How to Sew Wool Fabric from Start to Finish

Wool is one of my absolute favorite fibers to work with. I’ve sewn many trousers, shirts, coats, and jackets using different types of wool. It’s generally a hard-wearing, hard-to-soil fabric, with great temperature-controlling properties (meaning it will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer).

If you’re in a rush, here’s a quick overview of my most important tips:

  • Pre-shrink your wool fabric before cutting it. There are 3 ways to do this. Steam-shrink it with an iron, tumble dry it with damp towels, or send it to a dry cleaner. Some wool and synthetic blend fabrics can be machine washed.
  • Transfer pattern markings using tailors chalk, continuous speed tacks or tailor’s tacks.
  • Press your seams as you go. A wooden clapper is a must when pressing. It will give you beautiful flat seams, even on the thickest of wools. Use a pressing cloth to avoid damaging the fabric.
  • Seam finish options for most types of wool include serged and pinked edges. For medium and heavyweight wools, you can use hong kong and bound seams. For lightweight wools, you can use french seams and flat felled seams.
  • Hemming options for wool include single fold hems (with a serged edge), double fold hems, faced hems, bias faced hems, and bound hems.
  • When working with thick wools, reduce bulk by grading seam allowances.

Contents list:

Types of wool fabric & how to choose the right one for your project

There are two main types of wool fabric: woolen fabric which is woven from woolen yarns, and worsted fabric which is woven from worsted yarns.

Woolen fabric is characterized by a fuzzier, hairier texture, a softer hand, and the use of shorter fibers. Some examples include tweeds, coatings, washable wools, and flannel.

Worsted fabrics are smoother in texture, use longer fibers, and the weave of the fabric is more prominent. Examples of worsted wool fabrics include serge, gabardine, and suitings. (Shaeffer, 2011)

Another way to categorize wool fabric is by the technique that was used to produce it: is it woven or knit? If you’re using a pattern, it will say if it was designed for woven and / or knit fabrics. This will be your first data point in selecting the perfect wool fabric for your project. 

The weight and thickness of your wool fabric will affect all your decisions, from the style of the garment to the length of your stitches.

  • Lighter weight wools like crepe, voile, or challis are suitable for blouses, shirts, or dresses.
  • Medium weight wools like gabardine, serge, lighter tweeds, or suitings are perfect for trousers, jackets, vests, skirts, and more structured dresses.
  • Heavy weight wools like coating fabrics or heavy tweeds are used for outerwear pieces like heavy jackets or coats. 

There are also some specialty wools with unique characteristics, such as boiled wool, double cloth wool, or luxury wools with hair fibers blended into them:

  • Boiled wools are made from felting knit wool fabric by agitating it in hot water. It produces a heavy, structured, stable fabric that doesn’t fray when cut. They work well for coats, jackets, and berets. 
  • Double cloth wools are made out of two layers of fabric that are bound together by threads or by fusing. Depending on the fabric it can look identical on both sides, or be two toned. They require specific seams and construction techniques in order to produce a reversible garment, and they are often used for unlined jackets and coats. 
  • Wools with hair fibers like cashmere, mohair, or alpaca have a hairy texture and they require extra care and attention when sewing and pressing them. They are often used for luxury suitings and coatings.

Is wool hard to sew?

I find most wools are relatively easy to sew. They are often stable, easy to cut and sew, versatile, and forgiving of small mistakes. Because wool fibers have a natural elasticity to them, the resulting wool fabric is malleable and easy to manipulate using steam. This means that they are usually more forgiving than, let’s say, a very densely woven cotton fabric. 

As with most other fabrics, extremely lightweight and extremely heavyweight options will present more challenges when working with them. If you’re new to working with wool, I recommend starting with a medium weight wool fabric with a tight weave and no prominent nap.

The main challenges when working with wool are finding an appropriate way to prepare the fabric for sewing, and dealing with bulky, springy seams that refuse to lay flat. This article will help you with both so that you feel confident and ready to start working with wool fabric!

