out of style!

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I like to think of wool knits in 4 categories – just to keep it relatively simple. There’s wool jersey – this means that the cloth is knitted from a single yarn. Think t-shirt weight. I also classify wool rib knit in this category too. A good quality wool jersey will have a nice drape and will be soft.  The nice thing with jersey weight wool knits is that they can be fairly thin and they will still last you a good long while if you keep the moths at bay. Wools are awesome in this way. Wool jerseys sometimes have a bit of spandex (or Lycra) in them, for recovery (meaning it won’t stretch out of shape and never come back!).

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Wool Double Knit is just that – instead of a single yarn, this cloth is knitted from a double strand of yarn thereby creating a thicker, denser cloth. This is one of my favorites. Wool Double Knit (or ponte knit too) usually doesn’t curl making it easier to handle and deal with and it’s just beefier than your average jersey. It’s lovely cloth. Sometimes, double knits have some spandex in them too, just for nice recovery.

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Third category is Boiled Wool. Boiled wool is kind of special because it’s formation is actually made from boiling wool, hence its namesake. It can be made from either a woven or knit wool and from there the cloth is boiled and agitated. This causes the wool to shrink in both directions and creates a lofty sort of cloth. Additionally, it tends to have a nice amount of give in the cross-grain. Would make a perfect Oslo – the new Seamwork cardigan. Ends up being a bit of a sweatery knit with nice bumpy irregular texture. Very warm too.

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Sweater knits comprise the fourth category. Even though boiled wool is kind of a sweater knit, I tend to put it in its own category because it’s formation is a little bit special. Sweater knits can be regular knit or raschel knit – meaning it has more of a lacy feel to it. These are generally, well sweatery. Think sweater and you have the idea. They sometimes feature interesting designs in the knit – like cables and such. My apologies for featuring a boring solid color photo for the sweater knits – I don’t have any fun or funky design wool sweater knits on hand! Several sweater knits are made of wool or are a wool blend (I see these often coupled with acrylic, polyester or nylon).

Since we’ve covered fiber types, I thought I would also mention that I mostly see merino, cashmere and angora rockin the knits. In fact, I daresay, I’ve never seen a merino wool that wasn’t a knit – what about you? If you come across these in wool knit yardage then it’s worth it to take a closer look and possibly even add to your stash. These particular types are usually quite soft and little fluffy.

Do have any wool knits in your stash? These are worth having!

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!

  • Claire - Oh oh thank you so much for this whole series! I’ve never sewn with wool knits before, but it is about time.ReplyCancel

  • Renee - Wool knits and silk jersey are my absolute favorite. I’m always stocking up on them when I can. Thanks for this series. I was never quite sure of the difference between them all.ReplyCancel

  • Jet Set Sewing - I just finished making a dress from a 50s Claire McCardell pattern out of merino wool jersey from The Fabric Store in L.A. It’s a wonderful fabric to sew with! Now I’m making a wrap from a wool sweater knit. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very satisfying to sew with these fabrics. Also merino jersey is known for its ability to not get smelly, which cuts down on cleaning.ReplyCancel

  • Iselin - Oh, I love wool knits! Here in Norway wool is much used during the winter months, and I buy most of my wool knits from http://www.janusull.no/produkter/63/ull-paa-rull. Right now I’m wearing my new favourite dress that I made from this fabric: http://www.janusull.no/detaljer/UR4805-814-175/83–merinoull-14–polyamid-3–elastan#.VJQzfV4CI. It’s a heavy french terry and so, so soft and cosy. I use wool knits a lot when making clothes for my girls, too. They generally always wear wool as their base layer in winter.ReplyCancel

  • Karen - Thank you so much for this wonderful series. I know you spent a lot of time gathering the pictures and doing research. I will bookmark it for future reference, although I do admit I have several pieces of wool in my freezer at the momentReplyCancel

  • Stillsewing - Well done on this series. Unlike most of your readers whom I presume to be US or North Americans, all my sewing is done in either wool, cotton or silk. Wool is so easy to work with. This needs to be spelt out quite clearly. Over here we can buy “Woolmark” fabric which is very washable. I would encourage sewers to try it. Wool sews better, sits better.

    Happy Christmas.ReplyCancel

  • Billie - Very interesting series, I learned a lot! I have a question: what is the difference between boiled wool and felt?ReplyCancel

    • French Toast Tasha - Boiled wool is felted, after it’s knit or woven. Fabrics labeled “wool felt” are usually felted right from the fiber without being spun/knit/woven first, so they tend to be quite thick and sturdy. Since boiled wool has an underlying structure in the fibers, it doesn’t have to be felted as firmly to make a lasting fabric, so it often has a lot more drape per thickness.ReplyCancel

  • French Toast Tasha - Sunni, thanks for introducing more people to he joys of wool knits! Although I’m an American, like a lot of your readers across the pond I’ve converted to wearing almost exclusively silk and wool knits as base layers during the winter. It’s so much warmer, more luxurious and just more awesome than cotton, etc. And yeah, wool is pretty much always a dream to sew!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Oh how right you are – sadly, wool knit is a rare breed. If I spied wool double knit – especially locally – I would buy up the lot!! LOL Even on the West Coast of Canada, where the weather tends to be relatively mild, the damp can make us feel chillier than the temperature would dictate so a wool knit garment is an absolute joy to wear – and just lovely to sew with as well :)ReplyCancel

