Entries Tagged as 'Fabrics for Dummies'

How to do laundry

posted on: September 27, 2012

Illustration by me, click for larger version // poses found here and here

I love our washing machine. The first year we lived here, we didn’t have one, so we had to use the communal machine in our building. It’s in the basement in the next building. We live on the 5th floor. There’s no elevator. I’m sure you can understand what a difference that machine did, so it’s not so strange that it inspired an entire blog post. The main reason, though, is that I see so many people doing their laundry in a less-than-optimal way, causing a lot more work than it has to be. Be smart. Read this blog post.

Create a good system for the dirty clothes

I’m sure you all know that you really can’t wash all your clothes in the same manner. In Norway, all textiles have to be marked to tell us which fiber(s) they are, and most also state how they suggest you clean them. In general, I wash “normal” clothes, bras and tights on 40℃, workout clothes and more sturdy items on 60℃, wool on the wool program, and towels/linens and socks/underwear on 60-90℃. Some items need special care, though, and anything sequined/decorated or particularly fragile I throw in a mesh washing bag. I wash all white things on their own, sometimes including pale greys to fill up the machine, but only things that I’m sure won’t colour the whites.

With all this in mind, the ideal laundry system therefore has separate compartments for the various categories and colours. One big hamper usually generates a lot of work, because it means you’ll have to spread all the dirty things out on the floor to sort them every time you’re washing a load. If you can separate the laundry into categories every time you throw something in there, you’ll seriously cut down on your sorting time before each wash. One big hamper also makes it hard to see when you have enough of one category to fill a load.

Still, if you live alone, or don’t have that much space, you’ll probably be forced to combine some categories. Cookie and I have a small storage system from the Antonius line by IKEA, with three rather large baskets. In one we have items to be washed on 60℃, be it linens or sweatpants or socks. In the second, 40℃ things, dark or coloured. Pale/white items for 40℃ and wool go in the last one. This way, we don’t risk a wool item sneaking in with the 60℃ towels, and sorting is at least reduced. One full basket usually equals two loads, so it’s easy to see when we definitely need to do laundry.

Use the right detergent

No, you don’t need ten different kinds like the commercials want you to believe. But you do need at least two, one for “normal” things and a special one for wool. You see, regular detergent weakens wool, so some of its awesome qualities fades away. Not good. In general, knowing your fabrics is a good idea if you want to be a super-washer. Oh, and perfume in detergent can be a troublemaker if you’ve got allergies. Many are also very heavily perfumed, which is a particular bother if you’ve got a hyperactive sense of smell. I do, so pretty much everything smells something, which means things intended to smell usually gives me a headache and/or makes me nauseated.

A second round of spinning

This is my favourite laundry trick. Our washing machine allows us to run just a round of spinning, which makes the clothes a whole lot drier. I even do it with wool, in fact, I particularly like doing it with wool, because it shortens the otherwise painfully slow drying time considerably. “But Maria,” I hear you say, “won’t that damage the clothes”? The short answer: no.

The long answer: take a look inside your machine next time it’s spinning (if your machine has a glass door, I mean). See how the clothes are pressed against the inside, pretty much not moving at all? That, my dear, is because of the centripetal force. The clothes will usually be less damaged being pressed against the inside of your machine than they will being hanged up dripping wet, slowly stretching over time. This is particularly good for wool, even if you don’t wash it in the machine (which might be best if you’ve got an old machine). Many sources recommend drying wool by rolling it inside a towel and squeezing it, but this method generally creates more friction than a spinning cycle – and friction is really bad for wet wool.

Shake it out, hang nicely

Okay, I’ve changed my mind; this is my favourite laundry trick, simply because it saves me SO MUCH TIME later. If you don’t believe me, try this little experiment. After you’ve just washed a load that contains pillowcases, try hanging one up straight from the machine. Grab the other one by two corners, then shake it out thoroughly, and generally smooth out corners and such, then hang. Once they’re both dry, compare them. I bet you a cookie (but not Cookie, of course!) the second one looks a whole lot better. It’ll dry faster, and be smoother and shaped more nicely than the poor first one.

With clothes, I make sure collars and cuffs are smoothed/very gently stretched. Remember, many fabrics are more fragile when wet. I hang blouses, skirts and dressers on hangers to dry, so they’ll have as few wrinkles as possible. Other items are hung so the creases from the drying rack won’t be so visible (a big, horizontal crease/fold in the middle of tops never did boobs any favour).

