Wool has so many attributes to it that make it a wonderful material. On top of being flame resistant, long lasting, and not building up static because it is a tightly woven fabric, it makes it the perfect canvas for embroidery. When using wool it has the ability to crimp which basically means that the fibers bunch together and allows for insulation. There are many different kinds of wool such as Lambswool, Merino, Cashmere, Mohair, Angora Alpaca etc. The finer the wool the more crimps per inch and on the opposite end the rougher the wool is the fewer crimps it will have.
If your wool is 100% wool fabric then you will have a multitude of options for embroidery because of the tight weave 100% provides. If it’s a wool mix such as with polyester, rayon, silk, or nylon as examples then the weave will be more loose than 100% wool fabric. With this being the case the heavier the design the more tightly woven you will want your fabric to be, while this isn’t a hard and fast rule it’s something to consider.
When it comes to choosing the design you want to embroider onto wool the type of wool will determine what will be most effective. If made of 100% wool then because of its tight weave it can be used with various amounts of embroidery designs. However, if you are using a wool blend of some kind like wool/silk or wool/nylon then you’ll need to choose a lighter design as fabric can be pulled apart easier and can’t support heavy designs.
When creating embroidery onto wool we want to set ourselves up for success by making sure we have the best support we can and in this case it’s using cutaway stabilizer. We want to use stabilizer because it helps us avoid a mess of our thread becoming broken or tangled. While other stabilizers can work other than cutaway if you run into any problems like stitches not being where they should be or loops in your thread, cutaway may be your saving grace. Choosing the wool type and stabilizer are important with embroidering on wool but so is the needle you choose. You don’t necessarily need a backing like tearaway stabilizer but a tearaway would work totally fine if you like. While the obvious choice would seem to be an embroidery needle as we are doing embroidery your stitches might not come out as sharp as they could be. If you are running into this issue or if it bothers you then instead use a sharp sewing needle.
Next we are going to get into using wool thread and the benefits and challenges with using it.
To embroider with wool thread the technique has a specific name and that is crewel embroidery. This style has been around for a long time and it gets its name from the 2-ply wool thread which was used centuries ago and had the name crewel. This thread generally comes in two ply, though one ply is possible. This kind of thread is thinner than tapestry wool so you wouldn’t separate it like you would your typical cotton embroidery floss.
If you are looking for a mix of different textures when stitching then you can mix a variety of different thread brands but if you want it to be consistent we advise that you keep to one brand for your project.
The two most common fabrics for crewel embroidery are linen and linen twill. The reason we use these is that they have a close weave to keep the stitches strong and not move around but still loose enough for crewel wool of a larger size to pass. While linen and linen twill may be the most popular that doesn’t mean you have to use those fabrics, anything is potentially viable so have fun and experiment!
The needles used in crewel embroidery have a large eye and a sharp point. With the eye of the needle being much larger in size it allows for thicker thread like crewel to pass through easily, and it’s possible to use multiple threads simultaneously. The purpose of the sharp point is great for piercing through fabric but also through other wool from stitches done previously.
In case you aren’t sure which needle brands to use for crewel embroidery we recommend Clover Gold Eye Embroidery Needles Size 3-9 16 Pack, DMC 1765-⅕, Bohin, Colonial, and Dritz.
When it comes to crewel embroidery you can use multiple different stitches from your basic back stitch to the advanced bullion stitch all of these are viable in this embroidery style. It’s important to remember that when using wool thread all your stitches will be thicker and have texture so use that to your advantage.
While there are patterns specifically for crewel embroidery you can most definitely use patterns that are designed for your standard embroidery as well. It is important to note that if you use a pattern that wasn’t originally designed for crewel embroidery to adjust it to allow for the thicker crewel thread or just know you won’t get the finer details with a thicker thread.
All this being said we are doing all of this work by hand. If you wanted to do this with a machine you wouldn’t use wool thread, you would use machine embroidery thread. So don’t try and run wool thread through your machine!