Quilting With Wool

Wool is one of the natural fiber fabrics used to make quilts with. The popularity of wool over the centuries faded somewhat during the twentieth century due to the advent of synthetic fibers that are warm, lightweight and easier to clean than wool fabric is. Still, wool is a great alternative to cotton to make simple quilts that are warm, cozy and last a long time if cleaned and stored properly.

Making a Wool Quilt

There are different types of wool fabric that can be used to make a quilt. Wool is available in several weights and wool quiltblends. Wool yardage is available at many fabric stores and quilt shops. You can also get wool fabric in thrift stores by searching for garments made from wool, generally suits, coats or skirts. When purchasing wool fabric to recycle in a quilt, look at the label when available and try to visualize how many patches you will be able to get from the garment when taken apart. You will have to remove linings and rip seams, but you will get a few usable pieces of fabric for a reasonable price.
As a rule of thumb, simple quilts are better suited to piece out of wool fabric. The thicker the wool, the simpler the pattern should be. Patchwork pieced quilts made using wool scraps or yardage work best if the pattern pieces are big and the seams are few, or offset. It’s a good idea to press seams open if the fabric is thick, or to offset the seams as to avoid bulk in the areas in which seams meet.
One of the traditional patterns used when piecing with wool is the Log Cabin, using a foundation of muslin. When using other patterns, it is a good idea to use a middle layer of muslin right behind the wool top between it and the batting, if any used. The weight of the wool and a warm backing might be all that’s needed to make a warm quilt.

Felted Wool

A thicker type of wool, not woven, but fulled or felted. Fulling or felting is a process in which wool fibers are meshed together by means of heat or friction.
Felted wool is perfect for folk style appliquéd quilts, since the fabric will not fray, so the pieces can be attached to thewool quilt foundation fabric without having to fold the edges under.
Woven wool fabric can be fulled as well. They can be felted at home by just using hot water and the washing machine, so if you don’t want to buy yardage, you can try felting wool at home. Start with large pieces of wool fabric and make sure the wool content is high, preferably 100%. You can try using recycled wool, but remember the wool pieces will shrink, so you might want to start with large pieces of wool fabric, such as coats or blankets. Take the garments apart and remember to take out linings, buttons and zippers if any. The felting process will take place in the washing machine by washing the garments with the hottest water available and a mild washing powder. It might be necessary to boil water in a kettle to add to the water in the washer. The lint filter in the washer will have to be cleaned several times as to avoid clogging it, or skim the loose fibers from the water during the wash process. Continue washing until the wool fabric has shrunk and it feels like felt (there will be no fraying if you try pulling threads from the edges). Rinse it then and dry it in the dryer, checking the lint trap often to prevent clogging. Once the wool is dry, press the pieces with an iron on wool setting, using a piece of muslin between the iron and the fabric to avoid “shine”. They will be ready for appliqué then.
Folk style patterns in bright colors on a dark background work well for this type of fabric. There is no need to turn theWool Quilt edges over, as there is no fraying. The appliqué pieces can be attached to the background by using a blanket stitch or a running stitch made with perle cotton. This type of stitching gives wool quilts a primitive look that is very cozy and colorful.
The appliqued blocks then can be joined together either by hand or machine with standard seam allowances or they can be butted together and stitched with a decorative hand stitch, such as a fly or herringbone embroidery stitch. Felted wool is very thick, so if sewing the blocks, you might want to press the seam allowances open.

Once the appliqued quilt top is sewn together, since the fabric itself is quite heavy, if using batting, you might want to choose the lightest cotton batting available and a flannel or light wool backing. Quilting wool is difficult, so it is best to tie the quilt or to do a folk style quilting stitch with a large needle, such a chenille needle and perle cotton, taking large stitches, a quarter inch long. This technique is called “big stitch quilting” and it requires number 8 perle cotton and a large, long needle.

Cleaning Wool Quilts

The quilts shouldn’t be washed once they are sewn together, so it is best to air them, or vacuum them lightly. If they become very soiled, it might be necessary to wash them, and if so, just soak them in the washer in a cold water bath with a non-detergent washing powder. Agitate them lightly by hand if any, and spin and rinse until the water runs clear. Do not dry them in the dryer, hang them to air dry outside. To store them, make sure you add a few cedar balls among the folds to avoid moth damage.

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