Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Wool Shift

Wool fabric for my shift
My new job is turning out to be sufficiently time-consuming and exhausting that I may not get to start, let alone finish, my pink sprang net by March 1. However, I do intend to make such a project, and write about it, whether or not I manage to finish it for an HSF challenge.

In the meantime,. I'm going to tee up the next HSF project.  My project for the fourth HSF challenge "Under It All" will be a white wool "shift" to wear as the basic layer for my planned Vendel costume and, hopefully, to also serve as the basic layer for my proposed recreation of the völva's costume from the Saga of Eric the Red (Challenge #6).  

There is nothing elaborate about this proposed garment.  It will be a simple, long tunic, with a keyhole neckline and sleeves down to the wrists, probably ankle or instep length.   The pattern will be much like Cynthia Virtue's pattern for medieval tunics, but with fewer gores.   I will use a similar seam treatment to the one I chose for my himation, which works even better on wool; I may also sew the seam allowances down since, in theory, this garment is to be worn next to my body.  A photograph of the chosen fabric appears to the left.   The actual color is lighter--a much paler, warm cream color than that shown here, but in the same general color range.

The only decision I need to make before cutting is whether I prewash the fabric first.  I customarily prewash fabric for garments I expect to clean by throwing them in the washing machine, but I wear my wool garments so seldom (and so carefully) that I do not need to wash them; I air, or spot-clean, or (very rarely) take them to a dry cleaner.  

I don't recall how much of the white wool I purchased.  From eyeballing the fabric, I seem to have about 2 1/2 yards; just barely enough for an ankle or instep length garment, but only if there is no fabric shrinkage, or very little fabric shrinkage.  As I see it, there are three different ways I can proceed:

1.   Do not prewash the fabric, and resign myself to minimal cleaning/dry cleaning of a white garment, for as long as I have it.
2.   Prewash and dry the fabric exactly the way I treat most other washable garments, namely, wash in cold water and then put it in the dryer until dry.  This works fine for linen and cotton, but would probably result in major felting and shrinkage of wool.  (My ancient dryer has two primary settings; air tumble forever without drying anything, and hot).
3.   Prewash the fabric in cold water, but hang it up to dry--and prepare myself to do this with the finished garment.  This may or may not prevent felting (and I'm not terribly worried if the fabric does felt somewhat), but should eliminate the majority of the shrinkage.

Listing the arguments like this makes the correct choice obvious, in my opinion.  I will prewash the fabric in cold water (on the "delicate" setting) and let it dry on its own, even though I'm still a bit nervous about washing "regular" wool.  I'll just have to see how that works out.


  1. I used to have a wool challis shift that was so fine it looked like linen, and it was fine machine washed and hung to dry. And I don't normally wash wool ever either

    1. I wish this stuff was wool challis, but I couldn't afford enough wool challis when I originally got the idea. This stuff is more like normal weight wool flannel.

  2. Be brave! I usually pre-wash all of my wool in a machine at 30 or 40 degrees C. Granted, I'm working with an era where fulling was the more common option, so I'm not afraid of fulling. But still, I don't think it's worth the risk to not prewash it, just on the off-chance that it needs a proper wash sometime (and also because shrinking and (more importantly) dye loss can also occur when it gets in the rain ... and that one is not an "if" for me).

    I certainly would prewash (and wash) any garment I was going to use as a shift.

    That said, I've been taught to never, ever tumble dry wool. Supposedly, the static can cause a dryer fire. Granted, I *do* tumble dry handknit superwash wool socks. And occasionally something else slips in. But I would never do it on purpose and certainly not on wool fabric.

    1. What you said, Panth. I can't not wash a shift (or even a white garment), so washed this will get. I would not tumble dry this wool in my dryer (aside from possible fire issues) because my dryer gets pretty hot, and that *would* shrink the fabric, right enough.

      I'll report on my results after I've washed and dried the fabric.

  3. Wool is very washable. Yes, there is shrinkage, but one of the reasons why I love making garments out of wool is the fact that it is a hard wearing, hard washing material, very resilient.