This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on January 8, 2016.
I’ve found that coating fabrics are perhaps the most mysterious of all substrates. This installment of Fabric Files will focus on wool melton as a great option for tailored, handmade outerwear.
Wool melton might be the most recognizable of all winter coat fabrics, though many refer to it simply as "wool". Wool melton is a luxurious outerwear fabric with a few characteristics that make it ideal for cold weather wear.
Wool Melton Characteristics
Wool melton is a thick, dense fabric with a soft brushed surface. This felted and brushed fabric is smooth and flat to the touch. Wool melton is tightly woven and the weave is not highly visible to the naked eye because of the felting process.
Below is a photo of the grey wool melton. It's pliable with a slight amount of drape.
Wool melton is a great fabric for keeping your body warmth in and the cold temperatures out. The tightly woven and felted fibers also keep snow and light rain from penetrating the fabric.
Wool melton fabric is rarely made of 100% wool fibers. This substrate is often blended with rayon, polyester or acrylic.
How to Prep Wool Melton
Any fabric with wool fiber will be prone to shrinkage when exposed to steam and extreme heat. Before sewing with wool melton steam your fabric well to prevent further shrinkage. I dry-cleaned my wool melton prior to sewing and requested that they applied extra steam during the process.
If you don’t want to shell out the extra bucks for dry-cleaning, you can use the wool setting on your iron and steam the fabric well.
I also recommend applying a high quality interfacing to your wool melton pattern pieces around the armscyes and neckline. Wool has the tendency to stretch out when our bodies heat up, so these locations are especially important to reinforce.
How to Sew with Wool Melton
Wool melton is a surprisingly easy fabric to sew with. Because of its dense, felted texture this fabric frays minimally or not at all. And because the wool melton is so thick, stitches sink into the fabric and become somewhat invisible. Thus, a little wonky topstitching will likely go unnoticed.
I sew wool melton with a universal needle and polyester all-purpose thread. Use a normal or slightly longer straight stitch for this hefty fabric.
It's important to grade (i.e. trim) your seam allowances when sewing with wool melton to reduce bulky seams. I recommend grading down to 1/8", especially around curves.
How to Care for Wool Melton
Despite its hefty hand, wool melton is a delicate fabric that requires a few extra precautions. Never machine wash your wool melton garments. Instead, dry clean them or carefully hand wash them in cold water with a gentle soap. But since wool melton is most often sewn up into outerwear, the fabric needs be cleaned rarely.
Always use your wool (or a medium/cool) setting on your iron when pressing wool. Wool fabric responds well to steam and is easy to shape around darts or princess seams.
How to Buy Wool Melton
A few of you have mentioned that it's a struggle to source nice wool melton fabric. And I agree, it’s somewhat rare. Many small, independent fabric shops don’t carry much inventory for one reason: its expensive.
Because of its thick wool makeup, wool melton is one of the pricier fabrics you’ll find. You can expect to pay between $15 and $40 per yard for this fine fabric. Keep in mind that you’re paying for a high quality, mostly natural fabric that will last for decades (yes, decades).
Think of your handmade outerwear as an investment. Skimping on the inputs will only result in a garment that will wear out faster. Plus, a nicer wool melton has a noticeably better appearance and hand.
Wool melton is often sold in solid colors, although it can be found in plaids and prints. The most diverse selection of wool melton fabric can be found in a handful of online retailers. Some offer swatches so that you can touch the fabric before making the investment.
Garments Best Suited for Wool Melton
Coat and vests are the natural choice for this substrate. A lightweight wool melton would work for a fall or spring jacket as well.
I recommend lining your wool melton outerwear with crepe de chine, silk charmeuse, or rayon challis. Both will provide a soft, luxurious feel to the inside of your coats and jackets.
Don't fear wool melton because of the steep price tag. It's an easy substrate to sew with and will reward you with years of protection against the coldest of temperatures. Happy sewing!