  • Patty - Thank you so much. Very informative!ReplyCancel

  • Topstitched by Anne - This is a brilliant series. I love working with wool. Both the wiven and the knitted kind. As Iselin said, we have a good source of knitted wool fabrics in Norway at Janus. They are a producer of wool underwear that last year decided to go on the market with wool fabrics also. They have beautiful wool Terry among other things.ReplyCancel

  • Rachelle - Warming Crafts - We get a lot of merino knits over here; there’s a wonderful factory in the North Island that makes a lot of merino knits and they are lovely to wear and to work with. Not cheap, but well worth it in my experience.ReplyCancel

  • Beth - I always thought boiled wool was a sturdy woven fabric for coats. So I was really confused when Lauren/Lladybird recently made a tshirt from boiled wool. Thank you for solving the mystery!ReplyCancel

  • maddie - Well this post comes at the right time! Over Thanksgiving, I bought a brushed wool knit on Emmaonesock.com (they have a whole section dedicated to them – link below). I haven’t dealt with this type of fabric before, so sewing with them was a new adventure (regular or ballpoint needles? Straight or zigzag stitch?). I’m not sure the one I have is any of the above categories. It has a face side with a paisley pattern, but the wrong side is solid grey, so it should be a double knit? But it curls to one side and isn’t as thick as a ponte. Any idea of what kind this is? If you look on the page, 5 he one I bought is the Etro teal brush wooded.

    http://www.emmaonesock.com/fabrics/woolknits.asp?c=58ReplyCancel

For the Fabric Nerd: Wool Fiber Types

Not all woolens are created equal. Here’s where we’re going to get super snobby! Let’s talk about wool fiber types. So, what does this mean, wool fiber? It refers to the animal that the wool comes from and also any special finishes that the wool may undergo to become a yarn. First, I’m going to talk about the animal that the hair fiber came from in order to make the yarn to be woven or knitted into cloth. Remember that wool as a general definition is the hair of any animal made into fabric. So let’s talk animals, eh?

Most wool comes from sheep. When something just says its wool, it’s coming from a sheep. This is not a bad thing in any way, it’s just the base level and from here we’ll get a little more exotic.

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Cashmere. I’m sure that’s one you’ve heard before. Cashmere. Oh how excitingly lush! Cashmere comes from cashmere goats (and a few other similar goats apparently) and the reason it’s such an expensive cloth is because it’s most specifically the hair around the goat’s neck. Not a whole bunch of hair there if you know what I mean. So you have to shave a lot of goat necks to get a small stash of hair to spin into yarn. This cloth is usually very very soft. Yum!

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Merino. Another fairly common wool out there. Merinos are sheep. A special sheep that is very much prized for its soft hair. Merino is very high quality and especially in knits, it’s positively heaven.

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Mohair is another wool fiber type. I actually see this fiber coupled a lot with rayon in suitings, but alone it’s more like a fur (but it’s not fur, so don’t be confused). Mohair comes from a certain breed of goats.

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That leads right into Angora which does come from little angora rabbits. I’ve actually never seen angora as a single fiber in a cloth. I’ve only ever seen it coupled with other fibers – perhaps to make it stronger? Either way, this stuff is quite soft and little bit fluffy.

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Alpaca is a pretty wonderful woolen. It’s from an animal that is very similar looking to a llama. Alpaca hair is hypoallergenic! There are a few different breeds of the animal, Suri (considered the more luxurious) and Huacuaya.

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This leads me to Vicuna which is considered one of the finest wools you can buy. It is very rare and the animal itself (relative to the llama also) can only be shorn once every three years! Surprisingly, I have a Vicuna scarf that was given to me by my dad. He lived in Bolivia when he was younger and a family gave my dad a pure vicuna scarf that had been in their family for many many years. It was considered a very prized possession. Crazy enough, it does not feel like the traditional wools I’ve come across. It’s very soft and almost feels like a very fine cotton, meaning it doesn’t itch in the slightest!

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What about Shetland wool? This comes from a Shetland sheep, is fairly course and rather scratchy. It’s usually something that you would use in a coat. Usually very thick and very very warm.

I also wanted to touch on a few other things that can make a wool special. These have to do with finishes or processes that the wool fiber goes through to become a yarn.

What is worsted wool? The worsted yarn goes through a different process than regular wool yarn to become yarn – that was a mouthful! When I come across worsted wools as a buyer, it typically implies that the wool is fairly soft and is light to medium weight and opaque. When I see a worsted I usually buy it because it usually means fine quality.

