A Quilty Adventure Part III: How to Sew with Wool

How To Sew With Wool

You guys, if you live anywhere close to where I live (Chicago), you know that it’s cold out there. We need to go somewhere warm. No, I’m not talking about Waikiki (although I’m def willing to consider it). I’m talking about wool.

Over here in the cold white north, we could use a lot more wool in our lives. But sewing with wool isn’t all warm fuzzies. If you want to get the most out of this trip, you need a quilty travel advisor. And guess who's ready to volunteer?!​ (I'm vigorously nodding my head and pointing to myself.)

Buckle your seatbelt, and grab some snacks for the road. It’s wool time.​

(if you're drooling over the stacks of wool in the photo above, I got you covered. Click here to buy.​)

WELCOME TO WOOL​

Your shivers stop here.​

The History

Wool might be one of the most historical, well-established stops we’re going to have on our quilty adventure. We’re talking about some BC action here. Wool textiles were found in Europe dating back to 1500 BC, and were likely used much earlier in the middle east. You guys, that was before shears were invented. That means people were hand-plucking and hand-spinning wool for clothing. That’s a lot of work!

The dying and finishing of wool came much later, but really upped the value of woven wool, making it more stylish, and less itchy. Nowadays, we use a lot of synthetic fibers, so the demand for ALL THE WOOL has waned a bit in the modern age, but that doesn’t mean wool doesn’t deserve our attention. Sewing and quilting with wool is a timeless practice that isn’t going anywhere. And neither are we. Let’s take a closer look at what wool has to offer.

Special Attractions

Remember how I mentioned before that we’ve gotten really into synthetic fibers lately? Well. One reason I’m personally drawn to wool is because of how natural it is. Wool was around before we even knew what to do with it. And the fact that it’s natural means it has some amazing natural attributes.

Get this: wool is naturally mold, mildew, wrinkle, and flame resistant.

Whaaat? I know. Crazy cool. It’s also, as you know, super warm, and super durable. Wool is one of the only fabrics that boasts as close to a lifetime warranty as you can get. There are a lot of wool blends out there that still give you the warmth and durability of wool, but have a slightly different look or feel.

Wool, how are you so cool? I mean you had me at “warm and dry,” but all these amenities have me anxious to get going. Time to pack.

Quilting-with-Wool

What to Pack

I’m going to come right out and say it: wool can be a beast. But that’s no problem. Because you can be a beast, too. We’re going to pack our strongest, brawniest sewing tools on this trip. Wool, you ain’t got nothin’ on us.

  • High quality thread. This is a big one when working with wool. Hi-qual polyester and cotton might be able to do the job, but you may want to try silk thread when doing a wool project, to make sure you’re matching the strength of your material. If you’re finding that your thread is snapping often, time to up your game (cuz you know wool’s not going to be the one to back down.)​.
  • A strong needle. you’re probably want to go with needles between 90/14 or 100/16. (This article is a great resource if you are new to sewing and the different needle sizes available.)
  • Pinking shears. Since wool is bulky already, you want to avoid adding more bulkiness to your seams. Pinking shears can help you out here.
  • Wool press cloth. Ironing wool gets really tricky. If you use a hot iron, you could damage your fabric by leaving totally unflattering shiny marks on the surface. Not cute. If you want to press the right side of wool, prevent the chance of shine and scorch by putting a press cloth over the fabric. Your future self will thank you.

The Itinerary

Your bag is packed, your muscles are flexed, and you’re ready to hit the road. Here’s what’s in store:

  • First Stop: Pre-shrinking

    • Wash wool in warm water on a wool cycle if your machine has it. It’s important not to use regular detergent as the enzymes are bad for the natural fibers. Instead, use detergent specially made for wool or even a mild silicone and sodium laurel sulfate hair shampoo.

    • If you look on the tags of any of your woolen garments, you may see those two dreaded words: Dryclean Only (or, if you translate into Suzy Speech: you’re never washing this thing. Keep it clean.) There are some washable wool blends, so you may not need to worry about this. However, if you want to play it safe and assume the wool you just purchased should not be washed, steam it like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t feel like steaming for days? Check your info at the fabric store, and look for the pre-shrunk inscription. This article has more details on washing and steaming wool.
    • BATTING: If you jump fully on the wool train, there is A-mazing wool batting out there. A quilt made with wool batting will be extra warm and toasty. My preference is the brand Quilter's Dream. The wool used in that batting is already pre-washed, so you don't need to do it yourself or worry about shrinkage.
  • Second Stop: Cutting

    • Now comes the fun part. Cutting is sometimes the most dreaded step, but guess what? Wool makes it sooo easy. Wool doesn’t stretch, and cuts with clean edges (no unraveling! YES!) So why do I even mention this step? Because I want you to enjoy it. This is the sunny, sandy beach stop on our adventure in Woolland.
  • Last Stop: Sewing

    • Because of wool’s heftiness (no, wool, we’re not calling you fat), you could use a walking foot if you have one. Either way, try a longer stitch length, like 2.5 - 3mm. Take your time here, and let your machine really put some muscle behind its work. Just remember: you got this. And your future is going to be so, so warm.
    • Once you have finished sewing, press the seam open – this will alleviate bulk. Also, let the wool cool complete down before shifting it again. 

​Famous Locals

Patchwork Wool Quilt and Pillow, Very Berry Handmade

Wook-Patchwork-Quilt
Wool-Patchwork-Pillow

​Look at those gooooorgeous seams! Doesn't this pillow make you want to highjack your old English Lit professor and shred his tweed blazer up for a quilt?? I didn't take English Lit in college...instead I opted for Creative Writing 101 and let me tell you, exactly ZERO of them wore blazers. Definitely more of a ripped band T-shirt and jeans kinda group.

