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How To Pre-Shrink Wool... Fast and Easy at Home !

Many of us are ready to sew our fall wardrobes....me too!
So I thought you might be interested to know of an easy yet professional method that I use to pre-shrink wool yardage. It is one of many that I learned during my Tailor Apprenticeship.

First...the fabric! This luscious yardage is from my stash. One of the pieces was purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics several months ago. The green check yardage is 100% tropical wool crepe, the gray check yardage is a blend of wool and silk.

Why pay big bucks to take this fabric to the dry-cleaner to steam shrink it,
when we can do it easily at home?

Wool Yardage
Now the method:

  • Serge or zig-zag the raw cut edges of the fabric.
  • Next, wet some clean thick towels with HOT water until they are wet but not  dripping.
  • Now toss the hot wet towels and the fabric into your clothes dryer.
  • Set the dryer on HIGH heat, and tumble the fabric and hot wet towels for 30-40 minutes.
  • Take the yardage out of the dryer and lay it flat until it is cool.
Align CenterThat's it! Your wool yardage is now ready for the needle!
The appropriate interfacing for this fabric is PRO-WEFT Supreme Fusible Light.

Wool Yardage After SteamingAlign Center
As you can see above, this "Machine Shrink" method did not visibly change the fabric at all, and it's hand is still soft and smooth. However it did shrink. Each piece was 60" wide and 2 yards long before steam-shrinking. After, the green 100% wool piece measured 59.5" wide and is 2.5" shorter in length. The gray wool/silk blend is still 60" wide but 1.75" shorter in length.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, another great idea. But doesn't all that heat and steam hurt the wool?

12:48 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Great tip! I can see myself putting that one to use for sure. :-)

1:02 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

"Anonymous"...No, it doesn't hurt the fabric at all. It makes good sense to steam shrink wools this way.

Because...when we are constructing a garment, what do we use when we fuse interfacing and press seams,lapels, etc?

Heat and steam!

(( smile ))

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pam- you read my mind! I am making a Chanel jacket for the sew along and was just wondering how to pre-treat my wool boucle. Thank you! I will add this post to the "helpful hints" for the sew along.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Trudy said...

Thanks so much for the tip and for the comment on my blog.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Cennetta said...

Excellent! I'm going to save some bucks! Thanks,

2:49 PM  
Blogger Gorgeous Things said...

Fabulous tip, Pam, thank you!!!

3:28 PM  
Blogger Nancy K said...

That has to be one of the easiest methods I've seen for pre-shrinking wool. Thanks for sharing.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank u for posting this. What if I have a dryer with a steam function? Can I toss my wool gabardine in without the towels?

6:56 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Oh Lisa...lucky you!

I would still tumble the wool yardage with some DRY towels....just to keep the yardage from wadding up into a ball...or twisting while it is steaming.

And since you have a machine that produces a continuous full amount of steam, I would reduce the time to 20 minutes.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Kathi said...

What a great tip - thank you!

7:52 PM  
Blogger gwensews said...

Thank you! Wow, this sure beats steaming with an iron, which takes hours on end!

8:10 PM  
Blogger CarlaF-in Atlanta said...

Thank You. Thank You!
CarlaF-in Atlanta

8:51 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Awesome tip! I have several wool that are waiting for this step.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Theresa in Tucson said...

Many thanks for the tip. I have some wool yardage in the stash and was dreading the chore of dragging it out and steaming it on the ironing board. You handed us procrastinators a perfect solution.
Theresa in Tucson

12:04 AM  
Blogger Sigrid said...

This sounds like a great method. I'm going to try this!

4:05 AM  
Anonymous textillian said...

Thanks for the tip!

Do you have any problems with lint from the towels going all over the wool?

6:42 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

No, no problems with lint, however, my fluffy towels are not brand new...so they've lost all that "new towel" lint. Also, while I find lint in the dryer's "lint trap", I don't (at least so far..and I've been doing this for 20+ years) have trouble with lint clinging to the yardage.

This may be because the towels are not being agitated with the fabrics in a wash cycle.

7:04 AM  
Blogger AuntieAllyn said...

Pam, thanks a million times over for this tip! It's time to start cutting into the wool fabrics for fall garments, and you can be sure I will use your "pre-shrinking" technique when I do!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Clairee said...

Fabulous Tip, Pam! Thanks so much. Since I sew so much with wool, this will save me dollars, and even more importantly, lots of time. I've been doing the "wrap in wet sheet" type for some of my smaller yardages, but when it's 3-5 yards, I'd been taking it to the cleaners. This is wonderful.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Vicki said...