Have you ever seen high quality suiting wools? They are usually marked as super 120s or super 130s. I’ve even seen some go up to super 180s (very rare). These are very very high quality wool suitings. And they do not feel like wool, they feel akin to silk. Many have a luster to them – a little bit of a sheen – and the numbers themselves refer to the long staple yarn count per square inch. Like bedsheets. The higher the number, the better the quality. I’ve only seen these kind of suitings come from Great Britain or Australia, and that is usually reflective in the price as they can run pretty expensive. They hold a press, but wrinkling is very minimal.

What about virgin wool? Have you heard that term before? Virgin wool implies that all the wool in the piece is new and it does not contain any recycled wool. Virgin wools are typically more expensive than others, but worth the price. They are finer quality, have minimal wrinkling, usually a bit softer and have a lovely brilliant color in whatever color they are dyed in.

I know this was a long post, but hopefully this gives you a better idea of wool fiber types and what you’re looking at when you purchase something in store or online. It’s more than likely that I’ve missed a few here, but hopefully I’ve nabbed all the major ones! Do you have any of these fabrics in your stash?

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!

  • Tia Dia - Love all this information! Wool is, hands down, my favourite fibre with which to work. I had never heard of Vicuna, and I have stumbled across a super 180 wool or two. Gorgeous, drool-worthy fabric, and, yes, very hefty in the price department. Thanks for posting!ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Thank you Tia Dia! I too LOVE wools. They are marvelous to work with. Yay for woolens!ReplyCancel

  • Caitlyn M. - It’s exceedingly strange to me that the sewing world uses the term “wool” for fabric made from the hair of any animal. In the knitting/crocheting world, if a yarn is made from the hair of an alpaca, the yarn is labeled “alpaca,” not “wool.” There’s just a greater degree of specificity. Considering that the structure of sheep hair and alpaca hair is different and imparts very different qualities to the fiber (memory vs. drape in the case of wool and alpaca), I tend to think is the better way to go. It’s a lot less likely to confuse or mislead people about what they’re getting. I’ve gathered that knitters/crocheters in the UK tend to use the term wool to mean any yarn, but often use a modifier when the yarn is not actually made from sheep, e.g. cotton wool, in order to be clear. Any idea why the sewing world doesn’t observe these distinctions?ReplyCancel

    • Jen - I would tend to think that the differences in terminology relates to the subject matter, in other words, the subject of textiles versus the use of the material. If you are sewing a woolen material, then how you handle it would not be much different whether it is merino or shetland (except for sewing specific issues of the thickness of the fabric etc.). Angora fibers would tend to be an element of the fabric. So to a sewer I tend to think that the distinctions don’t matter so much, and so they grouped together as “wool” or perhaps more precisely, as “woolen” fabrics. I’m just guessing though, so maybe someone else has a different idea about this!

      I’ve noticed the difference with UK usage also and I suspect that it relates to texture rather than content. Also, if I remember correctly, the German word for cotton is baumwolle – tree wool. So perhaps that’s were the UK use comes from. This general use of wool seems not to have crossed the Atlantic, but then again, there is steel wool…ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - I agree with Jen too! When sewing, how you handle the cloth really is not much different even though the fiber content might be different. I can definitely see how it would be different for a knitter or even weaver though. Additionally, I would add that as far as cloth yardage is concerned, with all the different fiber types of wool in addition to all the different weaves it could be formulated into, that would end up with a lot of combinations that I think would add to confusion rather than eliminate. Great points though, both of you!ReplyCancel

    • LinB - My best guess is that it is a colloquial distinction. As a language spreads across the world and through time, local usage changes. For instance, my 80+-year-old father refers to his “shirt” as a “blouse.” Local usage in central North Carolina when he grew up did not distinguish between masculine and feminine garments. (It does now.) About using “wool” to describe any animal’s hair, you’re right, that IS odd. We say “camel’s hair,” not “camel’s wool” although you’d think that would also be a “woolen.” My LYS (local yarn store) owner collects hair from her collie all year, and spins it into a lovely undyed dog’s hair yarn to sell at Christmas time. Would that be considered “wool” where you live?ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - This is fascinating! I personally would think of it as a wool. And how dare I miss Camel hair! Aaacck! I will update this post very soon with some Camel hair. Thanks LinB!ReplyCancel

  • Caitlyn M. - Oh, and for anyone who might be interested, Clara Parkes is considered by the knitting world as one of the foremost authorities on fiber. Her books The Knitter’s Book of Yarn and The Knitter’s Book of Wool are excellent resources for anyone who wants to explore fiber in depth.ReplyCancel

  • Åsa - Thank you for your informative posts! I love wearing and sewing wool.

    Regarding angora wool, you may want to mention the animal cruelty aspects. This is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on angora wool (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angora_wool):
    “In 2013 several clothing retailers suspended the sourcing of products containing angora wool after video evidence surfaced of live rabbits with their paws tied being plucked raw in Chinese fur farms. Major retailers that banned angora products in response to welfare concerns include Gap Inc., Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, H&M and Esprit.”ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know this! (shame on Sunni!). I had actually wondered why you couldn’t purchase angora sweaters anymore, but I definitely understand now. I’ve also seen some angora fabric yardage in the past couple of years and it is outrageously expensive, so hopefully these cute little guys are being treated in a much more humane way!ReplyCancel

  • patsijean - This is quite informative, and I have been sewing for a long time. Vicuna is new to me, and so is the information on worsteds. Good job and nice photos.

