Completed: Boiled Wool SJ Sweater

7 Nov

I’m just gonna come out and say it: “boiled wool” is the grossest fabric name. It just sounds disgusting – like some kind of rubbery, overcooked fabric food that you’re only putting in your body because there is literally nothing else in the house and you are starving to death. Am I right? Am I right?

Wool SJ Sweater

When it comes to fabrics, though, boiled wool is pretty amazing. I had some spend some time working with it – sewing up a storm at Elizabeth Suzann‘s, making sweaters and kimonos and coats (so, so, so many coats. I am the coat whisperer now, y’all). After spending so much quality time handling this fabric – pressing (boiled wool loooves steam) and sewing (where the stitches just sink right in) – I found myself anxious to buy some and make a luxe sweater/sweatshirt for myself. So I bought some – off Elizabeth herself (she lets me ride the coattails of her wholesale orders and, um, you guys, I’m not even going to tell you how little I paid for this wool. NOT EVEN.).

Wool SJ Sweater

It was a borderline agonizing choice, but I ultimately decided to get the camel color (next time, though, I will be getting some black. And some moss. Dammit, I want them all!) because I had ~visions~ of it looking gorgeous with my polka dot chambray button-down. Doesn’t it? I also love camel because I feel like it looks equally good with black and brown (and navy, for that matter!).

Wool SJ Sweater

As I mentioned, I’ve had some time to work with this fabric and get an idea of how to handle it. They very first thing I did was prewash the yardage – the same way I wash/block my handknits. I soaked it in gentle wool wash (I use Soak, which I actually buy from my local yarn store, but here it is on Amazon), used a towel to wring out the excess, and then laid it flat to dry in the yard. This particular boiled wool (and maybe all boiled wools?) shrinks up quite a bit after it’s been washed, giving the fabric more of a felted quality than it is when you first pull it off the roll. You can also steam-shrink the fabric (which is what we do at the studio), but I knew I’d be washing this stuff here on out, so I wanted to get all the shrinkage eliminated before I started sewing.

Wool SJ Sweater

For construction, there is not much different you need to do from sewing, say, a very stable ponte knit. I just used a regular 70/10 needle (not even ballpoint – the wool is felted so it’s not necessary to preserve the knitted loops or anything) and sewed everything on the sewing machine. I left my seams unfinished and pressed them open with lots of steam. I think the open seams look a little neater this way, plus, they’re not as bulky as they’d be if I serged them. Again, since the wool is felted – nothing is going to unravel. Even for the hems, I just turned up the allowance and topstitched it down.

Wool SJ Sweater

The only part I struggled with (and I’m still not 100% happy about, if we’re being honest here) was the neckline. Not because it was difficult to sew – but because I didn’t know how I was going to finish it! At Elizabeth’s, we just turn the hem allowance under and topstitch. This is absolutely fine for finishing boiled wool – but we’re talking crewneck sweaters here, and mine is obviously very scooped. I needed a finish that would pull in the neckline just a little – like a ribbing. Except I didn’t want a ribbing, because I wanted this sweater to be ~fancy.

The first thing I did was try to turn the hem allowance under, and then sew clear elastic into the neckline like an invisible banding. That did not work out. I don’t have any photos, but it looked like shit and you have to trust me.

The next thing I did was try to use the boiled wool as a self-fabric band for the neckline. It sort of stretches, so it sort of works.

Wool SJ Sweater

This picture makes it look way better than it did in reality. What you don’t see here is that the binding would NOT lay flat – especially at the center front. It is standing almost straight up in some sections, like the weirdest little funnel not-collar. Believe me, I pulled and stretched as hard as I could to encourage the neckline to ease smaller (and thus lie flat), and then steamed the beejezus out of it, but there’s only so much you can do with boiled wool. It’s not a true knit, so you can’t really treat it as one. Furthermore, the inside just looked raggedy with the self fabric neckline. Too many unfinished seam allowances (I know, I know, I just said the unfinished edges were fine – but even I have neckline limits, ok), too bulky, and noooope!


Wool SJ Sweater

My solution was to apply a bias facing to the neckline, stretching the bias to get it to lie snug and thus pull the neckline in. I used this method to sew it on, and the bias is a piece of silk charmeuse that I got from Elizabeth’s scrap pile (surprisingly – it was the result of a botched dye job, although it matches the wool quite beautifully, so yay for me!). I think this netted the best result, although I think the neckline is still a little wide for this sweater. Oh well. That’s just my fault for choosing this pattern. Better luck next time!

