Incredible Shrinking Wool

One of my favorite clients is having me make loads of pants for her this year and to eliminate having to go to the dry cleaners she gently washes her unlined wool pants at home. This will probably send most non-sewers into a tizzy but it can be done along with hand washing silk too. Just imagine what people did before the 20th century invention of chemical cleaning? Our ancestors did and still some do beat clothing on rocks at the riverside and air-dry them.

If you are willing to try this technique please beware and buy extra fabric before you pre-shrink and cut out your patterns. One pants project for my friend involved a lovely khaki colored wool:

Before it was dunked/gently placed into warm water in the sink I measured it just for fun. At that time it was 2 yards 21 inches and about 60 inches wide.

After soaking for about one hour I squeezed the excess water out and put it in the washer for a good spin. Once that was done it was placed in the dryer on low for about 20 minutes until the buzzer rang telling me that it was semi-dry.


Measuring tape in hand I calculated that the length of wool had shrunk 5 inches in width from selvedge to selvedge and lost 7 inches in length. OK it lost less than 10% width and length wise so that should not be a big problem should it?

Next step was to lay the paper pattern on it and see what we could produce. Folding my fabric crossgrain with cut ends together and selvedges together I ran into a little problem:

Parts of the pattern are hanging off the edge…bummer. Now I will have to resort to the more difficult layout folded the other way. So you can see that even a small amount of shrinkage can cause grief and alteration of plans for the poor seamstress.

Happily I was able to get these 2 pieces along with the waistband facing pieces cut out with a lengthwise fold but it was equally tight as my client wanted to widen the legs a little to fit over boots and with that other layout that becomes more difficult.

Speaking about shrinking I have many clients who proudly bring in new jeans and chino pants for hemming and are very disappointed when I suggest taking them home to pre-shrink them before I work on them. I have read articles that it takes 3 washings and dryings for jeans to stabilize. In college I learned that cotton is a fiber that continues to shrink throughout it’s lifetime…a good excuse as to why older T-shirts don’t fit anymore…ha ha.

Recently another client came along with some lovely velvet type sweatpants that had never been pre-shrunk as she was too busy to do this before dropping them off. I hemmed them longer than normal to allow for some shrinkage in a 75 cotton/25 polyester knit fabric. Well after hemming she went home and washed and then threw them in the dryer. Can you guess what happened? Instead of touching the floor as before they were 1  1/4 inches higher and showing her heels of her shoes but at this point with only a 1 inch hem there is not much that can be done except steam them from the wrong side and help them to “grow” a little. She said she had learned a valuable lesson.

So my friends and fellow sewers….BEFORE you start hemming those new pants you bought at the after Christmas sales…PRE-SHRINK! Treat those garments like you will treat them in the future  before handing them over to a seamstress or alterations person at the dry cleaners.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s