Awareness of origin fosters true appreciation. When I see a textile I don’t just see a textile. I see a cotton plant, a sheep, an alpaca, a person carding, spinning and knitting the yarn to create the final product we call clothing, bed linens and every other textile we use daily. If we were to know & understand the origin of these fibers we could make more informed decisions about how, why & when to purchase and how to care for our newly acquired goods. Imagining the sheep in our minds can inspire us to care for these fibers for the precious material that they are.
I have been to countless alpaca, sheep & llama farms to witness the entire fiber-to-cloth process: sheering, washing, carding, spinning, knitting. I was born into a fiber-obsessed family and therefore my exposure to cloth of all types may be more than the average person. I LOVE cotton, linen, silk, wools of all kinds and I personally have a Chocolate Satin Angora Rabbit which feeds two obsessions: bunnies + fiber. Anyhow, back to the main point: Fiber care.
I have compiled a list that I think will help you all to care for your textiles in a better way using all the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along my fiber journey.
I think this is the easiest. Like any fiber cotton definitely shrinks and expands with changing temperatures and agitation levels. I wash all darks in very cold water to preserve color and if the clothes aren’t really that dirty I don’t use tons of soap. I always use less than the prescribed amount. Machine drying will always shrink cotton somewhat. Only dry what you want shrunk. Tags will usually mention if something has already been pre shrunk, but cotton will shrink more and expand again when you wear it. If it is a tight-fitting look, I would hang dry away from sun exposure. White cottons I like to wash in hot water and if stained I soak them in an enzyme-based laundry soap. If the stain is not totally gone, do not fret. The sun acts as a natural disinfectant and bleach. I leave my whites in the sun as long as it takes to remove stains. Rust is a natural dye so if it is machine dried, the heat will permanently dye the textile. If you catch it before being washed sometimes it can be removed with white vinegar or lemon juice - saturate thoroughly then blot.
Linen - This fiber changes texture a lot based on how you care for it. I do not dry my linens in the dryer at all. Whether it be a sheet or a dress I wash on the gentle cycle and I hang dry always to maintain the texture. I have found that it shrinks too much and loses the natural “scratchy”, firm texture of linen. If you must dry it in the dryer, just dry it 50%, then hang.
So many people don’t know that dry clean only is a lie. Manufacturers don’t want you to ruin things and then blame them so their care instructions are “safe” for them, but not for everyone else. Dry cleaning fluids cannot be properly disposed of, rendering them an environmental nightmare. If a piece bleeds too much color I get rid of it or wash less frequently. If you choose to keep it, set the color or make the textile “color fast” by soaking in vinegar water or salt water. Wool can be washed in cold water, no agitation, as that is how you make felt, which shrinks the garment by matting, condensing and pressing the fibers together. Soak for an hour or so and rinse well, lay flat to dry in the sun if you aren’t worrying about losing some of the garment’s color from the sun. Flat drying will maintain the shape of the garment. Dry in shade for dark colors.
Depending on the thickness of the silk I either use the gentle machine wash or hand wash. I use a small amount of soap and soak, rinse and lay flat to dry if you are worried about losing the shape, I only steam to get rid of wrinkles, I never iron silk. I have found that it marks easily and the iron can leave residue on the garment. Steaming is always safer and I think easier.
Liners - Often when clothing is lined, the liner is a different fiber than the exterior of the garment which requires special consideration when washing. For instance, if the exterior is wool and the interior silk (very common in vintage cardigans), hot water would shrink the outer layer of wool while the silk liner would not shrink, ruining the fit of the garment! So be cautious and read the labels for fiber content! And when in doubt, wash in cool water and soap with no agitation and lay flat to dry!
The only synthetics I purchase are vintage pieces that I truly love. Buying vintage is more interesting and keeps things out of our landfills, a really chic way to recycle. In current times I fear for the health of people manufacturing synthetics and for the environment. Small pieces of these synthetic fibers pollute our water systems, so please choose natural fibers. Explore your local vintage shops to support your city or try these online resources.
Words of Wisdom: Use safe, non-toxic brands of laundry detergent and please never use fabric softeners that contain silicones. If you coat a cotton towel in silicone to make it feel soft, it is no longer absorbent, which was the original purpose of owning the towel.