Wool SJ Sweater

The pattern I used is the SJ Tee from my beloved Papercut Patterns. I raised the neckline a couple of inches – not that you can tell! – but the rest of the pattern is sewn as-is, using my previous adjustments. Other than the bias faced neckline, I didn’t make any construction changes. Oh, no, wait, I did leave off the sleeve ribbing. I just turned that hem allowance under and topstitched it down! The boiled wool does not have nearly as much stretch as a standard knit, however, this pattern is a little loose-fitting on me as it is, so I think it turned out fine. If you want to make this in a wool and retain the design ease, I’d recommend sizing up.

Wool SJ Sweater
Wool SJ Sweater
(sorry ’bout the color discrepancy! The less-washed out photos show the true color. And that yellow tag is there to remind us NOT to wash this sweater with the laundry, since it’s wool 🙂 )

Wool SJ Sweater

As you can see, this sweater is not ideal for a completely 100% no-gape neckline. That’s ok, though, since I’ll likely be wearing it with something underneath (this boiled wool is soft, but it’s still a little bit itchy!). I am pretty happy with how this turned out – I like the shape, the raglan sleeves, and how lush the fabric is (aka makes it look expensive. Ha!) – but I’m still iffy on the neckline. I think it’s too wide. It looks ok with the collared shirt underneath, but… eh. I don’t know. Obviously I can’t do much to change this current sweater – so I’ll be wearing it regardless – but for future makes, I need to refigure that silhouette. What do you think? Too much of a scoop? Am I way out of left field and overthinking?

Speaking of the collared shirt – I still haven’t made any changes to the sleeves. I decided to wait until it’s been laundered a few times – that way, if it shrinks, I won’t be up shit creek. In the meantime, I do like the fit/length of the sleeves under a sweater, so there’s that!

Wool SJ Sweater

At any rate, I’m pretty happy with boiled wool! Gross name and all 🙂 Tell me – have you ever sewn with boiled wool? Would you? Or do you think the name just sounds nasty? 🙂

Last thing – time to announce last week’s giveaway winner! After a harrowing 208 comments, random number generator chooses….


Yay! Congratulations, Dawn! I will be in touch to get that book to you – so you can start making those pajama bottoms asap! First time for everything 😉 (also, can we kill that rumor that never chooses the first or last number? Because, clearly, not the case!).

Thanks to everyone who entered, and thanks for all your lovely comments on the post (and thank you, Roost Books, for letting this giveaway be possible!). If you’re still itching to buy yourself a small piece of Tilly, you can buy Love at First Stitch from Amazon, or directly from the magic-maker herself.

Happy Friday, everyone! 🙂


52 Responses to “Completed: Boiled Wool SJ Sweater”

  1. lisa g November 7, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    the boiled wool sounds awesome! i would never gravitate toward that color to sew with, but it looks great layered with the navy.

    regarding the neckline… i once did a wide binding on a heavy sweater knit where i sewed the binding at 1/2 or 5/8″ from the edge of the neckline, then wrapped it around the raw edges and top stitched it down. so think bias binding, but wider if that makes sense. since there wasn’t much stretch, i cut my piece just slightly shorter than the length around the neckline. for this sweater, maybe you could make a shaped binding piece to raise the neckline?

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

      I really wanted to try that sort of wrapped binding on this sweater, but the wool is waaay too thick 😦 Thinking this neckline is just going to have to stay as-is. Oh well, at least I have lots of collared shirts to wear underneath 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. xjenhart November 7, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    I think the neckline looks great! Though, I am a bit *biased* because I loooove lower necklines. Too high and I feel like I’m suffocating. The color is great, it really amplifies your hair.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

      Haha it totally does! Makes for a nice neutral backdrop hahaha 😀

  3. Rise November 7, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    Beautiful, and I love boiled wool. Sometimes I’ll wash regular wool flannel fabric several times in the washer to get something like it.
    About the neckline…I think the depth is great, it shows nicely whatever you’re wearing beneath, like that lovely button-up. IMO, it’s a wee bit too wide, looks like it will slip off your shoulders.
    Very nice job, and I always enjoy seeing what you’re sewing up!

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

      You’re right; I like the the depth but not the width. Oh well, next sweater will be improved!

      That’s a great tip on the wool flannel, I might have to try that 😀

  4. shesewsswell November 7, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    It’s just too dang hot in So California for me to make a boiled wool sweater. I can appreciate the beauty of your sweater. I was thinking as I read your post that maybe some “hug snug” would work well in that neckline? I started using it on my knit dresses and shirts and it seems to work really well. Thought about you and the chambray when I was measuring the sleeves for my dress the other day. Kept them longer….Not only in your honor, but because I have really long arms and I’ve spent most of my life with too short of sleeves. Have a great day and thanks for all the inspiration!