Step 1: What tools you need for sewing wool

Sewing machine needles:

You will need to choose your needle depending on the weight and thickness of your wool fabric. Universal needles work well with almost all fabrics, but you can also use Sharps if you’re working with a densely woven wool fabric.

As for sizes, try a 70/10 or 80/12 for light weight wools, a 90/14 for medium weight wools, and a 100/16 or 110/18 for heavy weight wools.

Hand sewing needles:

I like to use size 8 Sharps for hand sewing wool fabric. These needles are a good match for light to medium, medium, and medium to heavy weight wools. If you’re working with a particularly lightweight wool, try a size 10, 11 or 12. If you’re working with a very thick wool, try a size 4, 5 or 6. Remember: the bigger the number, the finer the needle.


Pretty much all pins should work well on wool fabric, as long as they’re smooth and sharp. If you’re working with a very lightweight, delicate wool, you should use finer pins like silk pins. If you’re working with very thick wool, using longer pins like flower-head quilting pins can be a good idea.

Sewing clips can also be used to hold thick layers together.


I like to use all-purpose polyester thread for machine sewing my construction seams. I switch to a heavier weight option for topstitching purposes, like Gütermann’s Heavy Duty or Topstitching lines. Gütermann is my brand of choice when it comes to thread, but any other high quality brand should yield similar results.

For hand basting, I use cotton thread since it’s easier to remove. You can also use silk thread for hand basting, this option is particularly handy if you aren’t going to remove the basting stitches later on.

Sewing machine feet:

You don’t need a special presser foot to successfully sew wool. You’ll just need your regular foot, and other technique-specific feet like a zipper foot, invisible zipper foot, zigzag foot, edge stitching foot etc.

Some people like using walking foots. These feed the top and bottom layers of fabric through the machine evenly. This can help stop the layers from shifting or stretching out as you sew.

Wooden clapper:

If you don’t own a tailor’s clapper, you can use any raw wood household object that’s a reasonable size and shape for this task. I personally use a small wooden chopping block as my clapper.

To use it, all you need to do is press your seam using steam, lift your iron and immediately place the clapper on the area you pressed. The wood will absorb the extra moisture and heat, and set your pressing into place. This will give you beautiful flat seams, even on the thickest of wools. 


Depending on the weight and qualities of your fabric, you’ll need to choose the appropriate interfacing. You can pick from different thicknesses of fusible or sew-in interfacing, and you may also need hair canvas or seam tape.

Remember that if you’re working with a fabric that has an extremely smooth surface (like wool gabardine) fusible interfacings may not adhere to your fabric. In this case, you should look into sew-in options. 


Whether or not you need a lining fabric depends on the style of the garment you plan to sew, the texture and feel of the wool fabric you have, and your personal tolerance towards wool.

Wool fabric gets a bad rep for being scratchy and itchy against the skin, but this is not true for all wool fabrics. There are a variety of wools that are beautifully soft and non-irritating, even in garments that have a closer fit.

If, however, you find that your garment would benefit from a lining, you can choose pretty much any lining fabric you like, such as bemberg, satin, twill, polyester, or charmeuse. Your lining material should have the same care instructions as your main fabric, and be a lighter weight in order to avoid bulk.

Step 2: How to prepare wool fabric for sewing

You absolutely need to preshrink your fabric before you start sewing it. There are exceptions to this rule (such as fabrics that come pre-shrunk and ready to cut), but it’s more likely that you’ll need to treat your wool before you cut it. 

Before you decide which pre-shrinking method you want to follow, take a close look at your fabric. If it’s labeled “washable wool”, I recommend washing it in the same way you plan to wash your finished garment.

In my experience, most wool and synthetic blend fabrics can handle being machine washed and dried. I work with a lot of wool blend suiting fabrics, and I always wash them using the wool setting of my washing machine and then tumble dry them until they’re about 90% dry. I then line dry them until they’re completely dry. 

