Friday, November 02, 2007

Prepping Wool Crepe

I have several types of fabric that I love to work with...during the summer my hands down favorite is linen...and during the winter it's wool crepe. The things that I love about wool crepe are ~ that the fibers take dye so well. This fabric can be found in vibrant oranges, reds and deep purples or pretty pastels. The second thing I love is the hand - there is such a wonderful drape to this fabric especially when you purchase a high quality wool crepe. The third thing is the way the fabric holds a stitch...when you are sewing the fabric it allows the stitches to sink into the fabric...they are enfolded into the garment without any effort on your part...This fabric is just a joy to sew.

Wool crepe just has one drawback! You absolutely positively must pre-wash, pre-treat, pre-something the length that you work with because if you don't your finished garment will shrink. It might not shrink much the first time you clean it but it will definitely shrink in degrees over its lifespan. And it could end up being a very short lifespan if you don't pretreat it.

Now there are four methods generally used to pretreat this fabric:

1. The London Shrink Method
This method involves getting your entire piece wet, well damp and then rolling it up between two sheets and letting it dry naturally and checking it over time to see if its dry, rerolling it, maybe dampening it again...can I state again that its very involved and you need a lot of space if you have a lengthy piece!

2. Drycleaning
Probably the easiest and most costliest take it to the dry cleaners and they steam press your fabric.

3. Washing and Drying
Let me caution you here that whenever you wash & dry a length of wool crepe not only will you have shrinkage but you may also have some felting (melding of the fibers). So unless your intent is to manipulate the fibers, I would not suggest this as a pretreatment method. However, if manipulation is what you are after, you get the best results by washing and drying the fabric multiple times (at least 3 in my experience).

4. Steam the heck out of it
This is my preferred method of pretreatment cause I'm too lazy to London Shrink and to time challenged to lug it to the dry cleaners. Even though I have a great dry cleaners that picks up and delivers my clothing but that is another post! The steps I use when doing "the steam the heck out of it method" are pretty simple.

First - you need a good size bowl of water and two cotton batiste press cloths. I like two because one is always in the damp water ready to be used. And my cloths are usually 45" wide and about 12-14" long. These dimensions are good for me because they cover more of the fabric when pressing.

Two - you need a good steam iron and alot of water for your iron especially if you are pressing a long length of fabric.

Three - I like to cover the floor around my ironing board with an old sheet. This way my fabric can hit the floor and I don't have to worry about dirt/dust etc.

Then I use the highest setting on my iron which I think is the silk setting. Don't worry you won't burn or scorch the fabric because the press cloth will be between the fabric and the iron. I wring out one of the press cloths and lay it flat on the fabric. Next I "press" the press cloth until it is dry creating a lot of steam.

Press not iron - picking the iron up and placing it down in the next position, not gliding it from place to place. There should be clouds of steam arising around you when you are doing this. When the press cloth is relatively dry, I remove it and place it back in the bowl of water.

This next step is real important, I do not move the fabric for at least 2 minutes to allow it to dry and all of the steam to pass through the fabric. Only after that do I move that section and start the process all over again in a new section. Now if you have a vacuum pressing table and a steam generator iron this process goes a lot faster...I have the steam generator iron but not the pressing table so my 2 minute rule is hard and fast!

This is a very time-consuming process...yes, I know I stated earlier that I'm lazy, however, I love this process. I usually pre-treat 2 or 3 pieces at one time because of the time factor and I want to have them needle ready when I'm inspired to use the fabric for a garment. I usually do this with the TV on and a good movie going. And I use ALOT of steam!!!!

I have been using this method for pretreating wool crepe for years and I have never had a garment shrink after being dry cleaned. So this is what I will be doing tomorrow morning...pretreating a few lengths of wool crepe in preparation for making a new dress.


  1. Wool crepe... I have never tried it. You make me want to splurge and buy some. Thank you for the wonderful tips on pretreating it. Have a lovely weekend!

  2. I use a similar method on woolens for similar reasons! Thanks for the clear details. I actually enjoy pressing lengths of fabric after they've been pretreated - it's one of those things I find oddly relaxing, like hand stitching.

