How to Take Better Care of Your Handmade Clothes
Last week, I pulled my favorite Beatrix blouse out of the dryer and instantly started muttering four letter words. My lovely rayon shirt had inadvertently made a trip through a hot tumble dry cycle, when I’d normally line dry it. Now my beloved top is easily an inch or two shorter than before and my heart is a little bit broken.
Most handmade garments require a serious time commitment to sew. Your precious free time is spent carefully stitching up side seams and attaching bias binding. You press every wrinkle flat and tenderly hang it up to ensure it looks its best when worn. And there’s nothing worse than feeling like all of your careful handiwork has gone to waste because of haphazard care.
Since I’ve started sewing most of my own clothing, I’ve been really careful about how I wash and dry my handmade clothing (well, except for the Beatrix incident). Here’s what I do to make my home-sewn duds last:
Prewashing my fabrics is a step I’ve only just started being diligent about. Previously, I'd carelessly throw all of my fabric into the same cold wash cycle or, embarrassingly, not prewash at all. Then all of my handmade clothing started to shrink considerably, even when washed in cold water.
For most sturdy wovens and knits I recommend prewashing with warm water and drying on a medium tumble dry setting. I wash my fabrics separately or with other fabrics of like colors. I never prewash my fabric with my jeans or jackets out of fear that my zippers, Velcro, and buttons might damage the new fibers.
If your fabric can only be dry-cleaned (like silk or wool), you can skip the prewash step. But for everything else, prewash the fabrics with the intention of shrinking it as much as possible before you sew your garment.
Note: The care instructions for our fabric may differ slightly from what you're reading here. Those instructions conservatively account for fabric bleeding and shrinkage. If you're at all worried about damaging your fabric, always lean towards a colder wash and a gentler tumble dry cycle (or ideally, line dry your fabric).
Wash It Less
In general, a garment will wear better when it’s washed less. Plus, washing your clothing less is better for the environment and will cut down on your water and detergent costs!
I wear most of my hand-sewn blouses and dresses three times before washing them as long as nothing was spilled on them and I wasn’t sweating a lot that day. I wear jeans, skirts and trousers four to five times before washing. I wear my lounge clothing (leggings, sweatshirts, workout gear) once or twice before washing.
If you typically wash your garments after every wear, this may be a tough habit to get into. But trust me, your handmade garments will last much longer and you’ll spend less time doing laundry!
Drying your garments on the hottest, longest dryer setting wrecks havoc on your handmade garments. It can be tempting to crank the temperature up to high and use the “more dry” setting, but your garments will fall apart after months if you do.
Unless I’m washing towels or blankets, my dryer temperature setting always stays on “low" and the length setting is always somewhere between the “less dry” and “energy preferred” setting. Once the buzzer goes off I check the garments and pull out those that feel dry. I’ll let the remaining damp garments dry for a few more minutes before I pull everything out.
Overdrying your garments can not only cause serious shrinkage, but it also breaks down the fibers of the fabric. If you have the space and the time, I recommend line drying as much of your handmade clothing as possible.
Immediately Put Your Garments Away
I’ve recently overcome the bad habit of letting my freshly laundered garments languish in the dryer for days after they’ve been cleaned. When I was ready to put them away, I’d have to run the dryer on a short cycle to release all of the creases that were a result of my laziness. This simple habit made my garments wear out even faster, simply because more dryer time equals more wear and tear on fabric.
As soon as your dryer is finished, remove your garments and fold or hang them up. Woven garments should be hung, while super stretchy knit garments should be folded as they can stretch out on a hanger. Make sure your closet has enough space to slide your hangers back and forth so garments don’t wrinkle being shoved up against other clothing.
If you don’t store your clothing in dark closet, be extra careful to keep delicate fibers out of direct sunlight. Silk, in particular, breaks down under UV rays, so it’s best to store these garments in garment bags if your clothing receives a lot of rays when being stored.
While these four steps may seem obvious, it’s easy to form bad habits around how we wash and wear our clothing. You spend so much time creating these stunning creations that it only makes sense that they receive the best care possible. Plus, you’ll notice your ready-to-wear garments will have longer usable lives, too!
Do you have other wash-and-wear tips to extend the longevity of your handmade clothing? Leave them in the comments below! And to receive this content straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below.
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