If your wool fabric is not washable, then you have a few options for treating it:

  1. You can steam-shrink it by hovering your steam iron over the fabric, letting that section completely dry, and moving on to another section. 
  2. You can take the fabric to your dry cleaner and ask them to shrink it for you. Make sure to tell them that you don’t want any creases pressed into the fabric. 
  3. You can throw the fabric in the dryer with a couple of damp towels. The heat from the dryer and the moisture of the towels will work together to create a steamy chamber, causing your wool to gently shrink without felting.

Before you decide on which method to use, it’s always a good idea to try them on a sample of your fabric. Simply cut a square from your fabric, record its measurements, and treat your swatch following your chosen method. Then measure it again, and examine the texture of the fabric to see if it changed in any way. 

Step 3: How to place your pattern pieces on wool fabric

I like to place my pattern pieces on my fabric, weigh them down with pattern weights, and trace around the pieces using tailor’s chalk.

Sometimes both sides of the fabric look almost identical. In this case, you should pick which side you’ll use as the face side of the fabric, and keep it consistent throughout your project. I like to mark the back side of the fabric with an X shaped chalk mark to keep track of it.

How to transfer pattern markings

Transferring pattern markings like darts, pleats, and tucks requires a little extra care. You may find that pen-like marking tools (like temporary marking pens that vanish with water or air) do not work well on your wool fabric, especially if it’s on the thicker side.

Chalk-based marking tools usually work well on wool, however they can be prone to rubbing off depending on the texture of your fabric.

The most foolproof method of transferring markings onto your fabric is by thread tracing. You can use a variety of techniques such as continuous speed tacks or tailor’s tacks to do so. This method allows you to see your markings from either side of the fabric, it has no chance of staining your fabric, and the markings won’t disappear halfway through your project. 

Working with wool fabrics with a nap or pattern

Some wool fabrics have a subtle or prominent nap to them, meaning the fabric can look darker or lighter depending on the direction you hold it in. In this case, you should place all your pattern pieces in the same direction. 

If you’re working with patterned fabric, examine your fabric to see if the pattern is directional. If this is the case, make sure you place all your pattern pieces in the same orientation.

Second, determine the repeat of your pattern. While striped fabrics only repeat in one direction (horizontally or vertically), tartans repeat in both directions. Understanding the repeat of your patterned fabric will allow you to pattern-match your pieces. 

Step 4: How to cut wool fabric

Wool fabric can be cut using both fabric shears or a rotary cutter. I personally prefer using fabric shears because I find that I have more control over where I cut when using them, but if you’re used to using a rotary cutter, feel free to use it!

Just pay attention to the thickness of the material you’re cutting. If you’re working with a very thick coating wool, you may need to cut it in a single layer depending on the sharpness of your tools. 

Step 5: How to machine sew wool fabric

Stitch length suggestions

For lightweight wools use a shorter stitch length like 2.0 mm, for medium weight wools a medium length like 2.5 mm, and for heavier weights try a longer length like 3.0 or 3.5 mm. If you’re using a heavier thread or doing topstitching, increase your stitch length.

Seam finishes

3 wool fabric samples with different seam and hem finishes

You can use plain seams to sew your wool fabric, but in terms of seam finishes you have quite a few options. Here’s a small guide on which seam finishes to use, when, and which ones to avoid:

French seams: French seams are made by sewing your fabric wrong sides together first, trimming the seam allowance, flipping it so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other, and sewing another line of stitching. The end result is very clean and durable when done correctly, but it can be bulky. It should only be used for very lightweight wools like challis, voile, or crepe.

Flat felled seams: Flat felled seams are made by sewing your fabric right sides facing, trimming one side of the seam allowance to half its original width, and then wrapping the longer seam allowance around the shorter one. A line of stitching is run on the folded edge of the wrapped seam allowance to secure it in place. While it’s less bulky than French seams, it still has three layers of fabric in the seam so it will create some thickness. It’s recommended for lightweight wools, but you can experiment with it on thicker wools depending on the look you’re going for. 

a brown herringbone wool fabric sample with a flat felled seam
A flat felled seam.

