A crucial element to successfully mending your clothes, is knowing what type of fabric you are working with. However, to take a more holistic view - knowing fabric type is important for a whole range of reasons, including:
1. Determining the best way to care for and wash your garment.
2. Determining the best way to approach mending your garment.
3. You can be more informed about the types of fabric you like to wear.
4. You can choose the types of fabrics that suit your lifestyle and your ethics.
So, how do we tell what are clothes are made of?
Step 1 – Read your labels
Have a look inside your garment and find the clothing label. This will either be at the back neck or the inside left-hand seam. The fabric type will be listed here.
It can sometimes be tricky to decipher. Familiarising yourself with the weight and feel of different fabrics will help you become more familiar and attuned to different fabric types.
Natural Fibres include: cotton, bamboo, modal, linen, silk, wool and leather.
Natural fibres will biodegrade in nature over time with exposure to compost friendly conditions.
Man-made (synthetic) fibres include: polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastane and spandex.
Synthetic fibres are man-made. They are produced by chemical synthesis using petroleum-based chemicals. Polyester is the world’s most dominant fibre and is made from fossil fuels. Additionally, synthetic fibres are a source of microplastic pollution in our waterways.
They can be more water and stain resistant than natural fibres and less prone to wrinkling. They can take up dyes more readily and hold the colour for longer. Another advantage is that synthetic fibres are not a good food source for insect larvae and so tend to avoid damage from moths or silverfish.
Step 2 – Know how to care for your clothes
Caring for your clothes correctly can help reduce damage and therefore reduce the chances that mending will be needed. This should be our aim, as prevention is always better than cure.
Top Care Tips for extend the life of all fabrics
- Always wash in cold water.
- Line dry instead of using a dryer.
- Use a laundry bag for lingere, activewear or any particularly delicate fabrics not being handwashed.
- Read the care instructions on the label of your clothes.
Care tips for natural fibres
Natural fibres can be delicate, consider handwashing or using a gentle cycle when washing.
Wool jumpers benefit from hand washing. After handwashing, spin on a very gentle cycle and then lay flat to dry in shape.
It is also preferable to hand-wash silk garments. Squeeze or spin to remove excess water then hang to air dry.
Care tips for synthetic fibres
Polyester fibres shed microplastics in the waterways each time they are washed. There are some products on the market that aim to trap as many of these fibres as possible such as the guppy friend, however, this is not a complete solution by any means (Read about the effectiveness of this product here).
To reduce the volume of microparticle shead (and care for your synthetics), follow these tips:
- use the shortest wash cycle possible, the longer the wash cycle the more microplastics are released.
- wash similar textiles together, Harder fabrics such as jeans can rub against softer fabrics causing more microplastics to be released.
- reduce the frequency of washing. For example, spandex activewear can be rinsed in cold water soon after wearing to stop sweat being trapped in the fibres.
Step 3 – Mending
Match the fabric weight
If you are going to use a patch in your mending, try as best you can to match the type of fabric. At the very least, try to match the weight of the fabric and the general fabric type e.g. natural fabric patch on natural fabric. This is important because you want the patch to behave in a similar way to the garment in terms of care and washing.
Match the fabric type
Is the fabric you are mending stretchy? If so, the patch fabric also needs to be stretchy. And in reverse, don't use a stretchy fabric for a patch on a non-stretchy garment. Be sure to use a stitch that can stretch too, such as a zigzag stitch or whipstitch.
Assess fabric and garment quality
Is a repair worth the effort? Thinning or overly damaged fabrics are difficult to work with and may not repair well. While there is no harm in trying, you will become a better judge of this the more times your mend.
Step 4 – Education
From an environmental standpoint, neither natural or synthetic fibres are perfect, zero-waste, carbon-neutral options. Natural fibres still require a lot of resources to produce and cannot realistically perform all the roles we expect of our clothes in the 2020’s (swimwear or activewear without spandex for example??).
I encourage you to educate yourself on the environmental effects of different types of fibres and make informed choices about your clothing purchases.
Some resources I recommend are: