different wool fabrics

Woollen fabric types

This A-Z guide to woollen fabrics – from clothes-press – covers fabric properties, main uses in sewing and washing care instructions.

Woollen fabrics are warm and comfortable to wear, and come in a variety of weights and textures. Fabric made from fibres spun from sheep wool is the most common, but you can also buy mohair, angora, cashmere (all from goats) and alpaca (similar to llamas). Woollen fabrics tend to be more expensive than cottons, and mostly need to be either hand washed or dry cleaned.

Main types of wool fabrics

  • Alpaca - a soft medium-weight fabric with a loose weave and silky texture. Alapaca fibres are often mixed with sheep’s wool and other fibres to create blends that have a soft, lustrous finish.  Mainly used for coats and suits. Care: dry clean and cool iron.
  • Boiled wool - this is a heavy-weight fabric which is produced by shrinking woven or knitted wool fabric (using water and mechanical agitation) to create a dense, non-fraying material with a textured surface. It’s generally either pure wool or a wool-synthetic blend. As it’s warm and weatherproof, boiled wool is mainly used to make cardigans, jackets and coats. Care: gentle cool hand wash (don’t wring or rub), avoid ironing.
  • Cashmere - a very soft, fine fabric that’s comfortable and warm to wear. It’s made from the fleece of the Kashmir goat, and is often used for scarves, like pashminas, as well as coats. Care: hand wash or dry clean, avoid ironing.
  • Challis - this is a soft, lightweight, plain-weave wool that drapes well and is easy to handle. It may be plain or printed, often with floral or paisley patterns. It’s main use is for dresses. Care: hand wash and warm iron using a damp cloth.
  • Coating - a heavy-weight, bulky woollen fabric. Coating sometimes has quite a coarse weave and may have a napped, soft-textured surface. As the name suggests, its main uses are for coats and capes. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a damp cloth.
  • Crêpe - lightweight, fine, soft woollen fabric with an open weave and springy, textured surface. It drapes well and is used for dresses and suits. Crêpe can be a bit tricky to sew as it tends to stretch and slip. You’ll need to adjust your stitch length and tension to avoid puckering – usually you need a longer stitch length and lower tension. Care: hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on wrong side.
  • Double coating - heavy-weight, bulky reversible woollen fabric which is made from two layers woven together. It’s mainly used to make casual coats and capes. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a damp cloth.
  • Double jersey – this is a medium-weight knit stretchy wool fabric. It has fine vertical ribs on both sides and is firmer than single jersey. It’s mainly used for suits. Care: hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on the wrong side using a damp cloth.
  • Flannel - medium-weight, strong wool fabric with a plain or twill weave. Like cotton flannel, it has a napped finish on one or both sides so is soft and cosy to the touch. Often used for suits, jackets, skirts and trousers. Care: hand wash or dry clean, and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Gabardine - medium-weight, hardwearing fabric with a close twill weave. Gabardine may be pure wool or a mix of wool and other fibres such as polyester or cotton. It’s mainly used for coats, jackets, skirts and trousers. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a damp cloth.
  • Mohair - produced from the fleece of the Angora goat, this is a heavy-weight, plain-weave fabric with a distinctive fluffy and hairy texture. It’s generally mixed with sheep’s wool and is mostly used for coats. Care: hand wash or dry clean, cool iron on the wrong side with a dry cloth on the right side and a damp cloth next to the iron.
  • Silk-wool mix – medium-weight soft fabric which combines the softness of wool with the sheen and lustre of silk. Mainly used to make posh suits and jackets. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a pressing cloth.
  • Single jersey – a light- to medium-weight knit, stretchy wool fabric. It has fine horizontal ribs on the wrong side and vertical ribs on the right side. Its main uses are for casual clothes and children’s wear. Care: hand wash or dry clean, avoid ironing.
  • Tartan - a checked, twill-weave, medium-weight woollen fabric that comes in a wide variety of colour schemes. It’s not difficult to handle but needs careful cutting out and sewing to match the checks across seams. Tartan is mainly used for kilts, skirts, coats, dresses and sometimes trousers. Care: dry clean and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Tweed - traditional tweed is a heavy-weight, durable, coarse-textured fabric woven in mixed muted shades of wool. The fabric generally tends to be either plain-weave, twill or herringbone. It’s traditionally associated with Scotland (such as Harris tweed) and Ireland (Donegal tweed). Modern tweed is a similar a thick, woven woollen fabric that is produced in a wider range of colours and patterns than traditional tweed. Tweed is most commonly used for coats, jackets and suits but is sometimes also used for skirts and dresses. Care: hand wash very carefully or dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a damp cloth.
  • Venetian - medium-weight wool fabric which is woven with either a twill or satin weave and has a shiny finish. Used to make dresses, skirts, jackets and suits. Care: dry clean and warm iron.
  • Wool felt – a non-woven textile produced by matting and pressing fibres together. This creates a soft, dense non-fraying wool fabric which is generally medium- to heavy-weight. Can be pure wool or a wool-polyester mix. It’s mostly used to make hats and slippers. Care: gentle cool hand wash (don’t wring or rub), avoid ironing.
  • Worsted – medium- to heavy-weight woollen fabric with a smooth surface. As it’s tightly woven, it’s hardwearing and doesn’t sag easily so is mainly used for suits and coats. Care: dry clean and warm iron using a damp cloth.

Note on washing instructions

I’ve included general care instructions for each fabric but please check any information that comes with the fabric you’re buying. Alternatively, test a sample to check that the general recommendations given here are right for your specific fabric. The temperatures given are the maximum suggested for each fabric – obviously you can do lower temperature washes if you prefer. Fabrics made from natural fibres can shrink quite a bit (sometimes 10%) when you first wash them, so do make sure you buy enough fabric to allow for this and pre-wash it before sewing.

Where to find more detailed information on fabric types

Online resources

  • Google images – I find this is the best place to get a quick idea of what any of the fabrics look like

Books for more in-depth information

  • The Sewing Book – of all the general sewing books I’ve read, I think this one has the best guide to fabric with excellent photos

Read more on clothes-press

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