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How To Pre-Shrink Wool Crepe

Don't ever underestimate the ability of a crepe fabric to shrink.

I should say - a true crepe fabric, as there are fabrics which are engineered to have a crepe appearance but are not actually made from crepe yarns. A crepe yarn is one that has been spun (or overspun) to the point where the yarn wants to double up on itself. Something I created quite readily as a beginning spinner! A fabric spun with these yarns has a wonderful texture, flattering dull surface and great recovery due to the springy nature of the yarn.

Unfortunately, this is also why true crepe fabrics are prone to shrinkage. Especially in the lengthwise direction. All fabrics are woven under tension and when that tension is relaxed - particularly in the presence of moisture - those springy yarns do what comes naturally and coil back up, causing the fabric to shrink. Add in the factor a naturally felting fiber such as wool and you have a preshrinking challenge on your hands.

There are various traditional ways to preshrink wool fabrics. It used to be common to send your wools to the dry cleaner to be preshrunk but this service is not always available at modern dry cleaners. So most of us are left to preshrink for ourselves. Here's a couple of the more common methods used:

London Shrink:

  1. Thoroughly dampen a sheet and roll wool yardage up in the sheet. (Some dampen the wool rather than the sheet.)
  2. Allow the damp wool to rest overnight or longer. The purpose of this is to use the moisture to encourage the wool to relax, and therefore shrink.
  3. Steam the wool yardage thoroughly with a steam iron, allowing each section to dry before steaming a new section.

Towel and Dryer - from Pamela Erny at "Off the Cuff":

  1. Serge or zig-zag the raw edges of the fabric.
  2. Next, wet some clean thick towels with HOT water until they are very wet but not quite dripping.
  3. Now toss the hot wet towels and the fabric into your clothes dryer.
  4. Set the dryer on HIGH heat, and tumble the fabric and hot wet towels for 40 minutes.
  5. Take the yardage out of the dryer and lay flat until cool.

For my latest wool crepe project, I decided to stick with steaming only as my preshrinking method. I put a couple of sturdy hooks in the ceiling so I could hang my yardage up by pants hangers and use a Jiffy commerical steamer. (Steamers are great - keep your eyes open for gently used models. I found mine at a swap meet for $20!) I steamed it very thoroughly, shifting the fabric several times to ensure I had steamed every inch. The crepe was allowed to cool and dry completely. Then I placed the wool on my ironing board and steamed it again, very thoroughly. A slight thickening of the fabric did occur, but nothing that detracted from the hand or drape of the fabric.

Although I was pleased with the results of steam shrinking, I lengthened the slacks by 2 inches over what I would normally cut and I was glad that I did so, as the slacks still managed to shrink a bit more during the tailoring process, all in the lengthwise direction.

For my next wool crepe project, I think I will try letting the wool soak in a tub of warm water (not hot) without agitation (this would cause it to felt rather than simply shrink). Basically, the same process used to preshrink fusible interfacing. Allow the wool to cool, and then spin the water out and hang to dry.

What's your favorite technique? Please share with us!


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