Wool fabric types can be categorized by the type of animal that produces the fiber, by the processing method that’s used to form the fabric, or by the design. In this article, we’ll go over examples from all of these categories.
Please note that this article is focused on wool fabrics that are used for garment making, so we will not be covering the use of wool in upholstery, home textiles, knitting, crochet or other fiber crafts.
Although the first animal that comes to mind when thinking of wool is sheep, hair fibers from a variety of animals can also be made into wool fabric. Examples include goats, alpacas, vicuñas, camels, as well as different breeds and ages of sheep.
Like other fibers, wool can either be woven or knit to create fabric. Woven wool fabric is further categorized into woolen and worsted types, which refer to the quality and type of yarn that’s used to weave the fabric. Worsted yarn goes through an additional process in spinning called combing, which gives it a smoother, flatter finish. Woolen yarn, however, does not get combed, so the fibers lay in all sorts of directions, giving the yarn and the fabric a fuzzier and hairier look. Wool can also be felted to produce wool felt, wool melton, or boiled wool.
There are a number of popular designs that are commonly found in wool fabric, such as herringbone, basketweave, houndstooth, tattersall check, Prince of Wales check, and tartan.
Once wool is shorn and gathered, it gets sorted into different quality classifications based on the breed of the animal and the strength, diameter, length, and color of the fiber.
- Virgin wool / lambswool
- Wool tweed
- Wool gauze
- Wool voile
- Wool challis
- Wool crepe
- Wool delaine
- Wool suiting
- Wool gabardine
- Wool flannel
- Wool serge
- Wool voltaire
- Wool barathea
- Wool sharkskin
- Venetian wool
- Wool coatings
- Wool melton
- Boiled wool
- Wool felt
- Bouclé wool
- Double cloth wool
- Wool jersey
- Wool batting / wadding
- Washable wool
- Houndstooth, dogstooth, puppytooth
- Tattersall check
- Prince of Wales check
Types of wool fabric by animal:
What is sheep’s wool? Sheep’s wool is obtained from domesticated sheep that are 7 months old or older. It’s the most common, popular, and inexpensive type of wool. Different breeds of sheep such as Icelandic sheep, Karakul sheep, or Shetland sheep produce different qualities and grades of wool, but generally speaking, sheep’s wool is characterized by its warmth and natural elasticity.
Uses: Sheep’s wool is one of the most versatile fibers in terms of fabric production. It can be used to make anything from the lightest of wool gauzes to luxurious wool suitings and heavyweight wool coatings. This means that you can sew pretty much any garment you wish out of sheep’s wool fabric, from blouses and trousers to dresses and coats.
How to care for sheep’s wool: Different types of sheep’s wool fabric can come with different care instructions, but as a rule of thumb, it’s always the safest option to get your sheep’s wool fabric and garment professionally dry cleaned. Some sheep’s wool fabrics can also be gently hand washed in cool water and wool safe detergent. You should not put your pure wool fabric in the dryer as the heat and friction will cause the fabric to become felted.
What is cashmere wool? Cashmere is traditionally obtained by hand combing Himalayan mountain goats (also called Cashmere or Kashmir goats) that are most commonly found in the Himalayas, Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and China. It’s warmer, finer, and softer than lambswool, but also less durable and more expensive, making it a luxury fiber. It has a nap, so it requires extra care when cutting and pressing.
Uses: Cashmere is often used for making luxurious coating fabrics that are perfect for tailored coats. Its lighter varieties and cashmere blends are also frequently used for making jackets, trousers, skirts, and dresses. It’s also used for knit tops, sweaters, underwear, scarves, and gloves.
How to care for cashmere: Cashmere fabric can be dry cleaned or gently hand washed in cold water and with wool-safe detergent. If hand-washed, the excess water should be gently squeezed out, and the fabric or garment should be dried flat.
What is merino wool? Merino wool is a premium lambswool that is obtained from Merino sheep. It’s a finer, softer, and warmer type of wool that comes in different classes from ultra fine to strong.