Hang with plenty of space between

When the clothes are out of the washing machine, we want them to dry as quickly as possible. This way, they won’t occupy a lot of space, and the clothes won’t be in danger of trapped moisture, which can equal a pretty funky smell (or even mould). If you have a load of clothes already drying, then wash something else, try not to mix them on the drying rack, which can make the almost-dry clothes kind of moist again. Also, if you’re washing a whole bunch of clothes, you might have to scrunch clothes together on the rack to make them all fit – which is a recipe for lots of unnecessary creases.

Keep air circulating while drying

If drying clothes in your bathroom, keep the door open. You can cut down the drying time in half just by doing this. Also, keep wet towels away from clothes that are drying. Wet towels in general are a major pet peeve of mine, to be honest.

Take down only when 100% dry

This might be a bit later than you think, but I’ll make it worth your while. You see, if not-completely-dry clothes are folded and put in a closet (perhaps with other stuff on top), it’ll make those folding lines really set, and (again), everything will wrinkle more than it has to. It can even create a slightly damp atmosphere in your closet, which isn’t good. As a guideline, remember that different fabrics dry at different speeds. Polyester and acrylics are quite fast, whereas cotton and wool can take days.

If you can’t fold right away, hang over the back of a chair

Anyone recognize this scenario? You’ve suddenly realized you have to wash something, be it panties or towels or the blouse you want to wear for tomorrow’s party, but the clothing rack is packed with dry clothes you just haven’t had time to fold? So you throw all the dry things in a pile in a chair somewhere, just to make room for the wet things, of course. Except it might be five days until you can manage to tackle that pile, and by then everything will look like elephant skin.

Nobody wants to wear elephant skin. Instead, when you pull the dry things from the rack, hang them over your arm. Then simply substitute your arm for the back of a chair, and wrinkles will be much less of a problem.

Basically: good routines and being smart prevents lot of work later

I might sound like a neat freak, but really, I’d much rather spend ten minutes extra being thorough when doing laundry, than spend hours repairing clothes, ironing and looking for replacements. So… have I won you over? Neat freaks unite!

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PS: I created a version of the illustration without the washing machine, too. Here’s the 1200×800 px version, and here’s one that’s 900×600 px.

Fabrics for Dummies: all those random things

posted on: November 30, 2011

Finally, the final post about fabrics (and thank-you-glitter to Maja for adding her own tips and being a fabulous cheerleader). It’s a little text-heavy, but I’m sure you can handle it. I hope this has been helpful, and that you’re all a little less lost (say that three times fast) when you’re out in those shops. If you have any tips of your own to add, by the way, it would be appreciated!

How to become a fabric connoisseur:

- PRACTICE. Every time you’re shopping, getting dressed, getting undressed, feel the fabric. Look at how it drapes. Guess what it is. Check the label.
- make educated guesses (perhaps based on what you learnt in my previous fabric posts?). If you’re at H&M, looking at a knitted sweater, and it costs 149,- NOK – what is more likely, that it’s made of wool or acrylics? (yeah, it’s the last one)
- always check the fabric before buying. This applies especially to more expensive items that you consider investments. A high price and/or luxurious brand does not necessarily equal a quality fabric, as you could simply be paying for the logo or their exorbitant print ad.

Random fabric facts you should know:

- names such as satin and jersey do not name the fibre, but which method was used to weave/knit the threads to create a fabric. It is therefore possible to have, for instance, wool jersey and cotton jersey.
- Polyester has the most varied qualities of all fibres, meaning some polyester can be shiny, smooth and elastic, and a different kind can be rough and inelastic.
- nylon is the least environmentally friendly fibre when it comes to the production, but a finished garment of nylon is quite eco-friendly as it doesn’t require washing as much as, say, cotton.
- in general, the label “Fairtrade” means the fabric is organic, but it doesn’t say anything about how the garment itself was made.
- mixing cotton and wool fibres in the same garment is difficult, as they require very different washing. A garment with this mix can therefore be difficult to handle.
- a garment with a mix of natural and synthetic fibres is usually more prone to pilling (in Norwegian: nupping) than all-natural or all-synthetic combinations. Wool is often mixed with for instance nylon to make the garment stronger, though, so there are both pros and cons to this.
- if you plan on colouring a garment, remember that natural fibres usually “take” colour better than synthetics. This also applies to the thread, so you won’t end up with stitches in the original colour. If in doubt, see if you can find a stray end of thread, or cut loose a button to get some loose thread that way. Hold it with tweezers, and try to make it catch fire. If it melts and smells like plastic, the thread is synthetic.

