How do you pre-shrink your wool fabrics, readers? Are you a daredevil who throws it into a drier, or even washes it, or a purist swearing by the London shrunk method? Or, maybe you don't believe that the wool can be properly pre-treated at home and, so you hand it over to your trusted dry cleaner?
In fact, quite a few good wool manufacturers pre-shrink their fabrics (Linton Tweeds, for example) before they land in stores or designer workrooms, but often you just don't know whether you fabric has been pre-shrunk. Either way, nowadays a careful steam press is usually all you need for a better quality wool fabric.
Of course, you do need to consider the type of fiber/ wool you are dealing with (for example, crepe doesn't like much moisture and shrinks like crazy), the fabric weight, and the future use and care. I hope you understand that I can cover only what's relevant to my particular project. I chose high-end wool flannel, medium weight, that can be successfully used for jackets, dresses or skirts. With fabric like this, a good steam press is an adequate method of pre-shrinking.
Anything else would overshrink the wool. I will explain. Let's go ahead a bit and talk about the construction of the dress - this is where a proper planning comes in handy! I want to shape my sleeve elbow sections with steam and iron, a little - to conform to the natural shape of the arm. I also want to convert my neckline darts in the back to ease - I got a slightly rounded back and have to add those unsightly darts, but I can eliminate them on the face fabric, again with steam. These operations require the wool to be able to stretch or to shrink. Steam pressing leaves some room for shaping during the construction process, but, at the same time, stabilizes the fabric just enough to withstand regular cleaning and pressing.
This method is really simple, and was first recommended to me by Kenneth D. King and Susan Khalje in their Sit and Sew class in New York. Later, I did my own research and put together these simple steps for preparing wool for work.
- research your particular type of wool (quite a few require special attention when pre-shrinking, such as crepe, for example)
- check whether your fabric is on grain
- fold the fabric, right side inside, align selvedges and smooth out any wrinkles
- gently steam press wool by hovering (not gliding) the iron, section by section without applying force and without leaving any gaps as it will leave unpressed sections lighter in color than the pressed ones.
- press the fabric dry, again, section by section, without too much pressure, for a few seconds at a time.
For heavier fabrics, pressing can be done through a cotton or linen press cloth. Dip it into water and then wring it almost dry. The moisture on the pressing cloth should be distributed evenly. Too much moisture, and the fabric may pucker. Actually, the same is true for steam - use it thoughtfully.
And, please, use tumble dry only if you want to felt your wool! Drier, also in combination with a washing machine, will permanently change surface characteristics and the fell of your wool fabric - if this is what you aim at - experiment freely...
Finally, I thought I'd share some of the resources I referred to to complete this step. Interestingly, Claire Shaeffer in her Couture Sewing: Tailoring Techniques doesn't offer any advice on pre-shrinking the fabric, although the book and the complimentary DVD are a great reference for specific couture construction techniques. Her Couture Sewing Techniques reveals more about the process, and her Fabric Sewing Guide gives directions for the London Shrunk method. However, if you want a comprehensive step-by-step guide to constructing a couture tailored jacket, I'd refer to Vintage Couture Tailoring by Thomas von Nordheim. If you are interested in high-end tailoring techniques, the book is a must.
I wish my US readers a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and hope to connect to them on Monday again! Meanwhile, please do leave comments about your preferred methods of pre-shrinking!