Fabric Types: The Pros and Cons

  • Pros and cons of synthetic, wool & plant-based fabrics
  • The burn test- find out what a garment is made of
  • Fabric care

With colder weather on the way it's time to think about how to keep warm, and not all winter wear is created equal! So how can you pick the best fabric for you, and how can you care for them? Here is a basic guide to fabric properties and care.

Nylon, polyester, and other synthetic fabrics have been a common choice in clothing since the 1960s. They're durable, wash easily, can usually be tumble dried and take a hot wash. They don't crease as easily, don't require ironing, and dry faster than most natural fibers. However, plastic-based fabrics are more easily flammable and will melt if burned, hold odours more, are less breathable and don't provide the same warmth as wool (technical thermalwear is the exception to the warmth rule). Wind will cut right through synthetic fabrics, so if you're looking for a cozy winter jumper- it's best to stick to real wool if you can!

Sheep, angora, cashmere, alpaca, lama, and other animals produce wool that can be turned into cosy garments. You can tell if wool is real by taking a few of the fibers and burning them. Do they burn like hair, bubbling a little- the ash blowing into dust? Wool or silk! Does it melt and go hard? Plastic. Wool is slightly more work to care for. ALWAYS wash in cold water. But hand-washing isn't usually necessary if you have a woolen/dedicates cold cycle on your machine. Putting the garment in a delicates bag will also prevent the garment stretching and becoming misshapen. NEVER tumble-dry wool. Laying it flat on a clothes horse or on a table is the best way to dry. You can iron wool on a cool setting. If your skin is sensitive, try a finer wool like merino, cashmere, or angora.

Cotton - plant-based fabrics, including rayon, bamboo and linen are made from plant fibers. They will burn like a candle wick, slowly and steadily, into a fine ash, and are usually less flammable than synthetics or wool. They breathe well, are less likely to irritate skin, and wash fairly easily. However they are prone to creasing and, like synthetics, won't keep you toasty warm like wool. If the cotton is pre-shrunk, warm wash and tumble dry is fine, but be careful! Read the care label for temperature recommendations - but cold is always safe. Drying garments on a coathanger will help reduce creasing.

The take-home message? Wool = warmest, cold wash is the safest option, and if in doubt, do a burn test! Take care of yourselves and each other and stay warm and safe this winter season <3

By Rachel Bradstock
Elise Design in-house tailor/sales consultant
Owner of The Definite Article fashion brand

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