  3. So this has been my one reason for not trying to use wool. How to wash/treat the fabric. Now I have no excuse(except maybe two busy boys and one drama queen teenager)Thank you for posting . I will use Your method ( I have a small piece of wool that I can practice on )

  4. I just want to tell your readers that you suggested the last method to me and it worked like a charm. And I'm not stuck with dry cleaning bills!

  5. thanks for the tip, I will have to print it out, where do you buy your wool crepe?

  6. Thanks for this info Carolyn, I learn something new everytime I visit your blog.

  7. This reminds me of the hand-washing I used to do every year when I felt the first nip of fall in the air, but that was when we had seasons here in Texas. hahaha It was a ritual that I really loved. Because I loved those fabrics!

  8. Thanks for this information. I usually use the London Shrink method then steam afterwards. Your steam method sounds great and even more effective than just holding the iron over the fabric. I did once shrink wool crepe in the washer and ended up with a slightly felted fabric--but used it for my intended purpose anyway. I have found that shortcuts in sewing produce shortcut looking garments--taking the time and giving more effort and attention give more satisfactory results.

  9. I have been afraid to work with wools because of the pre-treating process but this sounds like something I can handle. Thanks!

  10. Hi! Thanks for all the information. I have a question for you. I live in Las Vegas and it never really gets cold here. We do have some cool/cold weather in Jan and Feb. (It does get pretty d*%n hot in the summer though.) What would be a good fabric staple for pants, jackets, etc.? Thanks!

  11. I love wool and sewing wool it's such a great easy to shape fabric.
    I wash mine (3 times) in the washing machine, using the wool programme and Perwoll liquid detergent (for silk and wool).

  12. Do you steam the fabric in a single layer? I have some wool crepe I would like to try this with. A piece I bought from Gorgeous Fabrics.

    Do you have a regular size ironing board or a larger 'padded board' used for this purpose?

    Thanks for your help.

  13. Have you ever tried using a professional clothes steamer instead of a steam iron? Do you think that fully steaming using a clothes steamer would work well? I have wool crepe from Fabric Mart that I am dying to use-
    Love your blog!!

  14. This information came in the right time for me!! I am about to pre-treat 4 1/2 yards of red 100% wool crepe that Summerset sent me a few months ago! I'll be doing exactly the same procedure as you are, since taking it to the laundry would be more expensive than the fabric itself (believe it or not; prices for steaming such a yardage are tremendous here in Portugal!) Thank you so much for putting up together all this usefull information!

  15. Yay! Never to late to say thank you for this, right?
    I have a book that describes a different method of sizing wool fabric that is far more convoluted and difficult. I will give this a go - cos I too love fine wool (my local dry cleaners - and I asked about 6 different ones - won't touch just fabric no matter how much money you offer them). I also recently learned about the Whirlpool LRF4001RY steamer to maintain your dry cleanable clothing. Once I can afford one, I am going to experiment with it to see how well it works for preshrinking fabrics, too.

  16. i have 6 lengths of wool crepe if i follow your pre shrink instructions do i still have to dry clean the finished garment or could i wash

  17. I LOVE your blog. Just wondereful. Would you please consider adding the gadget to allow a reader to follow by email subscription? That way we will not miss any posts. Thanks. I live a little north of Philly. Is it worth the trip to Mood?

  18. Happy to have stumbled across this review, you have convinced me to use a wool crepe for my next project. Thanks!

  19. This is very helpful, thanks for posting! I'm about to pre-treat a wool crepe for the first time, so I need all of the help I can get. :)

    P.S., Love the Leibowitz photo of the Obamas on your sidebar!

  20. Forgive me if this has already been post, but where can I buy high quality wool crepe fabric? Thanks!

  21. I'm with AnneB: need a good source! I have a few store-bought wool crepe separates that have just been fantastic for years, year-round, and now want to make some myself. Suggestions for wool crepe sources and whether it should have lycra added would be much appreciated.

  22. Thank you so much for this post! If you're taking questions, I've got one to toss in the hat for whenever you might do a Q&A post. Have you tried this method on other types of wool and, if so, does it work just as well? Thanks! Creative Hormone Rush

  23. Thanks so much for this post. I was just about to cut into my wool crepe, knowing it would be dry clean only but still wondering if I should pre shrink it. Having read your fabulous post I'm off to the telly room with my ironing board!!

  24. Do I need to shrink Melton fabric


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