My mother is infamous for being eminently thorough, brutally efficient and highly knowledgeable in the pursuit of clothes washing. Indeed house guests at my parent’s abode soon learned that leaving one’s clothes and towel in the bathroom in preparation for a shower could well mean having them whisked into the wash before they had even be used. If clothes washing were a blood sport my mother would be the victor.
While I didn’t inherit this rabid laundry habit – I have been known to delay doing washing until I’m down to wearing bikini bottoms instead of knickers – I do have a lot of clothes that I want to look after. With a wardrobe full of silk, wool, linen and the occasional bit of tulle (and, shameful admission, it IS because of the Carrie Bradshaw opening credit skirt), looking after delicate fabrics is highly relevant to my interests.
The interesting thing that I have learned in a lifetime of buying highly impractical clothes is that you should always read the label, but also that the label doesn’t always tell the truth. For instance, as my mother, vice president of clothes washing Inc has drilled into me; dry clean only doesn’t always mean dry clean only. Often you can get away with gentle hand washing. And those little net bags that you can put your delicates into the washing machine in? You really do need one.
Here is a handy guide to looking after your best things.
Wool – Wool can be tricky, what with all the potential shrinking, pilling and mothball riddling. To keep pilling at bay you should invest in a good comb, though a pumice stone or razer will work just as well in getting rid of those pills. Wool should be soaked in cold to tepid water with mild detergent, rinsed, rolled and and laid out flat to dry. Don’t hang it on a clothes line or it might lose its shape, and definitely don’t tumble dry unless you fancy midriff baring winter woollies. To prevent moths attacking your woollen clothes it’s best to keep them in air tight storage. Cedar hangers (if you must hang your woollens) help and you can make up your own natural moth repellents too.
Silk – Ah silk. The fluttering fabric of dreams. Most silk pieces will stipulate dry cleaning only and you should do so on your favourite things, or the ones with very bossy labels. Otherwise you can make like laundry and cleaning expert Shannon Lush, and use body temperature water with some el cheapo shampoo to wash and rinse the fabric. Dry in the shade rather than somewhere exposed to sun and wind which can damage the fabric. Only iron silk if you absolutely have to. Which, really, is my motto for life.
Linen – Linen is a super strong natural fibre that ought to be looked after. Linen creases easily, so to combat this you should iron linen when slightly damp so to get out the creases. Most linen can be hand washed, gently and with mild detergents. White linen can take a bit of heat in the water but coloured linen prefers a more tepid temperature. Linen ages well and if looked after properly gets a lovely sheen (from fibres in the fabric reflecting the light) after washing. Linen palazzo pants for all!
Tulle – To maintain the crispness of tulle it’s best to wash it gently with soap and water (test out a scrap of the fabric first, if possible). Avoid tumble drying tulle as it might dry it out. Instead tulle should be drip dried. Tulle should be hung up when not in use, and - handy hint alert – if it gets crinkled just spray it with water and shake it out.
Leather – Treat a leather skirt/jacket/skort the way that you would a couch. With tender loving care, a good leather protector and the occasional VIP treatment at a specialist drycleaner. I prefer leather lived in and loved, but a going over with a wet wash cloth and a few drops of leather conditioner will make your leather goods last practically forever. Which is all one could hope for in a loved one, yeah?