    I too have read news articles regarding the unnecessarily cruel harvesting of Angora wool. The rabbits are left bloody from where their fur was yanked out. I signed a petition regarding that practice, but cannot provide a link as this was a few months ago. My personal reaction was to avoid anything with angora in it.ReplyCancel

  • Jen - I’m just going to say that I love the animal pictures!ReplyCancel

  • Kate McIvor - Thanks Sunni! This is a great series. You should have print outs of your fabric nerd series to go along with fabric purchases. You could also consider selling the print outs to other shop owners. :)ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Thank you Kate! I will most definitely think about it. I was considering creating a downloadable e-book with all this info in it. I still have a fair amount of posts to go through, so I think this might be a fabulous idea!ReplyCancel

  • Becky - I’ll admit that I almost skipped this post altogether, because I’m allergic to wool. I was pleasantly surprised to see information on the non-sheepy stuff, though. Especially the alpaca, since I can handle that in at least lower percentages. It was an interesting read, and I hope you do similar posts in the future on other types of fabrics!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - Growing up in NZ, I saw a lot of wool (of the sheep variety, recognising Caitlyn’s point above ;-)… I thought for ages that wool just meant that made from sheep). It’s still my favourite too – structured yet pliable AND it doesn’t need to be washed as often, result! I’m loving this series – thank you Sunni!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - Thanks for a very helpful post. The one thing that comes out of this for me is the question of how animals are treated in the production of cloths, which though true of all of the above is particularly true of the angora rabbit. From what i understand it is possible to harvest the wool painlessly, but this is very slow and expensive and so best practice is not always followed, so worth watching out for cheap angora as a risky one. For me part p1f the reason for sewing my own clothes stems from a desire to have control over the production processes and this extends to the cloth itself. It can be difficult to find out, however!ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Yes, this is very hard to know. I would also add that as a small business owner who sells fabric, many times, the fabric I’m purchasing has gone through at least 3 middle men before I see it. I rarely, if ever, deal directly with the manufacturer of the cloth so its really hard to find out if something has been ethically milled or not.ReplyCancel

  • Terri Gardner - I enjoyed your post. Being a wool lover and country dweller, I actually have all wools (with the exception of Vicuna) on the hoof. I started out with Shetland Sheep but had to have a little of everything. I love sewing and knitting with this versatile and wonderful fiber.

    And I will agree that in the knitting and spinning world what type of wool one uses tends to be more specific than the sewing world. That is the way it has always been. When we make or buy yarn, there are very exact percentages of raw materials. Wool fabric just doesn’t seem to go to those extremes, unless there is silk or cashmere involved. That’s what I think.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - I agree, you are right! I find the same thing.
      It’s awesome that you own these animals! Soooooo cool!ReplyCancel

  • Lyn - When I was little, my grandfather had some Angora goats on his farm back in South Africa, until the wool market crashed and he sold them as it cost more to shear them than the wool was worth.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Lyn, this is terrible! And nowadays, its hard because I don’t know that the majority of people understand the worth of real wool. I’ve seen department stores here in the US market something as cashmere when it contained 5% of cashmere and otherwise was acrylic!!! This is incredibly disappointing! An all-around BOO! for the state of “fast fashion” the world is in today.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa G - Thanks for the crash course on wool! I’ll definitely bookmark this for future reference.ReplyCancel

  • Tanya - Thank you for the highly educational post – has actually opened my eyes to the different fibre types of wool and more importantly their origins. I didn’t know that cashmere came from a goat.ReplyCancel

  • bibliotecaria - One more thing to add a bit more detail. As a handspinner, worsted wool cloth actually means something a bit more specific — it has to do with how it is spun. In handspinning, there are two basic types of spinning: woolen vs. worsted. (Yes, woolen again! The word has been used with great variability, depending on the part of the process you are talking about.)

    The basic difference between these two types of spinning is how much air is included in the basic yarn as it is spun up. Woolen spinning includes a great deal more air, and is far more likely to be available in knitting yarn. If you weave with it, it is better to weave at a very light density, so as not to lose the trapped air, which leads to greater warmth. Truthfully, I’ve really only seen that type of weaving in handwoven items, not commercial stuff!

    Worsted spinning tends to be very tightly spun, with very little air trapped in the yarn at all. Although this can certainly be done with thick yarns, this type of yarn is more likely to be spun very finely and used in weaving cloth, which is why worsted cloth is the way you describe. The down side is that worsted-spun cloth is not as warm as woolen-spun cloth.

