Monday, March 18, 2013

Mad Men Dress Challenge : Pre-treating Wool Crepe

This post has been prompted by Mimi Habibi over on my Facebook page.  Thanks Mimi!

Mimi asked how I intended on preparing the wool crepe for sewing.  And to be honest I hadn't thought about it much.  I wasn't going to be washing the finished dress in the washing machine so I thought I might not do anything.  It wasn't until I saw Gertie's note on her pattern saying "make sure to steam your wool to shrink before sewing" that I realised I needed to do anything.

You see I've never worked will wool crepe before, and didn't think about how much give it has.  And if you think about it, you need it to start in its shrunk position so that your garment will give when you wear it, like good denim does.

So I did a bit of a google, and it seems there are five different methods:
  • The Drycleaning Method
  • The London Shrink
  • The Towel and Dryer Method
  • Handheld Steamer Method
  • Press Steamer Method

1. The Drycleaning Method
Its as easy as taking your fabric to the drycleaners and asking them to steam press it.  I did see in a few places that not all drycleaners do this any more, so I suppose you'd need to ask first, and obviously, this method costs.

2. The London Shrink
How do these things get their names???  This one has you either wetting the yardage, or wetting a sheet, then rolling the yardage up in a sheet and allowing it to rest overnight or longer until its mostly dry (which as you can imagine, could take some time), then unrolling it and letting it dry the rest of the way.

3. The Towel and Dryer Method
This one has you serge/overlock or zigzag the raw edges of the yardage then thoroughly wetting some thick towels with HOT water until they are very wet but not dripping.  You then put the towels and the fabric in the dryer on a high setting for about 40 minutes or so, then lay the fabric flat until cool.

4. Handheld Steamer Method
This one uses a commercial steamer or a garment steamer, and basically you hang the fabric and steam every inch of it with the garment steamer.  One article I read said to repeat this process twice.

5. Press Steamer Method
This seems very involved.  You need cotton press cloths and lots of water and basically you cover your yardage with the press cloth and then iron it until the wet cloth is dry.  But that doesn't mean move the iron around over the top of the cloth, that means placing the iron in one spot and moving it to the next position only when the press cloth is mostly dry.  Then, you can't move the fabric for at least two minutes to allow it to cool.  This sounds like it would take
F  O  R  E  V  E  R....

So after some reading and some thinking (and probably a stiff drink before I start), I'm going to use the Towel and Dryer method.  I read forum posts here where it worked, and here where it didn't...


Well I had my stiff drink and threw the wool crepe and two very hot (ouch!) very wet towels in the dryer.  I left it for 45 minutes, basically because I forgot to set a timer, got it out and let it cool over the bannister in my stairwell.  This is what it looks like now:

Exactly what it looked like when I put it in.  Granted, in some places it appears to be a bit thicker, and from what I read this is an indication that parts of it have been felted.  But once they were ironed they appeared just like the rest of the fabric...  So I think it worked!  Hooray!!

So given this experience, I would recommend this method to anyone wanting to pre-treat their wool crepe.  It was easy, and it didn't cost anything, and I didn't have to buy a fancy machine, and it didn't take up all of my time.

Has anyone else pre-treated wool crepe?



  1. I made a coat recently and used the same technique for pre-treatment. Worked very well and I'll definitely use it again. The next time I won't be so nervous!

    1. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who was nervous first time around Claire!

  2. Replies
    1. I know, isnt it gorgeous Bunny! I was worried it was going to fade when I steamed it. It was another one of my worries that was completely unfounded!

  3. Extremely interesting post, thanks for all the tips with the different techniques ! With all the work and love put into it this dress is going to be one "obra maestra" !

  4. I dont have a dryer! When I made my green wool crepe dress many moons ago, when I was still VERY much a beginner, I used the press cloth and iron method. Yeh it took a while but it wasnt too bad.

    I wonder, would washing it by hand shrink it at all? It all seems so involved, when washing is what shrinks other fabrics (and wool normally). I might try testing a small piece say 10cm square and see what the results are - I bought some magenta wool crepe the other day - and have my eyes on some forest green too.

    1. Oh no! I must admit I didn't have one either (my husband didn't "believe" in them) until my parents bought me one for Christmas. I never thought I would be so happy to receive white goods as presents!

      The issue with washing it is that the agitation causes felting (thickening of the fibres). But how putting it I a dryer wi two wet towels ISN'T agitation I don't know. It would be worth testing it if you've got the time :)

  5. I found many useful tips in this post.I will must buy a dryer because I know it is very useful. Thaks

  6. Next week will be my wife's birthday. I want to give her a dryer as a gift. Thanh you for tips.