I’ve learned the hard way what is the easy way to disassemble old clothes. It’s not magic, but there is a learning curve. Here are some tips for both buying and cutting up wool clothes.
*Look for the largest size to get the most wool fabric. But do NOT overlook a bright, unusual color of pure wool that is a size 2, or even a child’s piece. Unusual fabrics are worth your time to extract even the smallest strips of wool of six inches or more. Look for little girl’s coats; they are a gold mine of brightly-colored wool. Wool scarves, both fabric and knitted, are good sources for unusual colors. Knits can be felted, but if they get too thick, they will be hard to punch. Men’s slacks and jackets are often made of beautiful tweeds. Just check fabric content carefully which, if not on the waistband, can often be found on a side seam. When finished, pin the label to the grouping so you will have a record of the exact fiber content.
*Don’t pass up an item because it has a moth hole or two. But do smell them for mold, which can mean damaged fibers, and cigarette smoke, which NEVER fully comes out no matter how many times you wash it.
*The most important rule of all: Don’t bring old wool into your home until you are ready to wash it. Take the items out of the bag and shake them outside. Look for bugs and larvae or moths. Put them back in the bag and seal for a few days. This will bring out any hidden ones. Shake again, then bring only what you are going to wash immediately into the house. Ask anyone who’s ever had a moth infestation. You can lose your own good clothes by bringing in someone else’s old ones.
*All of these wools should be washed in Woolite and cold or warm water which will “full” and felt them through agitation. I recommend letting them air dry as a dryer can stiffen the fabric and over-felt it, but each fabric will be different. Sometimes a dryer can make it softer. I like my wools soft and pliable. If you are unsure of what a wool fabric will do, snip a small piece off and wash and dry it to find out. Better safe than sorry.
*For pants, I cut off the waistband and cut around the zipper. Both are discarded because it’s colossally time-consuming to remove them for reuse. Unless you have a true need, pitch them. (Did I say that?) Or, keep them encased in the fabric, and if the day comes you need one, then take the time to undo it. Once the waistband is gone, it’s easy to fold the legs at the seams and cut once so the seam can be discarded. Of course you can simply rip up both outside and inside seams, but you will find the airborne wool fibers will eventually settle on everything in the house. Cutting “cuts” down on this annoyance. I also cut the cuffs or hem off so that what is left is tidy and without selvage.
*Skirts are similarly easy. Cut off waistband, zippers and then remove seams with one cut.
*Jackets are a bit trickier, but are worth the trouble as I have found the most beautiful wools and bright colors are found in jackets. Cut along shoulder seams and remove sleeves. Cut off cuffs and remove lining. Remove any shoulder pads and at this point start cutting near but not on seams through the rest of the jacket. Cut along front seams and snip out buttonholes. Cut out pockets with care because fabric can be saved by “snipping” into the area of the pocket and cutting just the pocket opening instead of the whole pocket. If the pocket is a separate piece joined on top of the fabric, use a seam ripper and carefully remove it. This way you will save long pieces of wool from the front of the jacket.
Like collecting yarns, collecting wools is fun and somewhat addictive. But if you’re starting a large project, it’s best to have necessary colors before you begin as the Wool Gods will see to it you will NEVER find a particular color once you’ve begun. I think this is how hand-dyeing got started.
One more tip: When looking for wool, don’t pass up plaids or think that you already have enough of one color. Reds aren’t all one red. I’ve cut up four or five “reds” and found that none match completely. This is GREAT and exactly what you want when looking for texture, shading and highlighting in a project. Simple cut several strips from each “red” item and mix them in a bag, pulling out and using without first looking. This will give you the mottled look that rug hookers crave.
Have fun building your stash.