When you’ve invested your time, money and effort into creating your own hand sewn garments, the last thing you want is for them to be ruined after their first wash. Your fabric may shrink, colours may run, the texture, the way the fabric feels and hangs could change. To avoid this, the care process begins before you’ve even made the first stitch…You should get into the habit of washing and ironing (pressing) your fabrics before you cut out your pattern pieces. A simple way to get into the habit is by washing the fabric as soon as you’ve bought it.
Prewashing allows any changes to occur before you’ve worked with the fabric, and minimises surprises. I would rather lose an evening washing, drying and pressing my fabric, than lose the ability to wear my finished garment more than once.
Washing your fabric
You can find basic care information below (for more detailed instructions Collete has a great guide here). Caution – this may not take into account the dying process that was used and how colourfast your fabric is. If you’re really unsure, test on a small scrap of the fabric before doing anything else.
100% Cotton – Cottons can be hand or machine washed and tumbled at medium to high temperatures (if hand washing, take care not to scald yourself!), but also wrinkle easily so may require ironing more often. Cotton can take ironing at a higher heat, but always test on an inconspicuous area first.
Linen – Linens can usually be hand or machine washed, but always check the label as they may be dry clean only. Linen, like cottons, may require more frequent ironing as they are prone to creasing.
Silk – It is best not to machine wash silk. You can hand wash silk garments with lukewarm water and a mild detergent designed for delicate fabrics. If in doubt, get it dry cleaned.
Wool – Wool can be washed on a delicate cycle in the machine, but it is better to hand wash wool knits in lukewarm water (to prevent shrinking) and to dry flat. Do not tumble wool unless you intend to pass on the garment on to a small child. Wool suiting fabric should be dry cleaned to be safe.
Man made fibres – Acrylic, polyester etc. Most fabrics that are not made with natural fibres can be handwashed in lukewarm water with a mild detergent. Most can be tumbled at a low temperature, using a dryer sheet to limit any static.
What to use?
There are a number of products that are designed for handwashing and delicate garments, all of which are readily available in supermarkets and online. Which product you choose depends on your fabric, budget and whether you want to limit your impact on the environment.
Soak takes its name from the very way the product works. You simply add a teaspoon of the detergent to a basin of cool water and let your garment soak for 15 minutes, before gently squeezing the water out. Simple to use and comes in a variety of fragrances or scentless. Soak have also created an ironing spray, Flatter, which helps to freshen and decrease your delicate garments. You can purchase Soak wash (85ml/18+ washes for £9.00) and Flatter ironing spray (£12.00) in the UK from The Little Knitting Company.
Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid is suitable for hand washing and use in the machine. It has a delicate lavender fragrance and is Woolmark approved. This product contains nothing nasty that will damage your garments, the environment or your hands (I would still advise wearing gloves). Ecover also comes in a lot cheaper than Soak at £3.49 for 750ml/16 washes. If you want to save more money (and more packaging) you can purchase a big 5L bottle (100+ washes!) for £17.45. You can find Ecover in most UK supermarkets or can purchase directly from their website.
1. Don’t twist or wring your garment out, as this could stretch it or weaken the seams.
2. Always, always, test a small cut off of the fabric first. Wash it, dry it and iron it according to the type of fabric. You can then compare this to the original fabric to see any changes to colour, texture etc before washing the whole thing.
3. Always pre-wash your fabric before laying out your pattern pieces. Get into the habit of washing your fabric as soon as you buy it.
4. Consider how practical it is to care for the fabric before buying. Using a dry clean only fabric for a blouse you want to wear to work regularly is not smart sewing.
5. Don’t cut corners when caring for your handmade garments, as it will only end in tears. If you’re going to take the time to create the garment, then put in the time to choose the right product and pre-wash.
What routine do you have for laundering your handmade clothes? Is there a specific product you would recommend?
All prices are correct at time of writing. This post is not endorsed by Soak, Ecover, Colette or The Little Knitting Company and I have not received any product/payment for writing it.