It's laundry day and in your laundry basket is a delicate vintage crocheted skirt and your favorite linen top. It's also time to wash your favorite jeans and denim smock. But, how? You care about these pieces and don't want to damage them. In this 4-part manual (5-part if you count this introduction), you'll learn the basics of caring for different fiber and garment types. The manual is divided into Cotton, Linen, Wool, Silk sections. You'll also learn random facts about the plant or animal that the fiber is from and surprising knowledge about how things are done in the textile industry. There are also plenty of things I won't mention for brevity's sake or oversight. I completely welcome comments and suggestions. Please share your stories and learning experiences–we've all had a few that many others can learn from.
In addition to this handy manual, I'll be teaching a workshop on Saturday, September 17 at E.M. Wolfman Books in Downtown Oakland on this topic. It's called Long Live Cloth and is organized in collaboration with Jennifer Williams maker of the workshop and workbook Have a Creative Practice. Learn more and sign up here.
Why it matters
Of course I love fibers, but I also know too much to not share this information. To put it simply, fibers are grown at the expense of the land it grows on and of those who grow it. Textiles are made with no regard to rivers, heavily polluting drinking water. Clothing is manufactured at the expense of sewers' wellbeing. People–mostly women and children–work for an industry committed to keeping them in poverty. It's very grim, especially when we think of how quickly we consume fashion. I highly recommend that everyone who wears clothes watch The True Cost available on Netflix right now and read Overdressed probably available at your local library, but definitely available online for less than $12.
With that said, I'm writing this manual to answer basic questions and curiosities about garment care because, if you're anything like me, you do care about your clothes and making them last.
Getting started: what you'll need
- bucket or pail
- natural detergent
- mesh drying disc/rack
Because I'm an aesthetically driven person, I find that I enjoy activities more if they entail using objects I find beautiful or visually interesting. For this reason, I recommend finding a pail or bucket you really like. Obviously this isn't necessary. A pail without a hole will do, but why not have fun?
When choosing a detergent keep in mind that whatever you use will eventually end up back in our water. Natural alternatives are easily available in stores and online and do the job just as well as chemical-rich alternatives. We don't recommend using bleach, ever. It's a corrosive material and a known contributor to water pollution. For whites we recommend safer products such as Oxo Brite.
You'll want to have a few hangers and a mesh drying device to help you with the drying stage. A towel can also be handy in addition to or instead of the mesh device.
THE FUNDAMENTAL BASICS
1. Heat and Abrasion: Clothes age over time. This statement feels true but what does that actually mean? When we really think about how we wear, use and wash our clothes it's actually the washing that ages it most. Heat and agitation/abrasion age fibers more than anything else, especially the two combined. Washing clothes in cold water and air drying will significantly extend the life of your garments.
2. Spot treating makes a big difference. Skip the heavy cycle and harsh chemicals that also deteriorate fibers by pre-treating and pre-soaking.
3. Hand-flattening Wrinkles: Sure, all this stuff takes more time, but not that much really. Some of these steps will save you time, like hand-flattening the wrinkles of a wet garment before hanging to dry in order to avoid ironing. I promise, hand-flattening wrinkles takes no more than 60 seconds!
4. Find a good place in your home to do these things. You don't need the worlds sunniest laundry room to develop good garment care practices. Hand-washing can be done anywhere, especially if a towel is placed under the bucket/pail to avoid splashing. Find a room with good air flow for drying. I find that my bathroom is perfect for this since it has a good draft and the dripping garments won't damage the floor. Develop system that works for you so that you don't have to wash too many delicates at once. It may be that if you do laundry at a laundromat, you're bringing some things home still wet.
These fundamental basics should send you off in the right direction. Changing habits are hard, so be patient with yourself (and this manual). Also, it's ok to cherry-pick. Adopt the tips that work for you, and keep an open mind about the rest. If you're feeling inspired come join me on 9/17 at E.M. Wolfman Bookshop for Long Live Cloth where we'll dive deeper into the care of fibers and garments. Thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment if you have a thought or suggestion.