TUTORIAL- Pre-shrink Wool...Fast and Easy at Home! (revised)

Monday, August 30, 2010
Many of us are ready to sew our fall wardrobes....and I am too!
So I thought you might be interested to know of an easy yet professionally effective method that I use to pre-shrink wool yardage. It is one of a few methods that I learned during my Tailor Apprenticeship.

(This is a revised version of one of the most popular tutorials I have written. Since I have so many new blog followers since it was first published here last year, I thought it was time to revisit it :)

First...the fabric! This luscious yardage is from my stash. One of the pieces was purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics a few seasons ago. The green check yardage is 100% tropical wool crepe, the gray check yardage is a medium weight blend of wool and silk.

Why pay big bucks to take this fabric to the dry-cleaner to steam shrink it,
when we can do it easily at home?

Wool Yardage

Now the method:

  • Serge or zig-zag the raw cut edges of the fabric.
  • Next, wet 2-3 clean thick towels with very HOT water until they are quite wet but NOT dripping. Use towels you have had for a while, so that lint will not be transferred from the towels to the fabric ;)
  • Now toss the hot wet towels and the fabric into your clothes dryer.
  • Set the dryer on HIGH heat, and tumble the fabric and hot wet towels for 30-40 minutes.   (If you are using a high napped wool, or are just unsure about this method, test on a 6"x6" swatch of your fabric before committing the entire length.)
  • If you have a steam setting on your dryer...skip the towels and tumble with steam for 20-30 minutes on high heat. If your fabric is still damp after 20-30 minutes, dry without steam for about 10 more minutes.
    • Lay the fabric flat until it is cool. 
    Align CenterThat's it! Your wool yardage is now ready for the needle.
    The appropriate interfacing for most wool and wool blends  
    is PRO-WEFT Supreme Lightweight Fusible or 
    PRO-WEFT Supreme Medium-weight Fusible

    Wool Yardage After SteamingAlign Center

    As you can see above, this Dryer "Machine Steam Shrink" method did not visibly change the fabric at all, and it's hand is still soft and smooth. However it did shrink. Each piece was 60" wide and 2 yards long before steam-shrinking. After, the green 100% wool piece measured 59.5" wide and was 2.5" shorter in length. The gray wool/silk blend was still 60" wide but 1.75" shorter in length.

    TUTORIAL-- How to "Distress" Silk

    Sunday, August 22, 2010
     ~Casual Mens "Distressed" Silk Shirt  ~

    I love to work with silk when making shirts for men or women. I prefer to use Dupioni Silk...a shiny silk fabric woven with crosswise irregular threads that form uneven "slubs" across the fabric's width. Dupioni silk can be quite hefty in weight or very light-weight.  Directly off the bolt, Dupioni silk is too shiny and crisp for my designs. While fine "as is" for garments like prom gowns and wedding dresses, it is much too formal for my purposes.  So I wash it in a specific way until it softens and fades.

    Oh yes, there can be surprises along the way, but to me that's part of the fun !  The slubs will swell, the color will fade, cross-dyed silk may become a totally new color, and it will definitely shrink. When purchasing silk to distress, I try to buy the 54" wide dupioni, and I buy more than I need. If I need 2 yards, I buy 3. If I need 3 yards, I buy 4.5.  Better to have a little more, than not enough...I can always make a scarf ;)

    Here are some lengths of Silk Dupioni  as they came off the bolt.

    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^
    Each piece is 4.5 yards long. Notice the high sheen of the fabric and how the colors are very saturated.

    My distressing process of these silks was to wash and dry each piece separately in a particular order, using different laundry products along the way. Here is how I "distressed" the silk pictured above, based on their unwashed lengths of 4.5 yards.

