Preparing to Sew Your Climate Beneficial Wool Fabric

This week, Lani’s Lana Community Supported Cloth—a climate beneficial wool fabric—shipped to everyone who pre-ordered yardage. Since we know that includes a lot of Fibershed supporters, we figured we’d provide some information on how to work with this very special material.

community supported cloth

The talented Dan DiSanto has, quite possibly, worked with this wool fabric more than anyone else. He has more than 40 years of industrial sewing experience.

Dan DiSanto, photo by Paige Green

Dan started working in plus-size women’s clothing as a patternmaker, then finished his education with a BA in Mathematics and, later, an MS in Apparel Management and Technology from North Carolina State University. Since then, Dan has worked as a designer and technical developer for DuPont, O’Neill, Levi Strauss and Co., Ralph Lauren, Nike, L.E.I., Hudson Jeans, Victoria Beckham, Tuff Gong, and Joie Jeans. He started the denim line for Ariat, and retired from The North Face in 2015, where his team received the International Red Dot Award for product design. Dan currently spends his time volunteering for Fibershed, helping to commercialize clean apparel.

We sat down with Dan to develop a series on what it’s like to work with a special, unusual fabric that may be unfamiliar to many home sewists. This climate beneficial wool twill is not typical in terms of sourcing, finishing, or weave, so many typical sewing prep practices—like pre-washing and drying—do not apply here.

Read on to learn how best to prepare and care for your wool fabric from Lani’s Lana.

Q: Dan, how should sewists prepare to work with this fabric? Are there specific steps we should take?

Dan: Clean your sewing machine, especially if you use an industrial sewing machine. This includes lint from the bobbin case, the feed dogs, and the bottom of the presser foot. There’s oil all over the feed dogs, and the climate beneficial cloth is white wool, so take a little time to clean. It’s worth it!

Q: In home sewing, it is standard practice to wash, dry, and iron fabric before we begin to sew with it. Is that what folks should do here?

Dan: In the garment industry, we create patterns for manufacturers with additional room for fabric shrinkage during the wash. The finish on this wool, however, removed most of the potential for shrinkage, so there is no need to wash this wool first. A pattern without room added for fabric shrinkage (which is most home sewing patterns) is fine as-is.

This finish on the wool makes it ready to cut, which is an added value. The fabric finishing (from Geltman in L.A.) is very nice, minimal, clean with no additives, and enough to stabilize the fabric. Wool will always tend to tighten up and felt a bit, so we want to avoid any unnecessary washing and abrasion.

Q: We know natural fibers—wool in particular—are very different from synthetics. Wool doesn’t stink, it lasts longer between washings (reducing water and energy use), and simply airing it out in sun and fresh air is all it might need for a while. What is the best way to care for this fabric over time, when it eventually does need some washing? You did a lot of wash tests with it.

Dan: Yes. You don’t need to wash this fabric nearly as often as man-made (synthetic) fabrics. Try a steam refresh in your dryer (no heat) instead of washing. To steam refresh, some folks dampen a soft cloth, put that and the fabric in the dryer together, and set the dryer to an air dry or other no-heat setting. Be careful with tumbling too much; you want to avoid pilling.

Always hand wash this fabric in cold water, as gently as possible, either by hand or with the hand wash setting on your washing machine. Never wring it. Roll it in a towel, press it to remove excess water, then lay it flat on towel to dry, similar to blocking a hand knit. Wool dries quickly.

If you wash the fabric in a machine, reduce the spin cycle speed (RPM) as much as possible. You want the machine spin speed set at 600 or less, NOT 800-1000 RPMs. During my wash tests, the least distressed sample was a cold wash, gentle cycle in the washing machine, and then lay flat to dry. I wouldn’t hang this fabric to dry: the weight of the wet wool may distort its shape.

In general, you want to avoid abrasion in all forms: during washing, wringing and drying. Abrasion can cause pilling and felting.

I like Method Free & Clear laundry soap, which performed best during my wash tests on this fabric. I used black Sharpie marker on this wool and the Method detergent almost completely removed it! Plus it’s totally clean, with no scent, and rinses out quickly.

I also did a spot test with sewing machine oil, because I knew I’d run into that. Synthetics absorb oil, which is why your Tupperware gets stained with spaghetti sauce. Natural fibers do not absorb oil in the same way. So, if you happen to get oil on this fabric, apply baby powder or cornstarch to the spot, then gently rub the cornstarch in (try not to abrade). Use a vacuum to gently suck up the cornstarch, then apply more cornstarch, vacuum again, and repeat until the stain is gone.

If some oil residue still remains, apply the cornstarch, put a paper towel or brown paper on top of it, and use a cool iron (no steam) to heat it up a bit. Then vacuum the cornstarch off.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add, in terms of sewing preparation?

Dan: Yes. You don’t have to worry about aligning the grain, because the grain on this fabric is beautifully vertical and horizontal, with a lovely straight selvedge. This fabric is woven with old wooden shuttle Draper looms. The yarn goes in one direction then back the opposite way, making the warp and weft a perfect 90 degrees to each other with no skew.

Most modern looms—unlike the old Draper looms in use at Huston Textile, which wove this cloth—insert the fill in ONE direction only. There’s no back and forth movement. This is why most fabric from modern looms comes off with a skew in it.

Q: Wait a minute. Is this why jeans twist around my legs, why the side seam ends up in front of my calf?

Dan: Yes, that can be a factor! The twist in most jean legs is primarily from the relaxing of the right hand twill. That’s why the side seams tend to rotate towards the front of the leg from left to right.

With this wool fabric, which is also a right hand twill, I have not noticed any twisting in the finished garments or during cutting. (Also, that is an easy way to tell the right side of the fabric: The diagonal twill travels from bottom left to top right, on the right side of the fabric.)
The fill yarns and selvedges line up totally straight on the cutting table, and on the body.

This fabric has a great hang to it. It’s very enjoyable to sculpt.

Stay tuned for a few more posts from Dan, on sewing tips and tricks, more sustainably sourced notions worthy of your special fabric, and more.