project winter coat: fabric treatment and a few odds and ends

once your muslin is done and you know what pattern changes you have to make, it’s time to start thinking about the fabric and what to do with it before cutting. my shell is 100% wool and my lining is 100% silk. egads! we’re definitely in “dry-clean-only!-do-not-throw-that-stuff-in-the-wash!” territory. being that i have very little experience with these fabrics, i can’t give suggestions based upon my own experimentation. lucky for me the whole internet is at my disposal, so i can turn to the people who can say things like: “when i pretreat wool/silk i usually…” so here goes.


wool will shrink when cleaned (even dry cleaned) so before cutting into it you must preshrink it. the consensus here is that wool requires steam. loooots of steam. so you have basically four options:
  • dry clean it and have it professionally steam pressed. i’m not a fan of this option because the more i read about dry cleaning the more i’m convinced it’s just a crapshoot. maybe you’ll get good results, maybe you won’t. for me, it’s the expense and smell that keeps me from going that route any more than i have to.
  • the “london shrink” is another option and basically involves rolling your fabric up with wet towels or sheets, letting it sit wet for a day, unrolling, air drying then pressing.
  • grab the iron, load up the water chamber and (using a press cloth, of course) steam the living daylights out of it. of course if you don’t have a large area that you can use for steaming (i don’t know about you, buy my ironing board is about 12″ wide) this will get old reeeeeeal fast. also, the need for consistency is far higher than my attention span allows. so unless this just sounds really appealing to you, i would read on…
  • the third option is basically free and doesn’t involve standing over the ironing board for hours on end inside a cloud of steam. yay! throw it in the dryer with a couple very wet towels and let it tumble on the highest heat setting. for time, i’ve read 10 minutes up to an hour. i would expect 30-45 minutes would be sufficient. if your wool is likely to ravel, serge/zig zag the edges first.

if you still want or need to wash the wool, use a no-rinse detergent (such as this), soak it for 10 minutes (or whatever the directions tell you to do), then dry flat. agitation in a washing machine will cause the wool to felt. if you do chose to wash your wool in any way, test it with a swatch first!


  • silk it seems, gets a bad rep also for being difficult to pre treat. it’s shrink factor is pretty minimal (or so i read) so basically, you can just hand wash it gently then let it line or flat dry. if you’re nervous, do a swatch test first, especially if your silk has a print. i’ve read horror stories of ruined silks due to the colors running crazy!


  • if you go with a rayon lining, wash on a gentle cycle (or hand wash) then let it air dry. rayon and dryers don’t play well together.


  • your fusible interfacing may also need a preshrink. to do this, submerge it in hot water and let it sit for 10-15 minutes then air dry. some fusibles specify that they are preshrunk and some specify that they are not preshrunk. if you don’t know… better safe than sorry! you don’t want your fabric shrinking up as you fuse it.

other odds and ends before cutting fabric

  • are the pockets in a good place?
  • do you want to include any interior pockets? (i do!)
  • if your coating is on the thin side (as mine is) consider interlining with a cotton flannel. make sure you wash and dry it 2-3 times to eliminate shrinkage. unsure about interlining? i’ll address this later.
  • does your fabric need extra stability? underlining with a cotton batiste (preshrunk, of course) may do the trick.
  • what type of buttonholes you will do? if you are doing bound buttonholes this will be one of your first steps. if you plan to machine your buttonholes, start testing that now. if you’re not satisfied with how it looks, you may want to go with bound. hand worked buttonholes are another option (and the route i’m taking) but do your research first. it may be more work than you’re willing to put in!

overwhelmed yet? i really hope not. basically you just want to plan out every detail and think it through. nothing is worse than getting far into your project then realizing some small detail isn’t functional.

sorry about the picture-less post… i had hoped to have my sleeve tweaks made and sewn on to my muslin but i’m waiting for a shipment of tracing paper (50 yard roll of tracing paper! wooo!) to make it to my front door. i’ve always used tissue paper, but i’m out and it’s really too thin for drafting anyways. i found tracing paper for a steal on amazon so hopefully it’ll show up tomorrow. if not, i’ll go back to tissue paper so i can get on with it already!

lest you think i just made this stuff up…

…here’s some links. add your own in the comments if you’ve come across other great advice.

  • the most referenced wool treatment link from off-the-cuff
  • recent post on coletterie about treating coat fabrics
  • fabric treatment round-up over on gertie’s blog
  • bound buttonhole tutorials on pattern-scissors-cloth: here and here
  • hand worked buttonhole research by poppykettle (seriously delicious sewing going on over there, by the way!) 

—lisa g.

4 thoughts on “project winter coat: fabric treatment and a few odds and ends

  1. seamrippedblog says:

    This is brilliant. It's so nice to have all of it compiled into one place (picture-less post or not). I've also got a coat coming down the pipeline, but I'm deathly afraid of treating wool and changing my silk's hand.

  2. lisa g. says:

    glad it's helpful! if i find other pertinent links i'll update this page with them. it is nervewrecking to treat these more expensive fabrics, i did mine yesterday to no ill effect. whew! good luck with your coat!

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