Part 11.5 Answers to Questions since 10.5


Q: Do you have any data on how long various natural fibers last?

A: The answer to this will depend on whether you mean 'as a useful garment' or 'archeologically'.  For the purposes of these emails, I'll address "as a useful garment."

Useful life is mostly governed by how long it will be before the fabric is worn through, and this is a function (to oversimplify things) of how long the original fibers of the fabric are, which also effects how abrasion-resistant they are.

Cotton has relatively short fibers, in the range of 1" long, although the variety called Pima has longer fibers than average.  Wool fibers run up to 7 or so inches long; hemp are in the 12-18 inch range, and thrown silk (silk unwound from cocoons, ie, smooth looking silk fabric) is yards and yards long. However, silk noil, which is very popular these days because it is cheap and yet breathes like silk, has fibers about as long as cotton.

But that doesn't really give a useful answer.  More useful would be to get in the habit of doing things to you clothes that are less harmful to them than other things you might do.  In order to minimize trauma to your clothing's fibers, you can do one or more of the following:

Q: Why is it that some people think that silk is damaged by water?

A: Because no one tells you that it is the SIZING (remember that from the earlier lessons?) that will spot, and not the fabric itself.  There is a chance that the dyes used might bleed a little if you wash silk, but usually this is so uniform the color change won't be noticed, unless you wash silk with white clothing.  If you get a spot of water on such silk, the water may carry the dye with it as it migrates through the fabric, producing a "spot" or ring of deeper dye surrounding less dyed fabric.  Silk has been in use for thousands of years, and drycleaners have only been around for the past few decades....

Q: For that matter, why do so many clothes made from cotton and other such fibers say 'dry clean only' on them: I might have thought it was due to problems with shrinkage, but I've washed some of them and not had a problem.

A: Could be shrinkage, could be color-fastness, could be paranoia, could be payoffs by the dry-cleaner's lobby.  Some of it also has to do with the interfacings (stiffening fabrics) used in the plackets and collars.  I bought a shirt last week and washed it; it was fine but the cheap interfacing fuzzed right off.

Q: In the same vein, which fabrics truly must be dry cleaned?

A: None that I know of, provided you're working with fabric and not a highly constructed garment.  If you have a suit jacket, I'd advise you to dry clean it, or any other complex piece of clothing of wool or silk or linen that says dry clean.

Q: What is boiled wool?

A:  Wool fibers are generally very curly/kinky.  In addition, wool, like human hair, has little scales on it.  Wool's scales are larger than human hair's scales, so if wool is packed together, the scales and the kinks slide against each other and then catch, almost like little fishooks.  It is this action that causes wool things to shrink when you wash them in the machine.

At any rate, the property of wool that will compact it to a certain point is used in making real wool felt and other products that you would want a dense and very warm fabric for.  You can accelerate the compression of wool by adding soap and hot water to it; boiling will also accelerate the compression.

So boiled wool is basically wool that has been felted to some extent, making a stronger and thicker fabric.

Q: I have a square of wool that I washed: it's _wonderfully_ soft now, but it is not shiny as it was before I washed it. As it was a scrap purchased for the purposes of experimentation, I'm not distressed - but I would like to understand the process that makes it shiny better.

A: There are three possibilities:

Q: I notice you did not go into leather pants in your description - though I suppose I wouldn't wear such to work so I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised if others would not either.

A: Leather pants, and other specialty fashion items, have different fitting rules. However, you should still be sure to avoid the radial wrinkle situation.

Q: Belts are another option for holding up pants - not as certain as suspenders, but they can give you a waist if you happen to have misplaced your natural one and they are somewhat more - er - 'conservative' than suspenders.

A: I'd assumed that everyone would wear a belt if wearing slacks, so I didn't mention it.  Shame on me.
All material (c) 1999 Cynthia Virtue Email Author with comments
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