Serged / zigzagged seams: You have two options here, depending on the construction of your garment. You can either sew your seam first and then serge the two layers of fabric together. Or you can serge the edges of your pattern pieces first, sew them together, and then press them open. Both are suitable for all types of wool, and the latter is especially useful when working with medium and heavyweight wools.

A hand holding brown herringbone wool fabric with a serged seam
The seam was sewn first, and then the 2 layers were serged together.
A closeup of the inside seams of brown wool herringbone trousers
The edges were serged first, then sewn together, and pressed open.

Hong Kong finish / bound seams: These are excellent picks for unlined garments, as they provide a beautiful and clean looking finish on the inside of the garment. They work best on medium to heavyweight wools like tweeds and coatings. You should use a thinner cotton or silk as your bias binding in order to avoid bulk. For a Hong Kong finish, the seam allowances are separately bound using store bought or homemade bias tape, and then pressed open. For bound seams, the seam allowances are bound together with bias tape and then pressed to one side of the seam. 

a brown wool fabric sample with a hong kong finish
Hong kong bound seams and hem.

Pinked edges: You can use pinking shears to neaten the edge of your seams and prevent them from fraying. They’re suitable for worsted suitings, tweeds, coatings, and lightweight wools. Be careful if your pinking shears aren’t particularly sharp and strong. They can end up chewing and crumpling your fabric instead of making a clean, zigzag shaped cut. Always try them on a scrap piece of fabric first. 

Step 6: How to hem wool garments

You can use a variety of hemming techniques based on the weight of your fabric and the style of your garment. Here are some options and when to use them:

Single fold hem: This is done by folding the edge of your fabric up once, and stitching it in place either by hand or by machine. You should finish the edge of the fabric beforehand so that it doesn’t fray. I like to serge the edge first, hand baste it so the hem sits where I want it to sit, press it, and then sew it in place. I mostly prefer using a catch stitch so the stitches aren’t visible on the right side of the fabric. You can use this method for hemming wool trousers, skirts, and dresses.

Closeup of a brown herringbone wool trouser hem
My trousers with a single fold hem, serged edges, and catch stitches.

Double fold hem: This is done by folding the edge of the fabric up twice, so that the raw edge is completely enclosed in the hem. This method creates a bulkier finish, so it’s best for light or light-to-medium weight wools. You can either sew it by machine or by hand, using a slip stitch, blind stitch, fell stitch, or catch stitch.

a brown herringbone wool fabric sample with a flat felled seam and double fold hem
A double fold hem.

Faced hem: You can use a facing piece that’s cut from a lighter fabric to neatly finish your hem. This works great on heavier wools, and hems that are significantly curved or shaped. 

Bias faced hem: Similarly, you can use store bought or homemade bias binding as a hem facing. You can secure the top edge of the bias facing by hand or by machine. I love using this method for my wool shirts, as it prevents a bulky hem and it looks clean on both sides. 

brown wool shirt with bias faced hem
Wool shirt with bias faced hem.
brown wool shirt with bias bound hem
Wool shirt with bias faced hem.

Bound hem: Just like in bound seams, you can bind the edge of your fabric with bias tape, and then fold the hem up and sew it into place. You can use this method for hemming medium to heavy weight wool jackets, trousers, skirts, dresses, or coats that have a straight hemline. 

a brown wool fabric sample with a hong kong finish
Bound hem.

Depending on your project, you might want to interface your hem for a crisper, more structured finish. If you’re doing a faced hem, you can interface the facing.

Tips for sewing thick wool:

While using a clapper is important for all types of wool fabric, it’s absolutely crucial for thicker varieties. Use it when pressing to achieve flat seams.