How to make your fabrics happy:

- try not to wash them more than necessary – airing out garments can do wonders, and is not damaging at all.
- when washing, use as low temperature as you can. 30 or 40 degrees C is often enough for everyday clothes.
- those extra buttons that are included when you buy a garment with buttons? Keep them in a pretty jar or tea cup, because you will need them sooner or later. Trust me.
- ironing things flattens the fibres, which means the garment will stay nice longer. I have a slightly-smaller-than-normal table top ironing board from IKEA, it’s brilliant.
- learn how to sew a button, fix hols and hem pants/skirts. I don’t own a sewing machine, so I do these things by hand, and it doesn’t take half the time you’d expect.
- use one of those tape-rollers to remove lint, and one of those small machines to remove pilling (for you Norwegian gals: they cost less than 100 NOK in shops such as Nille or Clas Ohlson).
- store knitted items lying flat, and hang skirts, dresses and blouses that wrinkle easily.
- in a pinch, you can actually iron most fabrics with a hair straightener. Just test it very gently first, so you don’t… you know, melt anything.

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LEARN MORE:

Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion

Fabrics for dummies (intro)

Fabric for dummies: Wool

Fabric for dummies: Synthetics

Fabric for dummies: Natural fibres

Fabrics for Dummies: natural fibres

posted on: November 4, 2011

Time for another post about fabrics for dummies, don’t you think? This time, natural fibres. As wool got its own post, this one will cover the rest of the most common naturals: cotton, linen and silk. A post on leather/fur might come up at a later point once I get to study up on them. Let’s get to it!

Cotton gets its fibres from the fluffy cotton plant (looks like this). The fluff is harvested, either by machine or hand, and then spun into thread, which can be knitted or woven into a fabric. You can treat cotton in many ways with chemicals to make it shiny or wrinkle-resistant, for instance. When talking about cotton, the concept of thread count often comes up. This is simply a way to measure how coarse/fine a fabric is, and the higher the number, the better. Problems with cotton are the often not-so-nature-or-people-friendly-production, and that it needs to be washed often to keep fresh (you can read more about this in my post about eco-friendly, NICE fashion).

When it comes to clothing, cotton is usually very comfortable. It’s usually quite soft, breathes well, is strong and can be found in both super-affordable and super-expensive shops. As with most fabrics, if the quality is good, the fabric will behave well. If it’s not, however, cotton can drastically lose its shape, pill easily and generally look cheap.

Bear with me, people: the fabric in this picture is not linen. I just didn’t want to “borrow” a photo from a random source, and I actually don’t own any linen myself. The reason for this is simple: whenever I’ve bought a linen garment before, it has shrunk and wrinkled like crazy. A curvy hourglass such as myself needs clothes that either provide some stretch or is perfectly fitted to my body. As linen doesn’t stretch, this means trouble for me. The fabric itself can be quite lovely, though, as it is fantastically cool and thus perfect for warm summers (just keep in mind that linen is often slightly transparent, so linen pants are tricky). It comes from a plant, like cotton, but is much stronger and doesn’t feel damp until it’s quite wet. Still, I avoid linen like the devil because of its fit problems. I find myself suddenly considering some linen bedding, however…

Ah, silk. Wonderfully luxurious, and usually very expensive. It’s created by tiny silk worms who spend their life eating leaves and spinning silk threads into cocoons. The next part is what makes it troublesome for some animal lovers out there: the cocoons are then steamed or boiled to kill the worm and detangle the silk threads. There are other problems with silk as well. It stains easily, is hard to clean (usually dry cleaning), can get very static and can lose its shape if it’s handled roughly when wet. Many people find it worth the hassle, though, and silk can create a wonderful fabric if combined with other fibres, such as wool.

Coming up is my random-facts-and-tips-about-fabrics-and-clothes-in-general-post! In the meantime, Lindsay of Un Petit Bijou recently wrote a wonderful post about how to shop for cashmere – definitely recommended reading.