Great tip! Thanks :)

5:59 PM  
Blogger Summerset said...

Super tip! Thanks!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for the wonderful tip. I live over a hundred miles from the nearest dry cleaner. This technique will save me loads of time.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Interesting, and sounds easy! I have plenty of unwashed wool in my stash, and with fall sewing coming up, I'll definitely give this a try.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Sew-4-Fun said...

Fabulous tip Pam! I've never heard of this before but it sounds perfect so I will definitely be doing this in future. Thanks so much for sharing.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Linda T said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have some wool that I want to make slacks from and I need to do this first.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

This is a fabulous tip --- thank you for sharing it!

10:59 AM  
Blogger Gigi said...

Thank you, Pam! This is a wonderful idea and sure beats the heck out of steam pressing at home - a chore that I despise!

12:19 PM  
Blogger Claire S. said...

I posted about this tip this morning, as my 2 newest wool pieces were tumbling in the dryer. They are now cooling down waiting to be remeasured.

Thanks so much for the info ! :-)
The timing was perfect.

12:46 PM  
Blogger meredithp said...

Pam, Thanks for this method. For some reason, my dry cleaner thinks that wool yardage is spun gold, and charges accordingly. I'm especially paranoid about wool crepe, which is reputed to have residual shrinkage. Would you do anything different with wool crepe, or shrink it more than once?

10:48 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Meredith...there are many weights and qualities of wool crepe. Cheap wool crepe tends to suffer from residual shrinkage more than high quality wool crepe. However, it certainly won't hurt to repeat the "pre-shrink" process with any wool crepe.

And a sewing note regarding wool crepe: use care when constructing your garment. Do not press too hard, and when using steam to set an edge, follow swiftly with a wooden clapper to absorb the moisture. When using a dauber (or carefully directed steam) to steam-shrink sleeve cap ease (for example), do so carefully and without too much heat.

I always remember what my "Master Tailor" mentor told me about sewing with wool... he said,
"Pamela, my dear...when making the garment, it's important to remember that wool is NOT muslin!"

11:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am beyond thrilled with this suggestion. I have been mulling over this situation for about 2 weeks. I had decided this morning that I'd just get out the steamer and go to work that way. Now, thanks to this post, I'm going to use the towel/dryer method. thanks!!! I do have a question: do you think this method would work for raw silk and faille crepe? (fingers crossed).

11:24 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Christy...about your raw silk and faille crepe....I can't say for sure because I cannot see and feel your yardage :)

However, it won't hurt a bit to toss a 6"x6" swatch (10"x10", if you can spare the cut) into the dryer with a hot wet towel or two, and see what happens!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Pam. I did test swatches with handwashing and air drying. The raw silks are tweeds The raw silk came out fine, a little fulling with the faille. I'm getting ready to do my wools, so I'll toss the swatches in and see what happens.

Thanks again

3:58 PM  
Blogger Terri_A said...

I am going to try this (like right now!) Thanks Pam.
BTW, could I try this with designer silk chiffon I bought at facric.com?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Regarding your silk chiffon. I don't know. Try what I suggested to Christy, (^Above) about testing a swatch.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) said...

Oh Pam I will remember this tip when I don't need a facial from the steaming method I presently use!

12:32 PM  
Blogger Zoo said...

Just surfin' online and notice that you always [and promptly] answer questions posed in your comments section.


Love to see that and often don't.

Am curious to read the results of Christy's silk and crepe swatches :)

11:31 AM  
Blogger Gorgeous Things said...

I just wanted to let you know that I tried this with some Loro Piana wool that I have. It worked beautifully. Thanks Pam!

5:12 PM  
Blogger Bunny said...

This info is exactly what I need to wade thru a fair amount of wool I just accumulated. Thanks for this tremendous money and time saver, Pam!

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Jan Harritt said...

I thought I read on your site that you wash all or most of your "dry clean only" fabrics...I can't find that comment now..am I remembering correctly? Thanks for all your tips and advice--idahosewer

1:20 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Hi Jan...well I DO use the dry-cleaner for finished garments. And I do not wash most wools (except for wool jersey, which I hand wash gently in shampoo, roll in a towel to get most of the water out, then lay flat to dry).