When working with thick fabric, one of your main concerns should be bulk reduction. Depending on the pattern you’re using, you may need to adapt your pattern pieces to prevent extra bulk from building up. For example, if you’re using a shirt pattern with a heavy, thick wool, you can combine the collar stand and the collar pieces into a one piece collar. Or, if your pattern includes a piece with very sharp and narrow corners, try rounding those corners up.

You should also grade your seam allowances when it’s appropriate to do so. This is done by trimming your seam allowances at different lengths so they’re staggered and not stacked on each other. The general rule is to leave the seam allowance that’s closest to the outside the longest, and to trim the one that’s closest to your body to the shortest length.

Another helpful tip is to add extra seam allowance to your pattern pieces when working with extra thick materials. This will allow you to finish and press your seams with much more ease. 

Tips for pressing wool fabric:

Pressing is half of sewing, and this is especially true in the case of wool. One of the great things about wool fabric is that you can actually shape it by using clever pressing techniques. You can stretch or shrink certain parts of your garment using steam and a heavy iron to create beautifully tailored pieces, which is a big part of the art of tailoring. While the intricacies of tailoring are beyond the scope of this article, this property of wool is still hugely important for us home sewists.

Use a wooden clapper

One of the most important tools you need when working with wool is a wooden clapper. If you don’t own a tailor’s clapper, you can do what I do and use any raw wood household object that’s a reasonable size and shape for this task. I personally use a small wooden chopping block as my clapper.

To use it, all you need to do is press your seam using steam, lift your iron and immediately place the clapper on the area you pressed. The wood will absorb the extra moisture and heat, and set your pressing into place. This will give you beautiful flat seams, even on the thickest of wools. 

Ironing direction

Another thing to pay attention to is the direction of your pressing. When you’re ironing your fabric, you should always press it following the grainline, preferably going parallel to the selvedge. This will prevent any unwanted distortions from occurring.

Iron temperature

In terms of temperature, you’ll need to pick the right heat setting based on the specifics of your fabric. While thinner, lighter wools will require a lower heat setting, you may need more heat for thicker, heavier wools. Also keep in mind that textured wools can be more fragile than smoother varieties.

Always test your heat setting and pressing techniques on scrap fabric to ensure you get the results you’re looking for. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to stay in the medium-low range.

Don’t crush the texture or nap

Pay close attention to the texture and nap of your wool before you press it. If you’re working with hairier wools or wool-blends like cashmere or mohair, you need to be extra careful not to crush the nap or damage the texture with steam.

To protect the texture of these fabrics, try pressing them on another piece of the same fabric, with the good sides of both pieces facing each other.

Pressing cloth

Finally, as a rule of thumb, you should never press your wool fabric on the right side without a pressing cloth. Most wool fabric becomes shiny when touched with a bare, hot iron, and this shine isn’t always reversible.

I like to use silk organza because it allows me to see through it. However, using a lightweight wool pressing cloth is another great option as it protects the texture of the fabric.

Tips for sewing buttonholes on wool fabric:

If you’re working with a light-to-medium weight wool, your machine may be able to handle sewing buttonholes on it.

If your fabric is too thick for machine-sewn buttonholes or if you want to add a special touch to your garment, hand worked buttonholes are a great alternative. For hand stitched buttonholes, you can use silk buttonhole twist thread. Bound buttonholes are another good option for heavy weight wools, they’re often found on coats and jackets. 

What to read next:

This article was written by Nisan A. and edited by Sara Maker.

Nisan Aktürk (author)
Nisan started her sewing journey in December 2019 and already has a fully handmade wardrobe. She’s made 50+ trousers, 20+ buttoned shirts, and a wide array of coats, jackets, t-shirts, and jeans. She’s currently studying for her Sociology Master’s degree and is writing a thesis about sewing. So she spends a lot of her time either sewing or thinking/writing about sewing! Read more…


  • Shaeffer, C. (2011). Claire Shaeffer’s fabric sewing guide. Fairchild Books & Visuals.
  • Smith, A. (2009). The sewing book. DK Publishing.