Fabrics made in pure wool are a beautiful but expensive option when you are making your own clothes. If you can afford it, however, they look and feel fabulous and also last for ages.
Woollens and worsteds
Wool fabrics are made from yarn spun from the fleece of the sheep. In spite of the huge range of wool fabrics available, there are only two basic types of yarn — woollen and worsted. The distinction arises from the length of the wool fibres in the fleece.
Woollens Short fibres are slackly twisted into woollen yarns and then loosely woven into woollen fabrics, like tweeds.
- Soft and fuzzy, thick and warm.
- Unlikely to develop a shine.
- Not good at holding a crease, so they are better for more casual and unstructured designs.
- Liable to pill, matt and soil.
- Less expensive than worsteds.
Worsteds Long fibres are combed to straighten them and remove shorter fibres before being spun into tightly wound, worsted yarns for weaving closely woven, worsted fabrics, such as gabardine. They are:
- Smooth and fine, firm and springy.
- Not as warm as woollens.
- Harder wearing than woollens.
- Good at holding a sharp crease, so suitable for tailored garments.
- Less likely to become misshapen.
Liable to become shiny if pressed incorrectly.
Choosing a pattern
• Given the great variation in wool fabrics, carefully check the weight, drape and weave of a woollen or worsted to make sure that it is suitable for your pattern.
• For fabrics with a nap, such as flannel, and patterned fabrics, such as tartans and stripes, make sure that you buy a pattern which has a 'with nap cutting layout
Types of wool
Wool fibres are sometimes mixed with man-made fibres to cut costs, or they are blended with luxury natural fibres, such as alpaca or silk, to alter their drape and texture. Assess the suitability of these blends in the same way as you would pure wool fabrics.
Woollen fabrics Soft, medium-weight woollen fabrics are available in a wide range of plain colours and woven stripes, checks or tartans.
Flannel A warm woollen or worsted fabric with a soft, napped face and a flat back, flannel has either a plain or twill weave. When making up flannel, you need to follow 'with nap layouts on your pattern instructions, taking care to cut out all the pattern pieces with the nap facing in the same direction.
Wool worsteds Light to medium weight fabrics, with a hard, smooth surface, generally without a nap. Gabardine, serge and barathea, as well as men's suiting, fall into this category.
Wool crepe Light to medium weight crepe-woven worsted fabric, with a matt, crinkled surface, wool crepe is springy to handle but easy to sew, even though it frays easily. .When pressing it can also shrink.
Barathea A fine, smooth, springy fabric with a broken rib pattern on the right side of the fabric, barathea is generally used for skirts, jackets and men's suits. Choose simple styles and use a 'with nap layout to avoid shading.
Gabardine A firm fabric with a twill weave, giving a strong, diagonal rib. Hardwearing wool gabardine is suitable for crisply tailored suits and skirts.
Serge traditionally made from worsted yarn; serge is a hardwearing fabric with a close twill weave that is heavier in weight than gabardine. It is now made in a variety of manmade fibres as well.
Washable or Cool Wools To produce wool fabrics that you can wash without shrinking, the fibres are descaled, or chemically treated to seal the scales, before they are spun into yarns. This also reduces the insulating properties of the fabrics woven from them, hence the term Cool Wool. These fabrics are popular for making tailored spring and summer garments.
Woollen fabrics are amongst the easiest of all fabrics to sew. Heavily textured wools can be difficult to work with as they fray, the textured surface hides slightly uneven stitching well.
Choose from a plain seam, with or without topstitched details or a welt seam. Test your chosen needle size and stitch length on a scrap of the fabric first, and change if necessary. Prevent fraying by finishing the seam edges before making up the garment.
Neatening seam edges On closely woven fabrics, machine close to the raw edges of seams and machine zigzag stitch or overlook them. Bind the edges of loosely woven fabrics with lightweight bias binding.
Grade seams to reduce bulk before pressing, especially in collars, jacket edges and waistbands.
Opening darts Slash darts open to 6mm (1/4in) from the point. Over lock the raw edges. Trim wide darts to 12mm (1/2in).
Press skirts and trousers and let them hang for 24 hours before marking and turning up hems. Use a single fold hem, as a double fold is too bulky.
Adding interfacing For a smart finish on coats and jackets cut a strip of interfacing slightly wider than the hem. Fuse or stitch interfacing to the hem, positioning one cut edge just beyond the fold. Hand stitch hem in usual way.