Uses: Merino is a versatile fiber that can be found in knit and woven varieties. Merino knits are great for sewing tees, turtlenecks, sweaters, dresses, and skirts. In woven form, it makes luxurious suitings, coatings, and tweeds that are perfect for tailored garments like coats, jackets, waistcoats, trousers, dresses, or skirts.
How to care for merino wool: Merino wool fabric can be dry cleaned or gently hand washed depending on the type of fabric and garment. Structured garments in woven merino wool are more suited for dry cleaning, while knit garments like sweaters can be hand washed in cold water and with wool safe detergent, then dried flat on a drying rack.
What is mohair wool? Mohair wool is obtained from angora goats which are commonly raised in South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. It’s fluffier, softer, and hairier than sheep’s wool. It’s also more resilient to shrinking or soiling. It has a nap, so it requires extra care when cutting and pressing.
Uses: Mohair is usually used for suitings, coatings, and bouclé fabrics, which are ideal for sewing tailored suits, coats, and jackets. In knit form, it makes soft, fluffy sweaters and other knitted goods.
How to care for mohair wool: Mohair can be dry cleaned or hand washed in cold water with wool safe detergent. If hand washed, the excess water should be gently squeezed out, and the fabric or garment should be dried flat on a drying rack or between two towels.
What is alpaca wool? Alpaca wool comes from alpacas, smaller cousins of llamas and camels, who are raised in Peru. It’s a lighter, warmer, and silkier fiber compared to sheep’s wool. Although it has a silky texture, it can be rough against the skin so the garment may require a lining.
Uses: Alpaca wool is most often made into suitings. And it can be used to make beautiful suits, dresses, and other tailored garments.
How to care for alpaca wool: Alpaca wool can be dry cleaned or hand washed in cold water with wool safe detergent. If hand washed, the excess water should be gently squeezed out, and the fabric or garment should be dried flat on a drying rack or between two towels.
What is camel’s wool? Camel’s wool comes from two-humped camels, and Mongolian camels are renowned for producing the finest quality fibers. It’s similar to sheep’s wool, it’s lightweight, warm, and has a beautiful shine to it. It has a nap to it, so extra care is needed when cutting and pressing.
Uses: Camel’s wool makes luxurious tailored coats.
How to care for camel’s wool: it’s recommended that camel’s wool is professionally dry cleaned.
Virgin wool / lambswool
What is lambswool? Lambswool comes from sheep that are under 6-7 months old. Compared to wool from older sheep, it’s much softer and finer.
Uses: Lambswool is most frequently used for superfine suiting fabrics, which make luxurious suits. It’s also used for knitwear.
How to care for lambswool: Lambswool is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is vicuña wool? Vicuña wool comes from vicuñas, who are the smallest members of the camelid family. They’re bred in Peru and they produce an incredibly soft, light, and warm fiber. Vicuña wool is the most expensive and luxurious of all wool fabrics.
Uses: It’s used for making coats, suits, sweaters, and scarves.
How to care for vicuña wool: Camel’s wool is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
Types of wool fabric by processing method:
What is wool tweed? Wool tweed is a generic name given to woolen, rough-textured wool fabrics. Some famous examples of tweed include Harris tweed, Shetland tweed, and Donegal tweed, all of which get their names from their districts of origin. Tweeds often feature a number of colors and patterns, such as the classic herringbone or the more subtle heathered variety. Due to their rough texture, they often require a lining to be comfortably worn.
Uses: Wool tweeds are often used for tailored garments like sports blazers, jackets, waistcoats, overcoats, structured dresses, or skirts. They work better in more structured, tailored projects rather than designs that rely on draping.
How to care for wool tweed: It’s usually recommended that you get your wool tweeds professionally dry cleaned, but depending on the garment you can also try gently hand washing it in cool water and drying it flat on a drying rack.
What is wool gauze? Wool gauze is an open-weave, lightweight, transparent wool fabric with a beautiful drape.
Uses: it’s perfect for unstructured blouses, loose shirts, or scarves. It also works great in combination with more structured fabrics as an overlayer. It is prone to fraying due to its open weave, so extra care is required when finishing the seams.