    1. Wash the fabric on a regular cycle in HOT water this way--Place a length of dupioni into the washer, along with a scant tablespoon of a special textile detergent called Synthrapol   .   Synthrapol cleans the fabric very thoroughly, suspending any "free" dye in the water so it goes down the drain and does not settle back onto the fabric.
    2. Place the washed fabric into an empty clothes dryer set on HOT, until thoroughly dry. (Note--this is the ONLY time during this process that you will dry the silk on the HOT dryer setting)

    3. Look at your fabric in good light.  If it has the "hand", drape, and color that you like, it is time for step 4.
    If you want a more faded look, repeat the washing directions in step 1 & 2...however this time wash in HOT water, BUT DRY on LOW.
    Keep washing (hot)/drying (low) until your silk looks the way you want it to...this is not exact science :)  As a frame of reference, I rarely choose to "Hot wash/dry Low" (after Step 1)  more than 4 times.

    4. Shampoo and condition your silk. Yes, really!  Use a good quality shampoo and conditioner, because after washing as described above your silk will look nice, but it might be scratchy if you have put it through more than 2 of the wash/dry cycles.  I like to use the products pictured below, because I can usually find them on sale.  This last time, Wash your silk on the DELICATE cycle in COLD water with a teaspoon of shampoo. Dissolve a Tablespoon of conditioner in some water, and add it to the COLD water of the final rinse cycle.
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    This is what my silk lengths looked like after 1 cycle of  "Step 1" and 2 cycles of "Hot wash/ dry Low --
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    The colors had changed and/or faded, the slubby grain was raised, and the silk was less shiny.  It shrank between 18" to 27" in length and 2" to 4" in width (each piece was a little different).

    But I wanted to roughen it up even more. So I put it through 2 more cycles of  "Hot wash/ dry Low" (for a total of 4 wash/dry cycles after step 1).   After "shampooing" as described in Step 4, this is what my beautifully distressed silk dupioni looks like...soft, supple, and ready for the needle !
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    These silk pieces did not shrink any more after the first 2 wash cycles or after their "shampoo". When sewing with distressed silk dupioni, you can cut it on the cross-grain like I prefer (so the slubby grain-line runs lengthwise on the finished garment). When possible, use french or felled seams to discourage "seam slippage". 
    Wash the finished garment by hand, or on a very delicate machine cycle using shampoo in cold water. I usually dry distressed silk garments in the dryer on a very low/delicate setting until just slightly damp, and then hang until completely dry.  Distressed silk dupioni is surprisingly strong, and can take the heat and steam of an iron set to wool to high wool.

    Other Sewing Notes-- Use regular sewing thread (silk thread is not necessary).  Use the best quality interfacing on your silk-- Pro-Sheer Elegance Fusible Interfacing for the softest, most supple results on light to medium weight silks you plan to use for blouses or dresses, or 
    Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing for the best flexible stability on medium weight silks that you plan to use to for jackets, etc.

    Grooming: Geo F Trumpers

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010
    I've changed hairdresser recently and started visiting Geo F Trumpers, at their new premises on Duke of York street. They, like the other inhabitants of the Piccadilly end of Jermyn Street, have been forced to move while the Crown Estate conducts extensive work on their building. I never had my hair cut at the old shop but have, of course, visited it. Like many of the older Jermyn Street stores, it felt like stepping back in time, and not surprisingly as it probably hadn't changed much in a century. Sadly, this is a feeling that the new store, for all its beautiful interior, cannot replicate. Indeed, even when Trumpers returns to its old premises in a few years, as it intends to, I can't help but feel that something of its character will have been lost forever.

    Nevertheless, the important elements of the Trumpers experience remain. The products are the best quality available, all beautifully packaged and displayed, while the staff are unfailingly knowledgable and courteous. Upstairs, the barbers work in a pleasantly quiet room that, despite feeling incongruously brand-new, has been decorated in a traditional style and, presumably, with as many of the old furnishings as could reasonably be used. Like Taylors, and other Gent's hairdressers in St James, Trumpers offer a full range of services that place it somewhere between the comfortably masculine environment of a traditional barber's shop, and the luxury and pampering of a spa. It's a very agreeable balance, and the ability to choose between popping in for a 20 minute haircut, or spending an entire morning on a trim, a shave, a facial and a head massage is a pleasant one.