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      I think the lack of stretch in Hug Snug wouldn’t work for this neckline. Although, I could also be talking out of my ass because I’ve never tried it on a knit… perhaps some experimenting is in order this weekend 🙂 And YAY for extra long sleeves! Our wrists will never be cold! 😀

  5. sewlittletimeblog November 7, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    it’s lovely and goes great with the shirt! i don’t think it’s too low but it’s a bit too wide for you i think. maybe narrow it a bit and see if it needs to come up in the front to look proportional?

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

      I agree that it’s too wide. Unfortunately, I can’t narrow the shoulders because of the raglan cut, so this sweater will have to stay wide. I can always improve the next one, though 🙂

  6. Anonymous November 7, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    It’s a GREAT idea! It’s practically impossible to find a sweater/cardigan under a 100€, but I can certainly find some boiled wool. Thank you so much for the idea, I know what I’m going to sew this week end!

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Yay! So happy to give you some inspiration 😀

  7. hearthie November 7, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Beautiful sweater. Were I you, I might make future sweaters for button-down pairing with a more boat-neck collar. This one seems like it wants a collar that echos the curve, maybe a peter pan collar, or one of those dear little string-collared shirts?

    Only ’cause you asked, because it’s gorgeous. 🙂

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

      I did ask, and I do appreciate the feedback! I love the idea of a boatneck, will be looking into that for future sweaters 🙂 Thank you so much!

  8. rillafree November 7, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    I like it scoop necked with the shirt, but maybe a boat neck for the next one! Less curves to finish too!

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

      This boat neck is going to happen! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  9. Jamie November 7, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    I love the camel with the blue. And like rillafree’s ^ recommendation of a boat neck or a square neckline.

    Funny but boiled wool always reminds me of my grandmother. When I was little, and she was teaching me to sew, she was crazy about it as it was soooo expensive and luxurious, etc. it was what the queen wore, ya know. I ended up with a few hand me down boiled wool sweaters that I think are older than the two combined. One of which uses a decorative braid as a finishing technique. Think I’ll have to pull them out and do some editing. Hmmmmm

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      Ooh, I didn’t realize that the queen wears boiled wool! Well! Good thing I’m bringing this with me to London 🙂 haha!

  10. didyoumakethat November 7, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    I have some grey boiled wool I inherited at a fabric swap and for so long I have wondered what to make with it. I would never have thought of a sweater, but seeing yours – lush! I applaud your efforts with the neckline – am facing a similair dilemma myself right now. I bet after a few weeks of wearing this, you’ll stop thinking about the neckline! Anyway, I suspect I shall be following your lead on the boiled wool front. It’s super-warm, isn’t it?

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      You’re right, I’ll probably wonder why I was so bothered by it in the first place. Can’t wait to see your boiled wool sweater that you end up with! And YES, it’s super warm – it’ll be perfect for London 😀

  11. Alicia @ Pandora Sews November 7, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Boiled wool as a sweater?!? Genius!

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Yay for boiled wool! 😀

  12. Heather Lou November 7, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    I think you’re being too critical. This is a BEAUTIFUL sweater – looks totally profesh. And now I will go eye bang some boiled wool.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      You’re probably right about that. I will stop critiquing and just embrace it 🙂

  13. Teri Poole Augustine November 7, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    It looks great and the neckline looks fine. I don’t like low necklines either. I was looking at the boiled wool on some website the other day. I’m glad you mentioned the shrinking, I’ve got to remember to buy more than I need (duh, I knit and should know better). I’ve been kicking around an idea to do a tight blanket stitch with silk embroidery thread around the hemlines but I’ll figure it out once I get it and can see what it feels like. Every time I hear “boiled wool” I think about peasants in medieval times, lol.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Oh yeah, it shrinks up quite a bit, so be sure to prewash (if you plan on washing it at all once it’s finished, that is) and buy at least an extra 1/4 yard, if not 1/2 a yard. i love the finishing idea you’re thinking of, it sounds lovely!

      And now I can’t stop thinking about peasants in medieval times. Specifically – the ones in Monty Python and the Holy Grail hahaha. This rules.

  14. Amanda November 7, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Yeah, boiled wool. I totally thought the same thing about the name. Maybe because I heard about it around the time I was watching The Tudors. Yikes, the tortures! Your sweater is much more pleasant. Looks nice paired with the shirt underneath.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      haha it is the WORST name. I get why it’s called that – but – whyyyyyy hahaha

  15. Indoor Kitty November 7, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    If this sweater should happen to go missing, it might have decided to move to Knoxville and live with me. (As if I could fit into any of your clothes. Ha.)As for the scratchy, lanolin.

    I have some of this: I felted it, so it’s pretty much a boiled wool now.