    Anyway, just thought I’d add to the general knowledge.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Thank you for this! Love hearing more about everyone’s knowledge of wool fabric and fiber.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - I would take one of each of these adorable fuzzies… I’ve always wanted to raise goats for real, but alas, i live in an apartment, which is probably why i hoard fabric and lovely squishy wools instead ^__^ Seriously though, wool is one of my hands down favourite fibers to work with – and silk. Silk-wool blends are the ultimate IMO ^__^ Thank you for sharing – I learned some new things! :)ReplyCancel

  • Sara A. - Speaking as a knitter, these animal fibers have lots of different effects on finished fabric.
    Wool is the most elastic. Merino wool is the softest and needs a firm spin to keep it from pulling. Shetland wool is a medium wool sheep with guard hairs and kemp in its coat that requires some more extensive processing to go from sheep to yarn.

    Alpaca is warm and soft but not very elastic so very drapey and has a halo to it. Can shed.

    Angora rabbit fur is often cut with other fibers because it is completely inelastic and also about 5x warmer than other fibers.

    “Angora” is kind of a catch-all term in the animal husbandry world for an animal with thick, warm, long, and lustrous locks. There are angora goats, rabbits, cats, and dogs. I think the root comes from “Ankara,” a region in Turkey.

    A question for you though. I got some beautiful wool from the fabric store and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s a stretch wool. It feels like 95% wool 5% lycra, judging against stretch denim. I’ve never sewn with wool woven, let alone wool stretch woven– Is there anything special I need to know about that?ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Thanks for your input Sara! I would say that with your stretch wool, just keep in mind that it’s meant to stretch when you wear it. This works lovely in a jacket – when you want a very fitted jacket and you want to be able to actually move in it and not feel like you’re wearing a straight jacket. I would recommend going down one size in a pattern, or using a bigger seam allowance everywhere with whatever style you choose to make up the stretch wool in. Fit as you go too. Hopefully this helps you!ReplyCancel

      • Sara A. - Thanks Sunni! I think I’m gonna stash the wool for a while. I’m fairly new to garment sewing, so I don’t want to botch something beautiful or attempt something too far beyond my current skill set. Button holes and zipper installations are still adventures for me.ReplyCancel

  • Fabric Friday: Wool Knits » A Fashionable Stitch - […] we’ve covered fiber types, I thought I would also mention that I mostly see merino, cashmere and angora rockin the knits. In […]ReplyCancel

  • Francesca - Adorable pics and great post. I have something of everything in your post, including some great Italian vicuna – or “pura lana vicogna” as it says on the side. This huge store we have in my island sells everything from totally unadulterated rubbish to some really nice silks and wools, and I had stocked up on some of this wool – had made a blue jacket and skirt, and a coat, and recently found I still had some black left and made a New york cape (tessuti pattern). It’s lovely stuff and my friend Franco who has a men’s shop recognised it by look and feel. I have found that a lot of Italian and some French fabrics tend to have the composition stamped on the edges – at least the good ones. I’ve been fortunate enough to score great stuff from Franco’s shop – since tailoring is no longer so popular among men nowadays (idiots) he is selling his fabric stock at great prices, so I have bought Dormeuil fabrics and others – super 120s, 140s, tropical wool, mohair suitting, etc etc….. these are the only fabrics I actually hang from a clip hanger instead of folding them in my different stash places! And I have also managed to buy merino knit on line from New Zealand – it is gorgeous, and doesn’t itch my neck and chest like other wools do (except for cashmere – but hey, can you even buy cashmere knit??!!).

    I have bought angora for knitting in the past but always made sure to buy British made or Italian, especally after seeing pics on laughing hens of this woman spinning directly off her pet rabbits – so cute! – but the last time I bought some was from Rowan and I was shocked to see that it was from “French and Chinese rabbits” – I did not expect Rowan to use Chinese angora, I wouldn’t have bought it if I knew. That country has no culture of compassion for animals and I avoid buying chinese made for that reason.ReplyCancel

Fabric Friday: Wool Gabardine

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As we continue on with highlighting woolens, I thought it would be great fun to feature a fabric every Friday. There are many varieties of wool out there and if I do say so myself, it’s awesome to know what you’re buying or what you have already. Today, I’m giving it up to wool gabardine.

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Let’s break this all down now. Wool is the fiber type – I’ll be going over different kinds of wool fiber next week, so then you’ll be a wool ninja! – and gabardine is the weave structure. Do y’all know what weave structure is? I don’t know if you’ve ever actually seen a weaving loom, but I’ve seen several. Strange, strange coincidence is that here in Utah, there are a lot of ladies who weave their own cloth. It’s fascinating really. I can’t tell you all the gory details about weaving (because I don’t know any!), but I do know that there are basic weave structures and one of them is twill. Gabardine is a twill. This basically means that when you look at it closely, the yarns look diagonal – like denim! Yes, denim, that fabric your jeans are made of is a twill weave.

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The thing that is different about wool gabardine is that it’s always drapey. I have to be honest and say I’m not exactly sure what gives gabardine its drape, but it’s got nice flow. Wool Gabardine is a medium weight fabric and works nicely for jackets, pants, dresses and skirts. Think suiting.

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Remember these pants? Those are a luscious bright red wool gab. You’ll find that with wool fabrics, you can do a lot of different things design/sewing wise. For example, the same wool fabric that can be used to make a flowy dress, can also be used to make a tailored jacket. This is the lovely thing about wool – its versatility.