    101 easy ways to dress better. No 12: Proper dress shirts

    Friday, August 13, 2010
    I was inspired in this post by Kurt of Cultural Offering. He asked me to comment on the 'atrocity' that is a short-sleeved dress shirt. I am only too happy to oblige a loyal reader but, to try and disguise the rant that this might otherwise become, I thought I would address the question of what a proper dress shirt ought to be. I am looking, by and large, at those shirts designed to be worn with a suit or, at least, a jacket, since a certain amount more flexibility is possible with shirts worn casually. Although I might still draw the line at short-sleeved dress shirts.

    Image from Turnbull and Asser

    A proper dress shirt may be made out of any one of any number of materials, depending on taste and season. It may have any of a number of collar styles. There are even a fairly large number of options available in the cuff, although the majority of them are not to my taste. There are, however, two things on which I am dogmatic. Firstly, a proper dress shirt does not have a breast pocket. Secondly, and far more importantly, no dress shirt has short sleeves.

    Why, you may ask, have I taken so strongly against two practical innovations? A breast pocket gives men somewhere to keep their pen or, if they are Don Draper, their cigarettes. Short sleeves, meanwhile, allow them to keep cool in the summer. Sadly, however, it is often the practical innovations that must be resisted the most. There is little that is, or should be, overtly practical about the well-dressed gentleman's outfit. It ought to speak of a traditional outlook combined with modern good taste and good tailoring to create a look that is no more prey to adjustments in the name of practicality than to changes in the name of fashion.

    Sadly, a man who too obviously compromises his dress to make his life easier or more comfortable runs the risk of not being taken seriously. If you are hot, roll up your sleeves and, if you find you have nowhere to put your pen, then keep your jacket on. There are plenty of pockets in that.

    Tutorial: Perfect Chevron Pockets...Every Time !

    Monday, August 9, 2010
    I was asked how I get stripes to match perfectly when making a Chevron Pocket.
    Here is my method (and please forgive the strange blue cast of the photos, my camera is on its last legs)--

     You may click each photo to enlarge and see more detail.

    First, start with a piece of fabric that you have cut on the bias. In this example, I used scrap fabric and was able to cut a bias triangle that was about 17" on each side.  The size of your bias piece for an adult size pocket, must be at least 16" on each side.  After it is cut, you will have a piece of fabric that is Straight Grain on TWO sides, and ONE side that is on BIAS.  Position your fabric piece on your table as shown, with the bias edge on the "bottom".

    Next, holding the bottom-right point of the triangle, fold the piece in half. It doesn't have to meet perfectly, as you can see in my example below--

    Now,  turn your piece so it is easy to trim off a scant 1/4" (or less) along the folded side.

    What you want to get are 2 separate triangles like the ones shown below...after trimming off a bit of the folded edge, and then turning the top piece right side facing up,

    This next step may sound odd in written directions, but it very easy.  KEEP BOTH TRIANGLES RIGHT SIDES UP. Then rotate just ONE of the triangles clockwise, until your rotation results in the two inner edge stripes lining up like a V-shape Chevon.  It's easy, just keep rotating JUST ONE piece until the edges meet and look like this--
    Yes, it is likely that your edges may be quite off-set like these are, if your stripes are wide.  If this step confuses you, draw some stripes on 2 triangles of paper and practice this step before cutting your fabric.

    Ok...Now you have 2 pieces of fabric that are right sides up, and meet in the middle forming V-shaped chevron stripes.  Next, flip one piece over so that they are right sides together. THIS NEXT STEP IS VERY IMPORTANT--slide the top piece over a little bit, and adjust the the pieces until the stripes match up, as shown below.  By off-setting the pieces like this, you are SURE the stripes will match when you sew the pieces together in the next step.
    Pin your pieces together so that they will not shift, and sew the matched edges together with about a 3/8" seam allowance. Your sewn piece will look like this, the seam-allowances still off-set--
    It's all VERY easy from here to your finished perfect Chevron Striped Pocket !  Next, press your seam allowances open.  This is how your piece will look from the wrong side--
    And this is how it will look from the right side. Because the edges were off-set and perfectly matched before sewing, you have perfect chevron stripes !