I do wash dupionni silk. I like how the silk softens, the shine fades, and the slubs swell when it is washed in the machine. But that is just my preference. When water and agitation meets wool or silk, it does change the fabric...sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. Test-washing a swatch of your fabric is the only way to know :)

6:12 AM  
Blogger SkitzoLeezra said...

So glad to know this tip. I just received a couple meters of very high end quality wool and wondered what to do before cutting.
And DUH, never even considered that I would be pressing between each step of the process.

How about a wool and cashmere blend? Same advice?

1:21 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

SkitzoLeezra, With Cashmere or Cashmere blends I always take the gentlest path. When I pretreat any fabric of 100% Cashmere or blend, I do it by steaming the yargdage. Either at the Dry Cleaner, or myself with my hand-held steamer (I've got one of those garment steamer devices, mainly used to finish my custom shirts before they get shipped to clients).

If you have enough of the cashmere-blend fabric, you could test a large swatch (at least 8"x8") with the "in the dryer" method I use for wools...and see what results.

I know of some who handwash their Cashmere, then roll it in a towel, then hang carefully to drip dry...and they say it works well for them. I just cannot bring myself to do Cashmere that way :)

12:52 PM  
Blogger Skitzo Leezra Studio said...

Many thanks, Pam!
I have a retail store type steamer and absolutely love it so will try that on my fabric.
'Preciate your knowledge and time.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Pam,

Thanks for the tips, will this work for wool suiting and wool flannel?


1:32 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

sulovessew... I use this method to pre-treat wool suiting and wool flannel. If you want to test it first, toss a 5x5" square in the dryer with a load of wet clothes...tumble it for a while, take the swatch out and look at it,check the surface, and measure it for shrinkage. If you like the results, do the entire piece alone in the dryer with very damp hot towels as I describe in my post.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pam, wow, it works. the surface came out looking good and soft. thanks again

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Irene B. said...

My problem is that I don't have a dryer. Would it work if a place my cloth (wool crepe) between the two wet towels on a flat surface and let it dry naturally?

6:30 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Hi Irene...your best bet will be to steam your yardage with a steam iron. It is the steam from the towels in the dryer that pre-shrinks the wool.

Alternatively, you can do what is called a "London Shrink"-- roll your yardage in a *damp* sheet, let it sit for 24 hours, then line dry your wool yardage.

9:05 AM  
Blogger rosanne said...

Hi Pam! I love your blog for the wealth of knowledge you share with your public - you are definitely a trusted resource on the web! I'm wondering if you think I could use the dryer & damp towel steam shrink method on 100% camelhair coating (purchase from FabricMart). I haven't yet tried it on a swatch so I wanted to get your thoughts first. Thanks in advance!

1:01 PM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Hi Roseanne...thanks so much for your nice compliment...you've made my day!

I have never tried this technique on any other fabrics but wool or wool blends. So, I cannot predict how it will work with your camelhair.

My suggestions would be to take a scrap of the fabric (a 4"x4" piece), spritz it with some water on both sides, and then toss it in the dryer to see how moisture and heat affects the piece.

Some camelhair and cashmere have a definite "nap", and with these napped fabrics, traditional steaming (along the direction of the nap...following the smooth direction)is usually the best way to prep them.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Sewing Princess said...

I never thought I should steam wool before cutting it! I have learned sth new. Pity I already cut my coat. Hopefully it won't shrink when I dry-clean it

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for your help I weave wool by hand
I hope this works on handwoven wools

5:17 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Thank you so much for this piece of information. I came to your blog from another site and I'm glad I did. I do want to say that if you use dryer sheets in your dryer you might want to clean the dryer before putting your fabric in it. I also would like to share a tip I got from a textile chemist on how to finish silk. To get a glass like finish, soak your silk in warm water until completely wet, place the silk on a very smooth surface. I use a piece of heavy Mylar. Using a rolling pin, start at on end and roll the fabric flat. This will push the water out of your fabric, the silk needs to be wet, but not dipping wet. Once it is smooth, allow it to dry completely. You will be amazed at how beautiful your silk will look and feel. I used this process on a piece of silk I had woven. I was blown away by the results.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

thanks for the tip! i'm new to sewing and wanted to make sure i have done everything possible to make this dress last many seasons. i love your blog! how big of a towel is needed? you mention one or two. is that bath towels or hand towels? i have 3 yards of a wool blend. thanks for your help!

10:49 AM  
Blogger Pam Erny said...

Hi Jennifer...I use 2 bath towels. Do make sure they are more than damp, but *not* "dripping wet"

10:09 AM  

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