The Nature And Nurture of Sweater Fabrics
Whether chosen for warmth, fashion, or both, sweaters represent a large wardrobe investment for most women and many men, especially in geographic regions with distinct seasons.
Therefore, it is important not only to make wise fabric choices when purchasing a sweater, but to know what to do, and what to avoid doing, in order to keep your investment looking and feeling as good as it can over time.
Depending on the fabric and the care you give it, sweaters can present many problems, some of which can be avoided, but all of which can be mitigated. These include pilling, stretching out of shape, shrinking, tightening, snagging and odor retention.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM VARIOUS FABRICS
Cashmere, especially if high quality, wears well and keeps its shape, but is susceptible to pilling. Although it does well with careful hand washing, it will last longer with professional dry cleaning.
Cotton knit sweaters come in a wide quality range. They don't pill, but shape retention is an issue. Tightly knit sweaters hold their shape better, snag less and don't unravel as easily as looser knits. Watch for brittle yarns, which tend to break. If washed, remove from dryer slightly damp and air dry for a softer touch.
Mohair and angora sweaters are low-maintenance with only two major enemies - heat and moisture! Machine washing and tumble drying will shrink them to child size. Hand-washing and laying the sweater flat, adjusting it to correct size, will keep its shape.
Many stains can be colorless on fabric when they initially occur. However, time, heat, and oxygen can transform an invisible stain into a visible one.
Merino, other than snagging and moderate pilling, presents no major problems. It is a very soft, comfortable wool, with tightly wound yarn that keeps its shape and size. This fabric comes in a variety of beautiful colors.
Basic wool sweaters, including Shetlands, are not very soft, tend to stretch at the collar, waist and cuffs, and pill easily. They can still be maintained and last a long time if pills are carefully removed and the sweater is kept moth-free and steam-blocked in the finishing process.
Wool blends are the choice of women who prefer a lightweight, soft fabric with a feminine appearance. The higher quality the wool the better it looks and lasts. Dry cleaning is recommended for retaining size and texture.
Chenille sweaters are the most problematic of all. They easily stretch out of shape and stay that way. They are highly prone to snagging and are extremely water sensitive, resulting in rings or fabric de-lustering.
Silk and rayon knits are very popular sweater fabrics these days, but they present three serious drawbacks - dimensional instability, snagging and odor retention. Some odors cannot be removed even with hand-washing or dry cleaning.
Fabric pilling is an inescapable fact of sweater life. Acrylics pill faster than wool and the pills are harder to remove. Reduced friction = reduced pilling, so avoid rubbing where you can, e.g., under a jacket or coat.
Sweaters with ornamentation, such as beads, sequins, crystals, painted designs, leather or piping are best left to the care of a professional drycleaner. Following care labels, which are often wrong, doesn't always work. Prevention is easier than cure, so shop at a reputable store and ask the manager what he or she knows about that brand and its care instructions. Remember, spotcleaning (which should be done right after it is stained) and hand-washing are always options.)