I made a wool dress completely from scratch

wool dress

I made a wool dress completely from scratch

From the beginning to the end of my project. I started with raw sheep wool, then cleaned it, combed it, spun it, plied it, wove it into fabric, and finally constructed a dress. I also made all of my own tools: the wool combs, drop spindle, backstrap loom, and dress form.

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Also, before this project I had never done anything fiber or wood or metal related so my knowledge for each part of the process started at zero.

My grey wool came from a sheep called Angelina, who lives on a farm in Pennsylvania. She is a crossbreed of Romney, Lincoln, and Blue Faced Leicester. I also had some white wool, don’t remember the name of that sheep though.

The first step was to separate locks of wool from the dirty mass of fleece.

The locks had to be gently soaked in boiling water six times until the water ran clear (too nervous to use the washing machine). I used dish soap for the first few rinses to get rid of the lanolin.

I used the wood and metal shops at my school to make a pair of wool combs.

After the clean wool was dry, I transferred the wool back and forth between the combs. After doing this several times, the wool was soft and the fibers aligned. I then slowly pulled the wool off the combs into a roving (although I think it might actually be called combed top).

I used the wood shop to make a drop spindle.

To spin, I built up twist in the yarn and then drafted out the roving until it is the desired thickness, and let the twist travel up the wool. Once the entire spindle was full, I plied the yarn back upon itself using the Andean plying method. Plying helps strengthen the yarn and balance the twist energy.

The skeins of yarn I spun, totaling around 643 yards. The colors are entirely natural; I didn’t dye the wool. I achieved the different shades of grey by carefully sorting the locks of wool before spinning them.

I based my loom on traditional backstrap looms, but adapted it in order to avoid fringes. From left to right the components of the loom are: loom bar, warp threads, lease sticks, paper towel tube to open shed, string heddle to open other shed, beater stick, woven material, loom bar, backstrap. The shuttle used to pass weft threads through the shed is off to the side.

I constructed the dress out of three pieces. The white waistband, the dark grey bust, and the light grey skirt. I had made a mockup dress using burlap so I knew exactly what size pieces to weave. I couldn’t cut the handwoven fabric lest it unravel, so the design had to be made of only rectangles. There are two darts in the skirt and two in the bust, and I sewed it by hand using the same yarn I used for weaving. The back is laced closed.

The final project. It’s completely impractical for actually wearing, but I had a lot of fun learning and figuring out each part of the process. If you are looking for wool products to actually wear yourself, there are many websites, like Ecowool that sell beautiful woollen products, they even sell some possum merino products too!

I made the dress to fit me, and it actually worked!

I don’t have a closer photo of the back, but this sort of shows the lace up system I used. It took forever to put the dress on.

Proving that it is in fact possible to move around in the dress.

Some final words: I had a lot of help throughout this project, from family to strangers to craftspeople to the internet, including a LOT of youtube.

I made a wool dress completely from scratch

We learned about this neat piece of information here: wootwootkabloof