    I bought it on sale three years ago intending it to be a blanket sleeper/stroller blanket. (I wanted to add Scottie/Westie appliques to it.) Then the blanket sleeper ease shenanigans started, and then I actually had the baby. Needless to say, I’ve done nothing. Maybe I’ll make her a pea coat when she gets bigger.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

      Ha! Well if the sweater goes missing, i know where to look now 🙂 Also, omg, that wool interlock. It is BEAUTIFUL!

  16. LinB November 7, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    When I lived in Wisconsin and northern Indiana, I could not afford boiled wool. Now that I live in central North Carolina, it is rarely cold enough to justify wearing boiled wool. I’m with you on the terrible name: makes me think that the wool is covered in pus-filled sores.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      It’s barely cold enough here to wear the stuff, but I’m almost always cold, so I’ll find a use for it 🙂 Plus, London!

      Also, you have officially given me the grossest boiled wool imagery hahaha!

  17. SeeKatSew November 7, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    I actually think the name ‘boiled’ wool sounds gross, I am not sure why. I really like the simplicity of the pattern you used – it shows off the fabric really nicely.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      It’s a great pattern -nice backdrop for some fabulous fabric 🙂

  18. geekyseamstress November 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Totally agree with you. “Boiled wool” sounds horrid. I took an archives class in college and it sounds like a medieval parchment. But your sweater is lovely! Gorgeous color.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      It does sound medieval, doesn’t it? I’m sure when they named it, the name sounded perfectly normal… I think maybe just boiled is one of those words we all hate hahaha

  19. Ines November 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Hi I see what you mean about the neckline it’s basically 90% fine but just not 100% there is a minimal gape unfortunately I know even less than you so i cant advice. but i did wanna say: Congrats you brave you, for always trying new things!!! Next time or maybe even next, next time itll be 100% correct.

    • LLADYBIRD November 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Thank you! You’re totally right – next time (or next next time 🙂 ) I’ll get it perfect! 🙂

  20. patsijean November 7, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    As the neckline is cut lower it becomes more necessary to do a gape dart to control some of that extra fabric. I would slash the pattern from the neckline to just above the bust circle and then to the armhole leaving a hinge and pivot and overlap that neckline dart about 3/8″ . A solution for the neckline band would be to contour steam the band before you apply to the neckline, shaping the band in the shape of the neckline. I would still make use of a gape dart. I have to admit that although I have don a gape dart before, I really did not think about it much before I read a little about them on the Studio Faro FB page. I do have two copies of Armstrong’s book.

  21. SaSa November 8, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    That is a nice sweater!
    To finish the neckline you can use an elastic similar to finishes of dessous! That would take the neckline in and leaves no bulk because you can trim the seam allowance.

  22. clemensnp November 8, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    This is really interesting and good inspiration for cold weather stitching. Looking fab! Catherine x

  23. weefrills November 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Wool’s the best! I bet you wear this a lot. Looks great.

  24. Marci November 9, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    I hope you don’t mind me asking a question related to your (totally awesome) bias binding tutorial that you linked above. I am making a cowl-neck top using a pattern from one of the online-customized-to-your-own-measurements-and-we’ll-email-you-the-PDF-pattern websites with some really suck ass instructions. Which are especially suck ass for me because I’m barely beyond what I’d consider a beginning seamstress. So, now that I’ve gotten past my bitching about that, can I use your bias binding technique to finish the raw edge of the cowl portion without messing up the drape of the very lightweight knit material I’m using? Ha! I paid $0.50 extra for seam allowances, and apparently since there’s a 3/8″ seam allowance along the cowl it means I’m supposed to fold it over once and topstitch, since the instructions (did I mention they’re suck ass?) don’t address it at all! Any and all suggestions are welcome!

    And I totally love how your sweater turned out!

  25. BeckyLeeSews November 10, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Very nice and I love the camel color. I agree the neckline is too wide at the shoulders but the depth is fine. You might consider attaching an infinity scarf from shoulder to shoulder across the back. Then let it droop as it wants in the front or attach it all around. So it looks like two pieces but is really one. The over-droop from the scarf will snug up to your neck and hide the wide neckline. Then you’ll REALLY look fancy! ha

  26. Freya November 10, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    I’d have never thought to sew a jumper or cardi with boiled wool- inspired! I love the simpleness of the top, you’ll be able to pair it with anything 🙂 xx

  27. gingermakes November 10, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Oh man, I desperately wish I could work for Elizabeth! Burning with jealousy over here!

    • LLADYBIRD November 10, 2014 at 9:19 am #


  28. Margo December 4, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    I have some boiled wool(same color actually!) being washed right his minute and I remembered that you made a sweater. Thanks for the tips!! Yours looks great.


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