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LEARN MORE:

Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion

Fabrics for dummies (intro)

Fabric for dummies: Wool

Fabric for dummies: Synthetics

Fabrics for dummies: All those random things

Fabrics for dummies: synthetics

posted on: October 12, 2011

Wool might have gotten its own post, but the synthetic fibres can share one, I think. Not because they’re all bad, mind, but simply because they share a lot of attributes. Let’s start with how they are made, shall we? I’ll try to keep it simple.

Yeah, that’s right, synthetic fabrics come from coal, oil or natural gas. The device-thingy has holes called spinnerts, and if these are round, the thread (and the resulting fabric) will look differently than if the spinnerts had, say, triangular holes. After the threads are made, they can be dyed and chemically treated. This includes processes that can make the final fabric softer, more shiny, waterproof, wrinkle-free and stain resistant (some of these processes can also be done on natural fibres). The threads are then knitted, woven or pressed (like fleece) into a fabric.

I think that if there’s one thing we’ve all heard about synthetic fabrics, it’s that they’re “bad”. Not many of us can say why exactly, but we’ve all heard it somewhere. Naturally, the negative things vary a bit depending on which synthetic fibre we’re talking about, so not all items on the list below apply to every single synthetic fibre. Still, most of them do share these traits.

As you can see, synthetics can generate a lot of waste, make people sick and be less comfortable to wear (especially in extremely hot or cold weather). Also, there’s the issue of how synthetics behave if they come in contact with flames/extreme heat. The fabric won’t simply catch fire, it will melt. Very quickly. On top of whatever is wearing it.

TO BE EXECUTED AT YOUR OWN RISK: If you want to see this for yourself, why not mimic what ballerinas do with the ribbons for their pointe shoes to keep them from fraying? Find a scrap of ribbon, and light a candle. Hold the ribbon using a tweezer, positioned at least five centimeters away from the end. Put the end close to the flame. If the fabric seems to curl in on itself and melt, forming a hard plastic residue after some seconds, your ribbon is made of a synthetic fibre. If it acts like it doesn’t want to catch fire, it is probably silk. Now, I’m not saying you have to avoid all synthetics at all times so your clothes won’t melt on you in some freak accident, but if you’re going camping/barbecuing/to a class in fire eating, or buying children’s clothes, you know what to avoid.

But if synthetic fibres are so “bad”, why do we use them so much? If we look at the world’s fibre production, only 3% is wool (Norwegian souce), and 43% is cotton (Norwegian source). Surely there must be some advantages to the synthetics, as we use them so much?

Money. Say it with me: money. Yes, that’s one of the biggest arguments for using synthetics. If you desperately want a flowing chiffon dress, for instance, but can’t afford that super-expensive silk version, you can find dresses with chiffon made out of polyester for hardly anything. Of course, the designwork/brand also affects the price of the more expensive items, but still, synthetics are good imitators – as long as you’re only looking at them and not wearing them, at least. Also, special kinds of clothing definitely benefit from the invention of synthetics. Take one of your swimsuits or sport bras, for instance, and imagine it made of wool instead… yeah, that wouldn’t work very well.

As you can see, there are both benefits and disadvantages to synthetics. Personally, I try to buy natural fibres whenever I have a choice. At Imageakademiet we had a test at the end of the year where we were given a folder with ten fabric samples, and had to identify them based only on what we could see and feel. Since then, my skin has become picky, I’ll admit it. Acrylic just doesn’t feel as good as wool. Polyester feels like plastic when compared to silk. Still, there is quite a bit of polyester in my closet, and many of my favourite items are made of viscose.

All I want is for you to be able to make informed desicions. I want you to know that nylon is basically plastic, and that wool will keep you warm even if you get sweaty. That not all cuddly sweaters are equal. And after my two next posts – one on the remaining natural fabrics, one on general tips/facts about fabrics – I hope there will be many more tag-looking girls out there in the shops.

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LEARN MORE:

Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion

Fabrics for dummies (intro)

Fabric for dummies: Wool

Fabric for dummies: Natural fibres

Fabrics for dummies: All those random things

Fabrics for dummies: wool

posted on: October 10, 2011

Firstly: WHOA. You guys gave some pretty amazing feedback on my first Fabric for dummies-post! It is clear that you’re interested in this, so I thought I’d get my first fabric-post out there sooner rather than later.

Wool deserves its very own post. From September to April, wool and I are pretty much lovers. We even occasionally snuggle up during those other months as well. You see, wool has so many excellent qualities I simply cannot stay away. But first, let’s just do a quick one on what wool actually is.

