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Preshrinking wool crepe the lazy way

Theodora | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

Do you suppose that if I were the get a cotton bath towel, fresh out of the spin cycle of the washer, so that it wasn’t soaking but it was plenty damp, and tossed it in the dryer with my five yards of 100% wool crepe, and dried it on low or medium, it might adequately pre-shrink the crepe? Or shrink it into submission?

Has anyone ever tried that? Or just spritzing the wool pretty thoroughly and drying it? I live in a tiny town, and I get alarmed blank looks when I take fabric to the dry cleaner and ask that it be pre-shrunk. I usually steam press this stuff myself at the ironing board, but there’s five yards of it at 60 inches wide. I might die at the ironing board before I finished. Or fill up my nice air conditioned house with humidity. And it’s too big to hang in the shower, although I could manoever that it necessary.

Does anyone have any personal favorite ways of preshrinking wool crepe, especially for when you are feeling totally slothful? Thanks in advance. If I decide to do the dryer thing, I will report back.

You can choose to be part of the solution, or part of the problem. Or like me, you can be an overachiever, and do both.


  1. NansiM | | #1


       I was in this predicament a year ago when I made a gorgeous Vogue retro-1948 suit and the gal chose black wool crepe.  I, too, wanted to know the best way to do this.  i asked around at my network meetings; dry cleaners steam cleaning came up most often.  i also checked 2 of my fav. resource books: Sandra Betzina and Claire Shaeffer.  Sandra's said dry cleaners but in Claire's book in that chapter on wools, say three different times DO NOT preshrink wool crepe specifically!!!  she's the only one I found who said this.  I never found a way to email her to find out why she says this and would STILL love to know (hint, anyone???).

       In the end, I decided to play it safe.  i took 2 dampened towels and placed them between my wool layers just as it came off the bolt-between the right sides- and rolled up my yardage;  which ironically enough was 5 yds, like yours!  i let the roll sit in a large plastic bag for an hour or so to lightly dampen the wool.  then i took it out and proceeded to iron it dry, being EXCEEDINGLY careful NOT to stretch it out while on the ironing board--I supported it on a little table I placed next to the board.  i set the iron to "wool" and DID NOT use steam, as Claire book also cautioned against this ( again no explanation, that i could find anyhow).  this obviously took a bit of time, but with some good tunes and a bit of board-side in place exercises, I made it thruogh the 5 yds.  i was happy with the result,  the suit came out great and post wearing dry cleaning has not produced any shrinking since.

       You might check out some of the fabric info sites to see what they recommend.  Let me know what you find out--I always like to learn!

    1. Tish | | #2

      The December 2000 issue of Weaver's Craft is devoted to fulling-- the process of agitating wet wool to make the fibers bind together to make a coherent fabric.    Shrinking is an inegralpart of the fulling process.  If you full your fabric enough, is has the body you want and the weave structure is istill clear.  If you full it too much, it shrinks too much and the surface develops a matted, felt-like appearance, while the fabric stiffens because it had become thicker.

      It may be that the prohibitions against shrinking wool crepe are because of the danger of loosing the lovely drapey quality of the fabric.  I don't know, but it's a possibility.  Anyway, Weaver's Craft stresses that it is agitation, not heat alone, nor the alkali in soap, that causes shrinking and binding. 

      I hope this isn't too presumptuous of me.  Aside from weaving, I never work with wool.

      1. Theodora | | #3

        Thank you both.

        Not presumptuous at all, Tish, right on target. Thinking through the problem is good. As a matter of fact I was thinking about you just a few minutes ago while I was googling about and found a directory of sites for wool for weaving. I'll go back and look for it and post the link for you.

        (Here 'tis: http://www.wool.com/Pages/dhandicrafts.shtml )

        The issue you raise is probably the root of the problem. I've been imaging crepe and steam as I've gone about my morning, and yes, the fulling/felting forces will create a denser and less drapey fabric. On the other hand, a steam iron is going to hit this crepe at some point, like when I do the sleeve cap, or the hem, or any number of other little spots where I might wish to do a bit of tailoring, or just pressing the seam allowances open. So why not steam press the entire fabric before hand? Is it a difference of degree? Steam pressing versus aggressive shrinking? I'm very intrigued now, and would like to know Schaeffer's reasoning, spelled out.

        I have worked with the stuff in the past, and either had the drycleaner steam it, or steamed it myself, and I'm still wearing some of the garments (the ones I fit into) several years down the road.

        Where is our moderator? Maybe she can get Ms. Schaeffer and Ms. Betzina to weigh in here. Like "Crossfire" or "Celebrity Death Match." Meanwhile, I'm still looking for more info.

        Edited 7/12/2002 9:58:19 AM ET by Theodora

        1. Theodora | | #4

          Well, I did it. I took a measured two and a quarter yards of the wool crepe, and let it steam in the shower, then put it in the dryer with two wet bath towels and dried it on medium heat. This was not forty dollar a yard stuff, it was 14.99 on sale half price, or I wouldn't have done this. I figured the experiment was worth while.

          My results? The dried fabric shrunk 4 inches over the 2.25 yards. I didn't pre-measure the width to check it. The fabric is a tiny shade "lighter" in weight and feels as if it has lost a bit of luster/body. It's less heavy/drapey. It isn't wrinkled or distorted or noticeably "felted." Although the tossing around and abrasion no doubt contributed to the softer feel.

          I'll be making trousers and a jacket, and am completely pleased with my results. But I won't do this to expensive fabric without pretesting a 12 inch square, which   might not be representative of the behavior of a larger piece anyway. I'm going to steam a couple of pieces of this first now with the iron to imitate pressing creases, etc.

          1. Tish | | #5

            Theodora, thanks for reporting on this.  I think you had us all interested in the technique and outcome. 

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