I found some machine washable wool here. BUT notice that it is only 50% wool. Tricky...very tricky.


Alabama Quilt, Folk Fibers

Wool-Quilt

​This stunner uses a mix of recycled dress wool and cotton. With the cost of wool being...not cheap, recycling wool from old dresses, coats and pants is a great way to get what you need. You could try your local second hand shop (be sure to read the tags) or Ebay might have some old-man pants that you can get for a good price.

The quilt above is machine pieced and fully hand quilted. Don't you want to rub your hands all over it? I bet it's super snuggly and warm.....mmmmmm.​


Framed Quilt [pattern], Maker Unknown (circa 1825)

Patchwork-Wool-Quilt

​ummmm....most badass quilt from the early 1820s??? NAY The ENTIRE 1800s! You may not be on the same page as me with this quilt, but to me – it is perfection. Let me convince you...

This beaut was labeled as a "utilitarian and thrifty" quilt on the archival website where I found it. Making quilts from repurposed sacks and clothes was typical of this time, but this quilt is still very special. It pulls from the medallion style of quilts, but plays with asymmetry in a way that is incredibly innovative for the early 19th century.

Let me paint a quick picture of what the "art scene" looked like in the early 1800s. Inspiration was being drawn from the classics – lots of florals, lots of cherubs, and LOTS of symmetry. Just Google Neoclassicism and you'll see what I mean. OK OK, I'll do it for you 😉 And have you heard of a little lady named Queen Victoria? She was pretty en vogue (except, I better spell it the British way cause Vickie had a veritably tense relationship with the French.). Correction: in vogue.

You get the picture. So imagine yourself, a quilter, shredding up grandpa's old pants and living in a time when lace doilies were the pinnacle of creativity.

Kind of a bummer, right? I don't know if this "utilitarian blanket" was oooooed and aaaaaahed over back then like I'm doing right now, but I do know that 200 years later it has made its way onto the internet and is inspiring me (and now you) to explore color, pattern, shape and composition in a way that is relevant TODAY. A-MAZING! Simply amazing.

Before You Check Out

Before you check out, you should know that wool has a mortal enemy. Err… maybe I should have told you this first? Welp, better late than never. Moths have it out for wool. They dedicate their fragile little lives to chewing holes and even laying eggs in wool.

Remember that nostalgic smell of moth balls that used to smack you in the face every time you went into grandma’s attic? Well, she knew what she was doing. But if you’re not a fan of the smell, store your wools in a ziplock or airlock bag. Better yet? Use them all the time. Using wool is the best way to deter moth infestations!

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling warmer already. Send some more warm fuzzies this way by leaving a comment down below!​

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Suzy

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14 thoughts on “A Quilty Adventure Part III: How to Sew with Wool

  1. Susan K says:

    One way to take care of moths and their eggs is to freeze them. Freeze for a week or so. Take the item out. Then freeze again to make sure any eggs are killed.

  2. karen s says:

    Oh, wool, I love you! Thanks for such a delightful article about such a marvelous material. Decades ago, all my most favorite clothes were made of wool–some that I made, some that I bought. Thanks for the reminder to not ignore good old wool 🙂 And thank you for all your recent holiday posts with so many great ideas. Now–go enjoy your Christmas!

  3. Caitlyn Williams says:

    Being a lover of wool I have a few thoughts,
    1. Sheep get wet, wool gets wet, there is usually no reason to be afraid of washing wool fabric – especially if it’s 100% wool. If you don’t know if a fiber is all wool you can put a piece of it in bleach, if the fabric completely disappears, congrats, it’s all wool. You can also burn test it – if it ignites and keeps burning or burns for a little while and then leaves a black ball of char, it’s not all wool.
    2. The more friction and soap you add to the wash, the more the fabric will felt – so it is best to hand wash if you don’t want it to shrink a lot. But as you said, steaming the fabric a ton is a perfectly acceptable way of pre-shrinking.
    3. Finger pressing is a must! After you steam a seam, go back in with you fingers and press that seam down into oblivion – you’ll know you are true lovers when it no longer burns your fingers.
    4. If you are working with a lightweight (like a gaberdine) or tropical weight wool do a press test first. Often these lighter weight wools can leave seam marks when you iron them, and these marks can be almost impossible to get rid of. To avoid these marks, put a piece of paper between the seam allowance and the fabric and iron from the back – then finger press right along the seam.
    5. If you develop a full on affair with wool, get a wooden clapper to help with the ironing. https://smile.amazon.com/Golden-Hand-Ind-0858-Tailors/dp/B003KVMP4A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1483640208&sr=8-3&keywords=wooden+clapper
    6. The heavier a wool and the more texture it has, the more forgiving it will be when you sew with it. Don’t start with a wool boucle, it will unravel worse than anything … anything.
    7. The best thing about wool is how it responds to heat, (almost) any ripple or pucker can be ironed away in wool if you apply enough heat, steam and finger pressing.
    8. Denver Fabrics has pretty decent prices on wool, and quite the selection.

  4. Rebecca Smith says:

    This is amazing! I feel braver with my fabrics already! Any tips for using wool batting (like the Quilters Dream wool batting, which is super duper preshrunk)? It seems like this should work just like cotton since there’s no shrinkage to worry about, but if you do have any tricks up your quilty sleeve I’d be thrilled to hear them.

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