Have you worked with wool gab before? Do you have wool gab in your stash?

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!

  • Sue - I love this idea Fabric Friday. I’ve been looking for websites that provide you with a list of fabrics and what type of garments you can create with it. And here you are showing us a garment as well with valuable tips on the fabric! Many thanks. Looking forward to next Friday.ReplyCancel

  • laura - The wool gabardine I ordered from your shop during the black friday sale has just arrived today actually! I’m trying to decide how to pretreat it now.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - I find that wool gabardine is actually pretty forgiving with a pre-wash. For this tightly woven fabric I wash in cold on gentle cycle and hang to dry. Give it a good iron and you’re ready to go!ReplyCancel

  • Tina - Sunni, thank you so much for all this fabric information. I love it!!!! I have wondered what the difference was between some of the wools & this post, along with the others, has been so great. Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to inform us. By the way, I ordered some of the cotton jersey fabric from you & love it. Can’t wait for things to settle down so I can make a Renfrew T shirt with it.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - So glad you’re loving the cotton jerseys Tina! Means a lot to hear you say that. Also glad that people are finding this info useful. I’ve found that so many customers who come into the store don’t know what certain fabrics are – not a bad thing at all – but when you know, and especially when you’re ordering online, you know what you’re purchasing. Really helps a bunch!ReplyCancel

  • Candie - I love anything wool. Thanks for this!ReplyCancel

  • Sewer - I’ve taken a few high-end tailoring classes. We were always instructed not to us gabardine because it is an unforgiving fabric and unsuitable for people without a lot of experience. Flannel or tweed were recommended instead. I prefer those two to gabardine, which for my taste is too hard and slick for the clothes that interest me.ReplyCancel

    • Sewer - “not to use”ReplyCancel

      • Sunni - Yes, I can definitely see this. It is unforgiving because it will show every single blemish you made where tweed or flannels won’t necessarily. But I still love the occasional gab for a pair of trousers or even a nice skirt or structured sheath dress. I find that gabardine holds up quite well to a lot of wear and tear too. I’ve worn my red trousers quite a bit – even laundered them quite a bit too and they look like I just made them.ReplyCancel

  • LinB - Twill has good drape because it has an automatic bias woven in — those diagonal lines that show up on the surface because of the offset at the beginning of each row of weaving. Denim is typically a twill. You may notice that your denim jeans tend to twist at the seams — a twill weave is the usual reason. Wrangler jeans used a broken twill for many years, specially woven by Cone Mills for them. The break in the twill meant that the fabric was very stable, yet still had the drape of a regular twill. (Well, as good a drape as an all-cotton 16-oz fabric could have.)

    There are cotton twills and silk twills as well as woolen ones. Silk faille and rep, used in tie making, is a form of twill weave, for example.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Didn’t even think about the bias woven in! Thank you LinB! Fascinating about the Wrangler jeans too. I love knowing stuff like this!ReplyCancel

  • Katie - Love those red pants! Wool gabardine is one of my favorite materials to work with. It looks so classy but easy to sew up!ReplyCancel

  • Sue Parrott - Wow those pants are awesome! I love sewing with wool. You can pretty much mold it any way you want!ReplyCancel

  • Leah - The most stable weave is the basic one over one under. Twill weave goes over two under one and that pattern moves diagonally across the fabric. This makes the fabric less stable and more drappy.
    I’m loving this series, we all learn as we go along.ReplyCancel

  • Gail - There is nothing like wool gabardine, especially for tailored pieces. Love your red cropped pants.ReplyCancel

  • Joen - No I don’t have a wool gabardine stash but I’m sure going to start one!ReplyCancel

  • bibliotecaria - I would add that wool gabardine is probably more drapey than something like cotton denim because of the difference between cotton and wool (cotton is inherently more stiff until the plant fiber breaks down, which is why cotton and linen and other plant fiber cloth gets softer over time) and the density of the sett. (The sett is how many strands of fabric per inch in the cloth. When you read about thread count, that is related to the sett of the weaving.) I would be curious to know, as one who DOES weave, what is the sett density and wool yarn weight for gabardine.ReplyCancel

Caring for Your Woolens

I’ve been meaning to continue this series for some time and well, good gravy, life has happened! Thank you for your patience as we’ve been working behind the scenes here for new and upcoming things. I have been wanting to get back to my blogging habits for awhile now. I love connecting with others that sew on this level and I miss it terribly! So with that, we can now resume this regularly scheduled program on working with wool!

I think we’re all wanting to know more about fabrics so that we can arm ourselves with this knowledge when we go to the fabric store. It also helps (tremendously) when you’re purchasing goods online too. So today, I thought I would take a minute and give some thoughts on fabric care for woolens.

Caring-For-Wool

When I talk with people in real life about fabrics in general, there is a lot of misconception about fabric care. And I get asked about how one should care for a certain fabric all the time, so I’m going to give you some of my thoughts and some facts that will hopefully help you out with caring for your wool fabrics/garments. First some facts about wool.

