Wool is a natural animal fiber made of animal coats. The wool fibers curl, which create spaces that make wool spongy, and also causes it to be more insulating. It can come from the fleece of sheep or lambs, or the hair of the angora or cashmere goat. The wool from sheep is different from the wool from goats. Wool is available in many different weights, along with a variety of textures. 75% of wool comes from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, and Uruguay. Different areas have different breeds, suited for the climate and land type. Each breed produces different wool. There are two types of wool fabric: woolens and worsteds.
Woolens are woven from woolen yarns, which are made of short fibers. These fibers are loosely spun, with a low to medium twist. They are softer, fuzzier, and have more nap. Woolens are easy to identify as they have a hairy (fuzzy) surface. This is due to the fact that woolens are carded, but not combed. The “hairy” surface makes it harder to see the weave. Woolens are generally bulkier and heavier than worsteds, and therefore become the heavier wools such as heavy tweeds, textured wools, and coatings. They are the easier of the two types to sew, and are less costly than worsted wools. This type of wool is better suited for casual and tailored clothing. Woolens pill, mat, and soil easily. Examples of woolens: boucle, herringbone, hounds tooth, melton, wool flannel and wool tweeds.
Worsteds are superior – they are smooth, strong, and have a luster. This is due to the fact that the worsted yarns are carded and combed. Their twist is medium to high. Another difference is that worsted weaves are easily seen. Worsted fabrics are lighter weight and tightly woven. They last longer, wear better, but are harder to sew. Examples of worsteds: gabardine, tartans, wool challis, and worsted suitings.
Some wool can be washed; others should be dry-cleaned. It depends on the dyes, finish and garment design and trims.
Looking for quality
Fabric PrepIf the bolt end says, “needle ready” or London shrunk”, it is ready to sew.
Wool crepes should not be preshrunk. Pre-shrink by holding a steam iron ½” over the fabric; or dry clean; or toss in dryer with a damp towel set on permanent press.
How to test for shrinkageTo figure out if your wool needs to be preshrunk, using a dry press cloth, cover a corner of your fabric and steam thoroughly for ten seconds. After the fabric dries, see if the imprint of the iron shows. If so, the fabric has shrunk and therefore the piece of fabric must be preshrunk.
How to ShrinkAsk your dry-cleaner to do it. It doesn’t have to be cleaned, just steamed thoroughly; or see fabric prep above.
WOOL FLANNELWool flannels come in a variety of weights and qualities. They have a nap. The better quality flannels have a tighter weave. Some examples are: blazer flannel, kasha, menswear, washable wool, worsted and woolen flannels.
WOOL CREPEWool crepe has a crinkled, dull surface. It comes in a variety of weights. It is a twisted weave. Wool crepe doesn’t wrinkle; more so with better quality. Buy extra fabric, as it shrinks quite a bit.
TEXTURED WOOLThis covers textured and tweeds, and are generally used for casual garments. Generally they are woven firmly, and have a rough texture. They have a nap.
WOOL BOUCLEWool boucle is a loosely woven or knitted fabric, that has small loops (curls), which make the surface nubby. Boucle is generally used for vests, unlined and unstructured coats, and sweater looking garments. It can pill and it resists wrinkles.
WOOL CHALLISWool challis (pronounced chal-ee) is lightweight wool, with a plain weave. It is easy to sew, is comfortable to wear, and wrinkles very little.
WOOL MELTONWool melton is heavily felted, with a smooth, short napped surface. It is thick and can be bulky. It is ideal for coats, jackets, and vests.
BOILED WOOLBoiled wool is felted knitted wool, made of 100% merino wool. It is available in medium and heavy weights. It does not wrinkle or fray, but can pill. Boiled wool is wind and rain resistant.