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Preparing wool fabric for sewing

How to sew with woolen fabrics

We all know how important it is to prepare fabric before the sewing process begins. While some require just a simple wash in a washing machine, others require a different and more time consuming approach. This is particularly relevant in relation to wool fabrics.

 Wool fabrics are a popular choice for many but a failure to pre-shrink the fabric before cutting could see a favourite home sewn garment become unwearable following the first clean.

Read this guide on preparing wool fabric for sewing.


Characteristics of Wool

How to sew with wool fabrics

Wool primarily comes from the fleece of sheep and lambs but it can come from other animals too, such as goats and alpacas.

 Wool fibres are absorbent, flexible and have a great ability to insulate. In addition, if the wool has been processed in a way that allows it to retain its natural oils, it can also have water repellent capability.

 Wool fabrics come in a variety of forms – textured, smooth, raised surface, loopy, insulated.

 There are also traditional wool fabric designs such as herringbone and tartan, as well as lighter weight wool fabrics including challis and georgette.

Pre-Shrinking Wool Fabrics

 There are many different types of wool fabric and the amount of shrinkage depends upon the weave and whether the wool fibres are blended with other fibres.

 In addition, the amount of shrinkage experienced also depends upon how the fabric has been constructed.

 For example, boiled wool is typically made by boiling and shrinking wool.  This makes the fibre extremely dense in comparison to how the fibres appeared previously.

 Given the fibres have already been exposed to such heat, the amount of shrinkage experienced when preparing the fabric correctly ahead of cutting should be little to none, but it is always advisable to test first.

 In comparison a wool crepe fabric is constructed using twisted yarns and when heat is applied it can lead to extreme shrinkage. 

As a result, when selecting your wool fabric it is important to have a good idea of its composition and construction.


Dry Cleaning

 Most wool fabrics respond well to dry cleaning but there are exceptions, notably felt.

 Dry cleaning can be a worthwhile option for many wool fabrics.  However, if you want to pre-shrink your fabric at home then you can opt to steam your fabrics using an iron or hand held steamer.  Care must be taken to avoid burns when carrying out this process.

Using an Iron

How to iron wool fabrics

Steaming your wool fabric using an iron requires a methodical approach to ensure all areas of the fabric are covered.  Set the iron to a wool setting and hold the iron approximately 1.5cm/1 inch above the fabric.  

Hold the iron there for around five seconds before moving on to the next section.  However, please note it is advisable to test a small section first so that you can ascertain how your fabric is reacting to heat.  Alter your approach accordingly. 


Some wool fabrics will tolerate hand or machine washing but be aware that many fabrics will need to be dried flat, such as bouclè.

 If you are choosing to machine wash it is advisable to test a small sample first.


Wool is a fantastic fabric to sew with.  Taking the time to carefully pre-shrink the fabric before cutting will help to ensure it doesn’t shrink after your first dry clean!

Learning about preparing wool fabric for sewing will pay off when you sew the garment.