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Washable Wool

almost | Posted in General Discussion on

Can anyone explain what washable wool is?  Just got an amazing new washer that is suppose to handle “washable wool” and I have no idea what that is.

Can I somehow turn wool yardage into washable wool?

Thank you! 


  1. jjgg | | #1

    companies like SmartWool and Icebreaker make 100% merino wool garments that are machine washable and dryable. They have chemically removed the scale from the wool fiber so that it doesn't full when agitated.

    Wool doesn't actually "shrink" the fibers don't get shorter when washed. Microscopically there are scales on the length of each fiber and these tangle and get caught against each other with agitation making them bunch up and the garment appears to shrink.

    I don't know what is special about your washer, is it a front loader? they are more gentle on clothes.

    I have a Smartwool shirts, it is the most fantastic soft, warm, cuddly shirt. It's been through the washer and dryer many many times and still looks (almost) new!

  2. katina | | #2

    100% wool knitting yarn that's labelled "Superwash" has been treated by a special process to prevent it from shrinking when washed - particularly useful for children's garments. One can also buy wool yardage which is machine washable. Care must still be taken however. It's important not to subject the item to changes of temperature, nor to agitation. I always place the woollen item in a pillowcase when I machine wash as this prevents it from being stretched out during the washing process. The special wash cycles for woollens have a very gentle spin cycle and maintain constant temperature of the water. No sudden shock from warm to cold - wool hates that. I have successfully washed wool even in machines which did not have special cycles - you just have to be prepared to monitor the progress very carefully. Something I have learned (the hard way, of course!) is not to put too many items in at a time as they abrade each other = agitation = results which may not please you.

    Enjoy the new machine.


    1. Consuelo | | #3

      Gosh, I've always washed my worsted wool fabrics before I make a garment and the garment is then washable - not machine dryable - and I love it.  Woolens are a different story as they would felt  much more easily.  But gabardine, twills, even wool crepe can be washed in cold, delicate setting and air dried.  Front loader machines are particularly good for this because the don't agitate anywhere near as much as a top loader.  It's a naturally gentler machine.

      1. katina | | #4

        Hi Consuelo

        I have a front loader and love it, but I miss the agitation of the top loader for certain items, so now I'm agitating to get another one. I've been fulling a lot of knitted items lately and it's so much easier to control the process in a top loader. Have you ever tried deliberately altering the hand of woollen yardage before sewing it?


        1. Consuelo | | #5

          Katina, I know what you mean about the top loaders for intentionally felting wools.  I've done a few knitted/felted projects and I've ended up going to the laundromat to finish felting them.  The front loader is too gentle in this case.  I'm told by a friend that the frontloader will eventually get the job done but I'm too impatient for that.

          I've not fulled woolen yardage on purpose (or otherwise).  I'd be interested in knowing if you or anyone else has done it and how it went. What kind of projects did you do with this yardage?

          I did have an amazing shrinking experience in my frontloader once: bought an inexpensive, allegedly boiled wool jacket at Target; boiled wool has already been shrunk, right?  it should wash in the gentle cycle just fine.  Ha! I'm a 2X size and when I was done washing it I gave it to my friend for her 6 year old!!  LOL

          1. katina | | #6

            It's odd what happened to your boiled wool jacket - I had a similar experience and ruined a couple of boiled wool vests in just the same way. I didn't watch the cycle and can only guess that somehow the spin cycle was on. At least your jacket fitted the child - my vests were turned into dense, mis-shapen lumps, utterly useless.

            I've had great results fulling yardage - in both types of machines. I buy twice the amount I need, wash it on a warm cycle with a little detergent and then use the resulting fabric for a jacket or vest. I've got a beautiful length of Italian wool to experiment with - bought at a fantastic sale price. I'm thinking of cutting the sleeves, perhaps a collar and facings from the fabric as it is, and then fulling the rest for the body of the jacket. It could be very interesting! I've found that loosely woven fabrics work best; boucles and handwovens give great results. I imagine this could work well with a suit - fulled jacket fabric with a skirt of unwashed fabric. I might give it a try.


          2. fiberfan | | #9

            I like the idea of combining the fabric before and after fulling.

            Joanne - so many ideas, so much fiberr, so little time

          3. fiberfan | | #8

            I have some magenta wool fabric I fulled waiting to become a coat.  The fabric was loosely woven and visibly off grain.  I tried to straighten a piece for a skirt and it immediately returned to it's off grain state when it got wet.  Fulling obscured the off grain problem and created a nice coating fabric.

            Joanne - so many ideas, so much fiber, so little time

            edit to fix a typo

            Edited 10/27/2007 3:21 pm ET by fiberfan

        2. jjgg | | #10

          You also can't just put something on a spin cycle with the front loader (mine is an LG brand) When I wash my quilts, I like to wash them on a gentle cycle, but I want to spin them on a high spin to get the water out of it. No can do! it will either spin on a gentle spin (leaves it too heavy with water to take it out of the washer) or put it back to "rinse and spin" for a high spin! drives me nuts, I'd consider getting a top loader again for this!