Yeah, you may laugh now. And no, that camel does not have a bug flying out of its derriére, it’s supposed to be his tail. Anyway – as you can see, wool comes from sheep, goats (mohair and cashmere wool, for instance), animals in the camel family (you try drawing an Alpaca or a Moskox, I dare you!), and rabbits (angora wool). Yes, there are angora cats as well, but they are not used for fibre production, only as pets. Now you know where the wool fibres come from, but the main question remains:

Image of top (and socks, below) from Pierre Robert, who makes the most wonderful wool-and-silk tops in the world.

See? I told you it was good. I probably forgot a few things, but I’m banking on someone to remind me in a comment (yes, Cindy, I’m looking at you). Now, you have to keep in mind that just like with other fibres/fabrics, there are many different kinds and qualities of wool. As Cindy mentioned in a comment, wool if often mixed with other fabrics to improve strength and endurance. Mixed with silk, the result will be more luxurious (and thus expensive) than a mix with cotton or polyester, for instance.

But, Maria, I can hear you ask, I’ve read you’re supposed to dry wool garments by rolling them into a towel? Well, I’d heard that, too, but one of my teachers at Imageakademiet talked about this, asking us to simply picture the inside of a washing machine when it’s spinning (in Norwegian: når den sentifugerer). The things in there lie completely still, don’t they, because everything is spinning so fast.

The reason we need to be gentle with wool, is because all those little fibres that create the thread (you remember this from my previous post, right?), have ends sticking out all over the place. The more ends sticking out, the fluffier the finished garment. If the fabric is rubbed a lot, those fibres tangle, and the fabric gets harder and smaller. Following this reasoning, drying wool items in the machine will be much more gentle than squeezing it in a towel, won’t it? Oh, and I forgot one very important thing: store wool garments lying down, not hanging. Got that?

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LEARN MORE:

Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion

Fabrics for dummies (intro)

Fabric for dummies: Synthetics

Fabric for dummies: Natural fibres

Fabrics for dummies: All those random things

Fabrics for dummies

posted on: October 9, 2011

Yesterday I was out looking for a new winter cardigan. I ventured out, and as usual I checked the tags (like the one in the picture above) before I even considered trying anything on. After a while I got frustrated with the amount of acrylics and polyester that pretended to be wooly knits, and I looked around to see if I was alone in my disappointment.

That’s when I realized that not a single other person in the shop was looking at the tags. I spied on the other shoppers for quite some time, but not one tag was looked at by anyone. Darlings, I cannot stress this enough: you need to know your fabrics. And I’m going to teach you.

First, you need a very basic understanding of how clothes are made. It starts with fibres, which can look very different depending on what they’re made of. For wool, it looks like the fluff on a sheep. For cotton, it looks like the fluff on cotton plants. For nylon, it looks like this. You get the idea – it’s tiny little soft things.

The fibres are then spun, which creates a thread or yarn. This can be thin and smooth, thick and fluffy, or a number of other combinations. The thread is then knitted or woven into a fabric, and can then be made into a garment.

Natural fibres come from things found in nature, such as sheep, goats, plants or silk cocoons spun by silk worms. The synthetic ones were made in a lab by people. Some synthetic fibres are entirely man-made, like nylon. Others, such as viscose/rayon, are made out of plant material that has been then processed chemically (some therefore prefer to call it a semi-synthetic fibre).

Now, clothes may be made by a single kind of fibre, like the tag in the top picture shows, whereas some combine fibres, like this:

As you can see, this garment is made entirely out of synthetic fibres, a combination of polyamide and acrylic. If you’re unsure whether a fibre is natural or synthetic, you know what to do.

Phew. If you’ve made it this far, my hat goes off to you. Still, I definitely think this is worth the time, because once you begin to understand fabrics, a whole new world opens up. If you want to practice, why not look at the tags in some of your own clothes? See if they’re made out of natural or synthetic fibres – and don’t fret too much if the majority belong in the latter category.

Synthetic fibres are generally cheaper than natural, which means that high street stores (like H&M) use these more than the pricey stuff. That doesn’t mean all synthetic fibres are bad, though, but as this post is so long already, I thought I’d write separate posts for the most common fibres and their pros and cons. That is, if you’re interested in reading about all this?

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LEARN MORE:

Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion

Fabric for dummies: Wool

Fabric for dummies: Synthetics

Fabric for dummies: Natural fibres

Fabrics for dummies: All those random things