How to care for wool gauze: Wool gauze is a delicate member of the wool family, so it should be dry cleaned or hand washed in cold water and line dried.
What is wool voile? Wool voile is quite similar to its cotton cousin – it’s a very lightweight, smooth fabric with a beautiful drape and translucent quality to it.
Uses: Wool voiles work beautifully for loose, fluid blouses, shirts, and other tops. Like other lightweight and transparent wool fabrics, it works great as an overlayer. It’s a great option for designs with gathers, soft pleats, and draping.
How to care for wool voile: Wool voile is a delicate wool fabric, so it should be dry cleaned or hand washed in cold water and line dried.
What is wool challis? Wool challis is a lightweight wool fabric with a plain weave composed of worsted yarns. It has a beautiful drape to it, and it can be found in plain and printed varieties.
Uses: Wool challis can be used for blouses, shirts, and other tops, as long as they aren’t too structured or close-fitting. If a bottom-weight version is acquired, it can also be used for trousers and skirts.
How to care for wool challis: Wool challis should be dry cleaned or gently hand washed in cold water and line dried.
What is wool crepe? Wool crepe is woven out of twisted wool yarns, giving the surface a grainy, crinkled, textured feel. It comes in a variety of weights, making it an extremely versatile fabric.
Uses: The lightweight varieties work well for blouses and shirts, while mediumweight crepes make beautiful, tailored garments like suits, jackets, trousers, skirts, or dresses. Heavyweight options work well for jackets and coats.
How to care for wool crepe: Wool crepe easily becomes felted and is highly prone to shrinking. Therefore there shouldn’t be too much moisture when pressing it, and it must be preshrunk before use. Dry cleaning is the safest option, but it can also be gently hand washed in cool water and line dried.
What is wool delaine? Wool delaine is a generic name given to any high-grade, fine combed wool with a plain weave and compact structure. It’s lightweight and soft yet structured, thanks to its compact weave.
Uses: With its drapey yet structured feel, wool delaine is great for dresses and skirts.
How to care for wool delaine: Wool delaine can be dry cleaned or hand washed.
What is wool suiting? Wool suitings can be found in a wide variety of fiber contents (merino, cashmere, alpaca, mohair…), weave structures (plain, twill…), textures (smooth, ribbed, textured…), and even weights. Examples include gabardine, serge, worsted wool suiting, or tropical wool suiting.
Uses: While wool suitings are traditionally used for tailored suits, they are a mid-weight, versatile fabric that can be sewn up into a variety of garments from skirts and dresses, to jackets, trousers, and waistcoats.
How to care for wool suiting: The safest way to care for wool suitings (especially those of finer quality) is to have them professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool gabardine? Wool gabardine is a twill weave suiting fabric that has diagonal ribbed lines on the right side of the fabric. It’s mostly made out of worsted wool and is very durable.
Uses: Wool gabardine is a great choice for jackets and coats, as well as tailored garments like trousers, skirts, or suits.
How to care for wool gabardine: Wool gabardine is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned. A press cloth is absolutely essential when pressing or ironing wool gabardine, as a bare iron will leave the surface of the fabric shiny.
What is wool flannel? Wool flannel can be made from either worsted or woolen yarns, and it can be a plain or twill weave. What sets it apart is its brushed, softly napped texture and beautiful drape. A nap layout should be used when cutting it, and extra care is needed when pressing it.
Uses: Wool flannel is ideal for drapey trousers, jackets, skirts, dresses, and coats. Tartan wool flannels are frequently used for making overshirts.
How to care for wool flannel: Wool flannel can be professionally dry cleaned or gently hand washed and line dried. A press cloth is necessary when pressing or ironing wool flannel as it’s prone to marking.
What is wool serge? Wool serge is a twill weave fabric that has even diagonal lines on both sides of the fabric. It’s most commonly made out of worsted wool yarns, giving the surface a silky smooth texture.
Uses: Wool serge is excellent for coats, trench coats, jackets, and suits. It’s a hardwearing and durable fabric.