  • Wool is a protein. It’s the hair of any animal that has been spun into yarn and from there woven or knitted into cloth.
  • Moths love protein for their babies. Moth adults will lay their moth larvae in wool cloth (or fiber/yarn) and their younglings will hatch and eat the wool. It’s a good source of protein after all!
  • Wool shrinks a little in cold water and a lot more in hot water. Wool felts when agitated in hot water. Depending on the weave and type, some wools felt more than others.

One of the biggest misconceptions about wool is that you can’t wash it. If you’re careful, you can care for your woolens at home. For the most part. Consider wool fabric yardage for a moment. If you’re thinking about pre-laundering wool fabric, consider what the fabric is going to be and from there, pre-launder/shrink according to how you will launder the final garment. My thoughts are:

  • garments with a lot of internal structure, ie. jackets & coats, should be dry-cleaned sparingly. To pre-launder these, I spray down the fabric yardage with a water bottle and stick in the dryer for 20 minutes (or stick it in the dryer with a wet cloth). Works especially wonderfully right before you’re ready to cut.
  • skirts, blouses, dresses and pants can be hand washed in cold water, hung to dry and from there, ironed (I also do this sparingly). I do the same with fabric yardage before cutting.

woolen-care

If you’re unsure what a certain wool will do, the absolute safest route is to take a swatch of your fabric and wash it the way you plan before pre-laundering the whole yardage. If you’re satisfied with the swatch outcome, go ahead and launder your full yardage. Whatever way you choose to pre-launder, consider using shampoo on your wools instead of laundry detergent as detergent will erode the wool away over time. Wool is technically hair so it benefits from a little shampoo anyway! (This one is worth a try too as it’s specially made for wool and from personal experience, it’s lovely to use!)

There’s not just fabric and garment care to think of with wool, but also how to keep those pesky little moths at bay! I store my wool fabrics and wool garments in plastic tubs with cedar balls. You can also use cedar hangers in your closets when wool garments are in use. Cedar wood is something that repels moths naturally without leaving the horrid chemical stench of moth balls. Another thing to keep in mind is that carpet beetles love to eat wool fabrics/garments too (I’ve had this happen more times than I care to admit)! Keep your woolens picked up and off of the floor. Before I add a new piece of wool to my stash, I always either let the wool take a tumble in the dryer or a give it an overnight in the freezer as this will kill existing moths/creatures in the fabric. From there, I’ll add to my stash. This way a new wool fabric won’t infect my existing wool fabrics with moths.

Keep in mind that wool fabric that is folded and put in a tub may start to fade and loose its color over time. I’ve found this to be true with light colored woolens in particular. When they’ve been sitting in the same position for too long a time, they fade in the creases of the folds! It really makes the fabric unusable unless you’re only thinking about using it for tiny items, like doll clothes. Use your stash! And you might consider going through your stash each year and refolding the pieces differently.

What are your thoughts on caring for your wools? I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings and things that you do differently, or in addition to!

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!

  • g - Great postReplyCancel

  • Katie - Just a heads up. An overnight in the freezer may kill off some but it won’t kill off pests, you need a longer freeze – at least 48 hours – for that (I find an oxygen deprived environment is better but how many people have a CO2 chamber at home?)

    MuseumPest has a nice section on how to freeze for pest management http://museumpests.net/solutions-fact-sheets/solutions-low-temperature-treatment/ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Oh thank you for this! Usually my wools end up in the freezer for a long period of time anyway because I always – always – forget that I’ve put them in there.ReplyCancel

      • Amanda - (Possibly a dumb) question for you ladies who freeze wool but do you place your wool in a plastic bag or something before putting in the freezer? I only have one of those little ones on top of my fridge and I’d have to cram it in there with frozen food and containers, so I’d think it would be nice to have it separated somehow LOL.ReplyCancel

  • Ramona Putnam - Thanks so much for this post!! Great info.ReplyCancel

  • Kristi - I was just thinking that I needed to learn more about caring for wool after I found a cashmere sweater with holes in it after storing for the summer. Great post! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • JenL - I’m still recovering from a horrible moth event that was discovered the winter before last. Lost so many of my favorite things! The moths seem to particularly enjoy my Uniqlo cashmere sweaters : ( One thing I learned –via experience and research– is that cedar alone is not effective. The chemical in cedar can kill moths, but only at a very high concentration that is not possible with a few cedar blocks/balls. Cedar hangers should probably be considered as primarily decorative. Yes, some of my eaten sweaters were stored with cedar blocks.

    After the moth tragedy, I have changed how I store wool. I now put it in sealed plastic bags. (The damaged garments had been stored primarily in zippered canvas boxes). Before putting wool clothing away after the season I rotate it into the freezer for about 5-7 days each. Not positive that works, but I think it can’t hurt too much. Also, it is a very good idea to launder or dry clean before storage – moths are apparently attracted to the residual sweat, etc., that may be in wool clothing. Shampoo is a great idea. I like Euclan too.

