wool fabrics

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.


  • Warm in summer, cool in winter
  • Absorbs moisture
  • Water repellent
  • Flame resistant
  • Resists wrinkling

Some wool can be washed; others should be dry-cleaned. It depends on the dyes, finish and garment design and trims.

Looking for quality

  • Check for imperfections and moth holes.
  • Scrape fabric with thumbnail, if the yarns separate easily, this indicates that the fabric will ravel and may not wear well.
  • Squeeze fabric – good quality springs back without wrinkles.
  • Rub together and see if it pills.

Fabric Prep

If 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 shrinkage

To 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 Shrink

Ask your dry-cleaner to do it. It doesn’t have to be cleaned, just steamed thoroughly; or see fabric prep above.

London Shrunk

  1. Straighten ends of fabric; baste right sides together
  2. Wet a sheet, spin in washing machine
  3. Spread sheet on floor or table
  4. Lay fabric on sheet, smoothing out wrinkles, and straighten fabric
  5. Cover fabric with the other part of sheet. Beginning on one end, roll up
  6. Let is sit for several hours or overnight
  7. Unroll spread fabric, smooth out and allow to dry
  8. Steam press, use a dry press cloth
Be cautious with lightweight wools, they tend to stretch and move. Use plenty of pins.  Heavy wools should be laid out in a single layer. Use the with nap layout. With lightweight fabrics, use serrated (pinking) shears.

Needle sizes
Lightweight 60/8 70/10
Medium weight 70/10 90/14
Heavy weight 80/12 90/14

Use caution, improper pressing and a too hot iron can damage wools quite easily. It is a good idea to test press to determine the best heat setting, moisture, and pressure. Two of the best things you can do are to cover the ironing board with wool fabric; and use a wool press cloth, at least when pressing on the right side of the fabric. With light colored wool, use a white wool press cloth. If you need additional moisture when pressing, cover the fabric with a dry cloth, and rub that with a damp towel or sponge.


Wool 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.
Sometimes the nap is not visible. To keep track, make a chalk arrow on the back of the fabric in the nap’s direction.

See wool pressing instructions above

Universal (h) sizes 70/10-90/14, depending on the weight


Wool 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.
Fabric prep
Have the dry-cleaner preshrink it, or do it yourself by hanging it in a steamy bathroom. It is not a good idea to steam iron it, as it often will shrink unevenly.

See wool pressing


Use without nap layout, double thickness


This 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.
Fabric Prep
Steam or dry-clean to preshrink.

70/10-100/16 depends on weight of fabric.


Wool 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.
Fabric Prep
Preshrink by holding steam iron over fabric, approx ½ inch, or dry-clean

Use the with nap layout, and do it single thickness.


Steam iron at wool setting, on wrong side, light pressure. Or, use wool ironing board cover; press with wool (boucle best) press cloth on right side. Boucle fabrics can be damaged very easily. To revive the texture, hold a steam iron 11/2” over fabric and steam generously.


Wool challis (pronounced chal-ee) is lightweight wool, with a plain weave. It is easy to sew, is comfortable to wear, and wrinkles very little.
Fabric Prep
Steam iron held ½” over fabric; also can hand wash cool water, mild detergent – air dry

Use the without nap layout, and fold fabric for double thickness. Mark with chalk.


Steam iron, wool setting. Let the fabric dry and cool before you move it.


Wool 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.
Fabric Prep
Steam iron ½” over fabric, or put in dryer on permanent press with damp towel.

Use with nap, single thickness.


Steam iron, wool setting. Use wool press cloth if you press on right side of fabric.


Boiled 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.
Fabric Prep
Hand wash, or preshrink with steam, or dry-clean.

70/10-90/14, depending on weight of fabric.

With nap, double thickness; heavy fabric, single thickness.

Medium heat, damp cloth, steam.