How to care for wool serge: Wool serge fabrics are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool voltaire? Wool voltaire is a plain and closely woven wool fabric that isn’t very compact, yet stable. The yarns that are used to weave it are of a coarser grade, so it has a visible weave to it.
Uses: Wool voltaire is ideal for relaxed garments that aren’t overly tailored.
How to care for wool voltaire: Wool voltaire is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool barathea? Wool barathea is a soft yet durable wool fabric made out of worsted or woolen yarns. It’s a tight hopsack weave. This gives it a slightly raised or pebbled surface texture, while keeping the fabric flat and compact.
Uses: Wool barathea is most commonly used for suits, blazers, and waistcoats.
How to care for wool barathea: Wool barathea fabrics are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool sharkskin? Wool sharkskin is a twill weave worsted suiting fabric with a distinct shiny appearance. It’s lightweight yet durable, and has a smooth, silky surface texture.
Uses: Wool sharkskin is most commonly used for tailored suits and light coats.
How to care for wool sharkskin: Wool sharkskin is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is Venetian wool? Venetian wool is a close, satin weave with a matte shine to it. It’s a luxurious fabric with a firm, compact feel and a smooth surface.
Uses: Venetian wool is ideal for jackets, coats, and suits.
How to care for Venetian wool: Venetian wool is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool coating? Wool coating is the name of the weight category containing thicker, heavier wool fabrics that are used for making outerwear. For example, wool melton, double cloth wool coatings, cashmere and camel coatings.
Uses: As the name suggests, they are ideal for making coats and warm jackets.
How to care for wool coating: The best way to care for most wool coatings is to get them professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool melton? Wool melton fabrics are heavy weight coating fabrics with a tight, twill weave and a heavily brushed, raised surface that resembles felt. It has a nap, so extra care is needed when pressing and cutting.
Uses: Wool melton is most commonly used for heavy jackets and coats due to its thick, firm, structured feel and excellent insulative qualities.
How to care for wool melton: Wool melton fabrics are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is boiled wool? Boiled wool fabric (also called Geiger) is made by boiling knit wool so that the fabric becomes felted. The resulting fabric loses much of its natural stretch and behaves more like a woven fabric. It’s lighter and drapier when compared to other felted wools, but still hard-wearing. It’s also reversible.
Uses: Boiled wool works great for jackets, vests, coats, ponchos, and capes.
How to care for boiled wool: Boiled wool fabrics are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool felt? Wool felt is a nonwoven fabric that’s made by felting layers of wool fibers together. In the same way that boiled wool can be treated as a woven fabric, wool felt also behaves like a woven cloth. It’s thick and heavy, and therefore requires extra care in construction to avoid bulk.
Uses: Since wool felt doesn’t unravel on its cut edges, it’s an ideal candidate for unlined, structured coats and jackets.
How to care for wool felt: Wool felts are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is bouclé wool? Bouclé wool can be either knit or woven. It’s distinguished by its curly, looped surface texture. It’s a fairly loosely woven fabric, making it prone to fraying. Its highly textured surface means bouclé garments will often require linings.
Uses: Bouclé wools can be used to make jackets, skirts, dresses, or coats.
How to care for bouclé wool: Bouclé wool fabrics are recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
Double cloth wool
What is double cloth wool? Double cloth wool is made by attaching two pieces of wool fabric together, either by fusing them or threading them. The resulting fabric has two right sides facing out, meaning you can use both sides of the fabric for the outside of your garment.
Uses: Double cloth wools are usually on the thicker side, due to two pieces of fabric being woven or fused into one. They make excellent coats, capes, and ponchos. They can be used to create unlined, reversible garments because they often require different seaming and finishing techniques that accommodate their unique properties.
How to care for double cloth wool: Depending on the properties of the wools that make up the two cloths, double cloth wools can be dry cleaned and / or gently hand washed in cool water.
What is broadcloth? Broadcloth is a heavy weight, plain weave fabric with a very dense and tight feel. It’s tightly woven in broader widths, and then milled and felted into a narrower width to make the fabric even more dense.