    Also, I invested in clothing moth traps. They are basically glue traps with a hormone bate and you have to get the ones that are specific for clothing moths. This won’t get rid of them, but it can alert you to the problem. Clothing moths are very small, not like the usual pantry moths or the ones that fly into the house during the summer. The traps are really the best way to find out if they are living in your closet. After living in the same place for a decade, I’m not sure where my moths came from. I suspect they travelled on a piece of clothing or fabric that I bought. I hadn’t bought any vintage or thrift store items at that time, but I would now not put them in my closet without both freezing and, of course, cleaning.

    Thanks for raising the topic!ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Oh JenL, this is awful to hear about! Thanks so much for your info. I actually had no idea that there were these little moth traps you could get. Very interesting! Going to have to do some more research and find some for my fabrics. I had a most beloved cashmere sweater eaten. So sad! I also do not put any wools in with other wools unless I have taken the time to freeze, pop in the dryer or clean first. Too dangerous! Thanks so much for your input!ReplyCancel

      • JenL - I had to do a lot of research after that huge loss. I just how someone else is saved from the same trauma!ReplyCancel

  • Didge Russell - Hi Sunni

    Thanks so much for the very valuable information on caring for wool. I will be using your recommendations from now on as I have found in some fabric shops, even though they will tell you to pre-wash the fabric, according to instructions on the label, this doesn’t always turn out. I bought a very expensive woollen material a while back and followed the pre-wash care instructions and found that the woollen crepe looked as though it had been the oldest material with no crepe texture left. I did take the fabric back and got a refund, but you have really highlighted to me that you can’t always follow what the store or even the label says to do!!! Thank you so much, you have saved me many $$$$$$ and also frustration at having to throw out garments etc.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - I would definitely recommend the swatch test first. It’s just such a great idea and helps eliminate ruining fabric or garments, especially ones made from wool. Thanks so much for your input!ReplyCancel

  • Tammy R. - Thank you for posting this. It is all useful information, including the comments.ReplyCancel

  • Tilly - So many great tips – thanks Sunni!ReplyCancel

  • Tracy - Regarding your comment that folded wool fabric stored in tubs will fade in the folds – does that only apply to clear tubs or even opaque tubs? I currently keep them rolled up in opaque tubs.ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - I’m not exactly sure about this one. I think you might be OK with the opaque tubs as I’ve found that the “fade in the folds” happens when it is exposed to light. That’s been my experience anyway.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - This is great, thanks Sunni! I’ve bought some wool fabrics recently, and I wasn’t sure how/if to prewash them. Although I don’t have many wool clothes in my wardrobe at all, I’m now slightly worried about the cashmere jumpers I bought from the market and put in the wardrobe…may have to try giving them all a freeze to be on the safe side!ReplyCancel

    • Sunni - Oh yes, please do! It’s much better to be safe than sorry in this case!ReplyCancel

  • Francesca - The freezing tip is brilliant! I read that the slightest amount of dirt on anything wool will attract moths – especially people dirt:) – so I never store anything without washing or cleaning. I keep sweaters and scarves and accessories I’ve used separate from the unused ones so I won’t risk putting anything away unwashed. Or wash things for nothing, because overwashing is not good either…..ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Some really great tips, especially for storage – I find wool yardage sometimes hard to find so I admit I do stash it – I store it in a big plastic bin but I will have to take some more care to re-fold it from time to time to avoid the fading; did not know that was a possibility! Thanks!ReplyCancel

the Way Sewing Used to be

This is the tiniest peek into my sewing room today. One of these days, I should show you the whole joint. Not because it’s really spectacular, but because I’m asked about it quite a bit. I’m grateful – beyond measure – to have my own dedicated sewing space. I know many don’t have that and I totally feel for ya sister – I’ve been there!

the-way-sewing-used-to-be

Maddie, from Madalynne, sent me this uber lovely photo art print that she created from a series of photos that she’s been taking called the way sewing used to be. There are several more that I would love to have from her shop, so I did the only thing a girl can do and bought a couple more that are on their way to me as I type. I was so impressed with this one, had to have more, what can I say? The nice thing about these prints is that you can get different sizes and when you’ve got a small space and not a lot of wall space, a small print to jazz up the digs is lovely. Maddie has an incredibly artful eye for all things sewing and it comes through in these photos. Very beautiful. It’s a lovely reminder than even though a lot of things in life can and are practical, they can also be translated into beautiful.

the-way-sewing-used-to-be-2

They would make great gifts, don’t ya think? Hint, hint. I can honestly say, I think every sewing enthusiast would find a little pleasure in putting one of these prints in her/his sewing space. Just had to share. It’s been quite a space of time since I actually thought about making my sewing space more beautiful (instead of just able to fit more fabric!!!). Now hop on over and think about a print for yourself, eh? Tis the season to be nice to yourself! Selfish sewing and selfish sewing space beautifying, coming right up!

xx, Sunni

  • maddie - Sunni, you are a gem. Thank you so much for the shout out. #thewaysewingusedtobe has become quite a passion and I love investigating the clever, beautiful and artful package design of sewing’s yonder years, not to mention the now obsolete sewing notions. Hope to see your space when it’s fully decorated!ReplyCancel