          1. katina | | #11

            My front loader is an AEG. I can play around with the cycles - for instance, I stop the cycle when the gentle wash is complete, turn the knob to the off position which then cancels the cycle, and restart the machine on the spin cycle. It also has different spin speeds. Then I reset, etc for the gentle rinse cycle. That's the only way I can work around the gentle spin programs. Just means I need to be at hand. Can you do this on your machine?


          2. jjgg | | #13

            Where do you live? I looked up AEG and it doesn't look like they sell in the US.
            To answer your question, no, I can't fiddle with the cycles like you can

          3. katina | | #14

            We're presently in Europe - AEG, Bosch, Miele are the big brandnames here. Have you tried stopping the machine, and advancing the button to the off position? Perhaps if you open the door to sort of fool it into thinking the cycle's finished, then start the machine on a spin cycle? Worth a try.


          4. jjgg | | #15

            I can stop the cycle, but if I want to switch it to spin, I HAVE to set it to "rinse & spin". If I want it on a high spin, then I have to set it to a regular rinse cycle. Go figure, When we move (sometime in the next 6 months to one year) we will be buying a new washer and dryer, since we will sell these with the house (well, my next door neighbor will buy them, and her daughter is buying the house!) so I've been looking at other brands.LG makes one that has a 'steam' cycle which would be nice if you just want to steam a garment.

          5. katina | | #16

            Sometimes I think the simplest, most basic labour-saving devices are the best! I understand your frustrations. Some washing machines here are so 'green' that they use the barest minimum of water - doesn't even come up to the level of the porthole. My friend paid big bucks and now has to top up her loads with jugs of water.


          6. maggiecoops | | #17

            Hi Katina, I live in England, and non of the front loaders I've owned have used enough water to reach the "porthole" The one I have now has a sensor which adds water if the wash needs it. My laundry is always washed perfectly and is thoroughly rinsed, something I have to watch as my whole family has eczema.

             I had two washable Merino jackets that I washed on a wool cycle, I ended up with two babies matine jackets. I now stick to my synthetic yarn, it's kinder on my skin and doesn't shrink.

          7. katina | | #18

            Hello there

            Thanks for that info - I'll pass it on to my friend. Eczema and wool just do not mix - acrylic's definitely your best bet. Have you been able to use any of the acrylics which contain a small percentage of wool?


          8. maggiecoops | | #19

            I can use those for myself as long as I wear a garment between the yarn and my skin. Yarns like Shetland or Aron, have got to have a barrier, I have to watch if I'm knitting an Aron jacket I don't make the neckline too tall for a shirt or blouse collar.

            There's so many lovely synthetics these days with all the handling characteristics of wool, I'm quite happy  not being able wear it. Plus I can wash it in the front loader on a cool wash. 

          9. katina | | #20

            Well, would you believe - just saw an advertisement for a new type of washing machine which (supposedly) combines all the best features of front and top loaders.

            We shall see!

          10. jjgg | | #21

            I just got back from looking at machines. Here's the scoop on what I found out.The LG that does the "steam" cycle in the washer - well, it leaves the garment wet, so you still need to put it in the dryer,I looked at the Bosch washers, the 500 series has a spin only cycle, so I could wash a quilt on a gentle cycle and then put it on a high spin, unlike the LG that I have I have to do a "rinse - spin" with the rinse cycle on a regular not gently rinse. Interestingly, the 800 series (more expensive with an "eco" cycle to use even less water) you can't do just a spin!Now, Whirlpool makes a front loader that has a steam cycle in the washer like the LG brand, but that is for getting things really deep cleaned, What they do have is a steam cycle on the dryer! that is for use when you just want to steam a dress to get the wrinkles out! Yes, the dryer gets hooked up to the water line. It comes with the "Y" connector for the washer and dryer to hook tot he water line. The Whirlpool also has the "spin only" cycle - they call it the "drain and spin" for handwashed garments.My thoughts for now are to go with the Whirlpool, but it will be almsot a year before I move so I'll wait and see what other models come out between now and then!My only problem with this is that in our new house the washer and dryer face each other (they are on the opposite walls in the laundry room) so there would have to be some creative wiring of the water hose over to the dryer.

          11. katina | | #22

            A steam cycle sounds like a very good option. You've researched these so well perhaps those consumer reports people need to take you on board!

            Thanks for the info.


          12. jjgg | | #23

            Thanks, but no thanks, I'll stick to making wedding gowns!

    2. almost | | #7

      Thank you very much for the information because I was very unfamiliar with this type of fabric/process. 

      I never realized that worsted wool could be handled in the washer before cut.....this is very good information and is counter to everything I knew about wool fabric (never differentiating between the weaves).  But in case I chicken out washing my fabric.....does anyone know vendor that sell washable wool yardage? 

      Thank you again all!


  3. sueb | | #12

    I have the best luck sewing on vinyl when I use my walking foot.


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