Uses: Wool broadcloth is ideal for coats due to its dense and heavy structure.
How to care for broadcloth: Wool broadcloth is recommended to be professionally dry cleaned.
What is wool jersey? Wool jersey is a knit fabric that comes in a variety of weights, ranging from thin and delicate to thick and warm. It makes luxurious layering pieces for the colder weather.
Uses: Depending on its weight, wool jersey can be used for long sleeve tops, turtle or mocknecks, drapey overlayers, skirts, and dresses. Wool jersey usually doesn’t have as much recovery as spandex-blended knits, so it’s not the best option for very close-fitting garments that depend on a fabric’s high stretch percentage.
How to care for wool jersey: Wool jersey should be hand washed in cool water and air-dried to avoid felting.
Wool batting / wadding
What is wool batting / wadding? Wool batting is a sheet made out of wool fibers. It’s used as an interlayer in quilts and quilted garments. Wool batting is usually a lower loft (thickness) compared to other batting types like cotton or synthetic batting.
Uses: Batting is used as the middle layer in quilting, and it can be an excellent way to add more warmth and plushness to coats, vests, jackets, and even pants.
How to care for wool batting / wadding: Garments sewn with wool batting can be hand washed in cool water and with wool safe detergent. When washing, the garment should not be overly agitated as excessive motion will cause the wool batting to felt and stiffen. The garment should then be air-dried.
What is washable wool? Washable wool fabrics can be either wool blends or pure wool. If they are pure wool, they are made by chemically removing the scales from wool fibers so that they lose their ability to felt. They are machine washable and easy to care for, but they are less malleable than non-washable wool fabrics.
Uses: A wide variety of garments can be made from washable wools, as they’re a big family of fabrics. They’re great for trousers, skirts, dresses, blouses, shirts, and any other garment that may require frequent cleaning.
How to care for washable wool: As their name suggests, washable wools can be machine washed and dried in the wool setting.
Types of wool fabric by design:
Look: Herringbone has a distinctive broken zigzag pattern that resembles the skeleton of a fish, hence the name herringbone. It looks like columns of diagonal stripes in alternating directions and colors.
Construction: Herringbone is a modified twill weave that uses two colors. It’s also called a broken twill weave and it’s made by reversing the twill weave in regular intervals.
Look: As the name suggests, basketweave fabric imitates the weave and texture of a woven basket.
Construction: Basketweave is a plain woven fabric that uses thicker and thinner threads on the warp and weft directions, which gives the fabric a pronounced, basket-like texture.
Houndstooth, dogstooth, puppytooth
Look: Houndstooth is a two-color, broken check pattern. It can look similar to pin wheels or a dog’s open mouth and teeth. The smaller scales of the pattern are called dogstooth or puppytooth.
Construction: Houndstooth is a two-color, 2 x 2 twill weave. The warp and weft layouts are designed with alternating bands of four dark threads followed by four light threads.
Look: Tattersall is a check pattern composed of widely spaced thin horizontal and vertical lines of different colors. Usually the background color is lighter than the color of the lines.
Construction: It’s made by weaving evenly spaced vertical warp stripes and horizontal weft stripes that form squares on the fabric. It usually includes three colors, but there are varieties with more colors.
Prince of Wales check
Look: The Prince of Wales check is composed of a combination of smaller and larger check patterns in dark and light colors, and sometimes a colored window-pane check overlay. It’s also known as Glenurquhart check or Glen check / plaid.
Construction: Prince of Wales check is a twill weave consisting of two or more colors.
Look: The tartan pattern consists of vertical and horizontal bands of color in varying sizes, crossing each other in regular intervals and forming a check pattern. The blocks or “setts” that are created by the crossing bands are repeated across the width and the length of the fabric.
Construction: Tartan is made using a twill weave and at least 2 base colors. Due to the way it’s woven together, two base colors form three shades, so the number of colors visible on the fabric increases quadratically as the number of base colors grows.
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This article was written by Nisan Aktürk 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…
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