Making Patchwork with Wool

So I am happily working away making patchwork with some lovely Donegal wool tweed, sharing my progress (otherwise known as going on and on) about it on Instagram, and a few people have asked me about my experience of working with this gorgeous fabric. So here’s what I’ve learned so far..Tips for patchwork with wool fabric

  • Before you get started, prepare the fabric by making sure you are cutting on the grain. You can find the grain line by teasing out the thread to find the first one that runs across the full width of the fabric – then trim off all those tufts and you are sorted. Working with the grain like this will mean you have less trouble with fraying.

cutting along the grain

  • As you put 2 (or more) layers of wool through the sewing machine, the layers will move out of alignment, so use plenty of pins when you are preparing your pieces.
  • At the sewing machine I’ve found that a 90/14 Universal needle has worked well. I’ve also used a longer stitch length (2.8mm on my Janome) – if the stitch is too short the fabric tends to pull the wool rather tightly together and it looks uncomfortable somehow! A longer stitch is easier to remove too, if you need to correct any mistakes.

Walking foot.jpg

  • Recognise this? Yep, it’s a walking foot. I don’t *think* I would have tried sewing wool tweed without one. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but then, you might have a lot more patience than me. Using a walking foot means you will get a lot less drift as you put the layers of wool through your machine.
  • Use a wider seam allowance that the standard quilting 1/4in. I know this wool fabric is expensive and it feels quite painful, but you need to be generous here, because the wool will fray a bit, and you don’t want your seams coming undone over time. I have used a 0.5inch seam so far – I reckon that as I get more confident then a 3/8in seam would be feasible, but that makes the quilt maths so much harder, I might stick with the half inch.
  • Having urged generosity, I am going to go back on that a bit and say, use *scant* measurements for your seam allowances  – the wool is thick, so it’s easy, if you are too generous with your measurements, to build up a loss of an 1/8in at every seam. Don’t fret about this too much – have a practice and see how your measuring is working out, you soon get a feel for what a half inch seam looks like on wool going through your machine.
  • This will be obvious once you start sewing, but you need to press the seams open rather than to the sides, otherwise things get crazily bulky (rather than just a bit bulky!). Here’s the back of patchwork, so you can see those chunky seams and lumpy joins.

half inch seams.jpg

  • Obviously, as with any wool fabric, you don’t want to go crazy with a super hot iron. I used my iron on a ‘normal’ (as opposed to maximum!) setting, and a damp cloth to help me to set the seams. I pressed the seam open quickly first, making sure I didn’t stretch or pull at the fabric, then completed the pressing working on the front of the fabric, using the damp cloth to protect it from scorching. Enjoy the smell of wet socks drying on the radiator (working on this patchwork has brought me so many good memories of youth hostelling holidays!!).
  • In spite of all the lumps and bumps on the back, the wool is very forgiving, because it is so sturdy (just like me!) – as you can see:

wool patchwork with Donegal tweed

  • One more thing – be sure and clear out the bobbin case on your machine really regularly as you sew because, as you can imagine, this fabric gives off a *lot* of lint, and you don’t want it clogging up the works!

Getting hold of wool tweed:

The tweeds I used for this project came from Magee of Donegal – every time I have been at the Festival of Quilts they have had a most amazing stand, I urge you to check it out!

I have also brought and used lovely Donegal tweeds from Fabric Affair, a store which is also a regular at Festival of Quilts and other shows – I’m sure you’ve seen Margaret Lee’s lovely work using wool – she has written a book about wool quilts.

Other people have recommended Christina’s Harris Tweed (if you want to go Scottish!) to me – I am looking forward to taking a look and making a purchase..!

Do let me know if you have any other recommendations for tweed and woven wool fabrics.

13 thoughts on “Making Patchwork with Wool

  1. Your quilt is looking gorgeous. I love working with wool but don’t tend to buy new fabrics with it, I love repurposing wool from charity shops.

    1. I always really struggle to find decent quality wool from charity shops – maybe people round here don’t buy it in the first place… or maybe they keep it once they have got it! I once got 2 lovely red pure wool blankets to repurpose, but my kids love them so much, they stayed as blankets. We call them the Ambulance Blankets… 😀

  2. For the bulky seams you could try the tailors trick- hover a hot steamy iron over the seam and then flatten with a tailors clapper rather than the iron itself. I bought a tailors clapper from a local wood crafter and it is v useful

  3. The overall effect is very effective (no descriptive prizes here) but I imagine difficult to work with the bulk . But … A beautiful cosy finish

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