    Now all you have to do is place your pocket pattern so that the center of the pattern runs along the seam, as shown below, and then cut out your Perfect Chevron Striped Pocket !
     For a precise way to hem and turn the edges of any patch pocket to prepare it to be sewn onto a garment, you may be interested in another tutorial I wrote, Perfect Pockets Every Time


    Saturday, August 7, 2010
    I was reading, yesterday, about Sir Walter Scott; a man who perhaps did more than anyone to create the Victorian and late Georgian obsession with an idealised version of Scotland. It was this obsession that led to the  building of Balmoral in 1853, a sort of fairy-tale Scottish castle decorated with tartan and moose heads in an odd highland pastiche that would be incredibly naff if it were done by anyone other than the Royal Family. Perhaps it still is, but a century and a half of use has softened the effect and made its artificiality less jarring.

    All of this is by way of an introduction to my real topic, which is the wearing of kilts. Like building fairytale castles, kilt-wearing south of the border was popularised by the Victorian gentry who developed a sudden interest in noisily declaring a Scottish heritage. Unlike building fairytale castles, of course, almost anyone can wear a kilt and many people do with little or no meaningful Scottish connection. Kilts can be worn, with slight variations in the outfit, to white tie or black tie events, and to formal day events, and they tend to look extremely smart. Most highland outfits involve a waistcoat which, as you know, I think is almost always an improvement. In any case, the wearers usually take more care over their appearance than the average man in a tux, and they add considerably to the general variety of formal-wear at an event.

    Image From Kinloch Anderson

    Kilt styles, and their accompanying jackets and accessories, vary enormously and there are plenty of different options, perhaps even more than with black or white tie. I don't know nearly enough about them to attempt to explain them all; if you are unsure then taking the advice of a good Scottish tailor will be key. So long as you wear the appropriate version of highland evening wear, you should be able to be correctly dressed at any event. However, you may still wonder; should you wear one? Are you entitled to?

    There aren't really any hard and fast rules. I have heard it said that a real Scotsman never wears a kilt south of the border, but this strikes me as a rule rarely observed and is, in any case, without any particular justification that I can see. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you feel you could justify yourself if, at a party, someone were to ask you why you were wearing traditional highland wear. Especially if the person who asked you happened to be a genuine Scottish Laird. If you are comfortable with your own reasons for wearing a kilt then go for it, but do bear in mind that if the only thing people can remember about you at the end of an evening is that you were in a kilt, then you are definitely doing something wrong.

    Shirt with Chevron Pocket...and Bias Details

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    This shirt is one of my original designs, 
    and is made from cotton seersucker fabric. 

    Sometimes working with seersucker fabric sucks is not easy. This particular seersucker fabric was a challenge because it was quite loosely woven, and because I chose to add bias details to this design. So I needed a way to reinforce them properly. Luckily, I was able to stabilize the bias details on the front button placket and sleeve bands with one of the custom-milled Interfacings I developed...a very light and flexible interfacing that can be applied with lower heat settings, PRO-SHEER Elegance Fusible Interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply.  My client wanted a casual shirt that would look slightly "crushed" and that would be very lightweight and comfortable to wear. The unique features of PRO-SHEER Elegance Interfacing made it possible to control the bias without making it stiff.  If I had used  virtually any other interfacing, the bias bands would have prevented the sleeves from draping naturally, and the shirt would have lost the soft casual look I wanted for my client.

    Here is a close-up of the Chevron Pocket, Bias Button Placket, and Bias Sleeve Bands. I apologize for the quality of the photos...I really need a new camera :)
    CLICK PICTURES TO ENLARGE and see more detail.