Reader Request: Favorite Fibers

favorite fibers

Becky dropped this into the Suggestion Box:

I found your discussion of ponte very useful and I’m wondering what other fibers you seek out and/or avoid. For example, I’ve noticed that many brands label certain rayon blends as machine washable but said garments quickly fade and pill, even on the delicate cycle. I’ve learned the hard way to avoid buying them. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that some (usually natural) fibers/fabrics that are labeled “dry clean only” actually hold up well to machine washing on the delicate cycle (and air drying).  … Do you have any fiber-related rules of thumb that you follow when selecting clothes? 

Fibers are surprisingly personal, I’ve found. With sensitivities, allergies, budgetary concerns, and upkeep all playing into fiber choices, we’ve all got our own favorites and nemeses. My favorite fibers depend heavily on which area of my body I’m clothing, so I’ll break it down for ya:

For scarves

Silk: As I’ve said approximately 23 trillion times, silk is a magical fiber that will keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. People tell me it comes from silkworms, but I’m inclined to believe that it comes from A MAGICAL FAIRYLAND. My house is old and drafty, but even on finger-freezingly cold days, winding a silk scarf around my neck warms me instantly. Silk is my ideal scarf fiber because it is a 4-season option: Silk scarves in summer feel weightless and breezy, look effortless and chic.

Cashmere: I’m cold most of the time, but I DO refrain from wearing my cashmere scarves in August. However, this fiber is second only to silk in warming properties and just as soft. It’s got more loft, too, if you’d prefer something weighty or bulky for proportional reasons. I vastly prefer sweater-knit cashmere scarves, as they feel softer against the skin and trap body heat more effectively.

For tops

Cotton: I sweat constantly and hate dry cleaning. Therefore flattering, versatile cotton tops are my Holy Top Grails. I am most comfortable in cotton because I can wear it without worry: If I pit out my top, it’ll just get thrown into the laundry. If I spill something on it, I can glob some Palmolive onto it, wait a few days, and wash. Cotton with a hit of spandex can look a bit more sleek and polished than 100%, so blends work, too.

Merino wool: This fiber comes in a distant second. Very distant, in fact. But if I’m considering a non-cotton option, I gravitate toward the graceful drape and soft knit of Merino in cardigans and pullovers alike. It’s definitely warm, but in thinner weaves can work year-round, especially if you work in Icebox Office conditions during the summer.

For pants

Stretch twill: Every office job I ever held had a “business casual” dress code, so I never had to invest in lined wool or drapey crepe dress pants. And that means I’ve been faithful to stretch twill since my early twenties. It’s just polished enough to work in most office environments, but just casual enough to transition beautifully to weekend wear.

Ponte: Well, I’ve got a whole love letter to ponte written right here! At this point in my style evolution, the majority of my pants are slim-fitting, and my ponte pairs are stretchy and comfortable yet still look more structured and polished than regular leggings.

For skirts

Wool blends: For many years, my favorite skirt in the whole wide world was a wool blend Banana Republic full skirt. Skirts are, by nature, extremely well ventilated so wool can be done in all but the hottest, most humid weather. And I’ve found that smooth-knit wool blends are durable, heavy, relatively wrinkle resistant, and work well in both formal and casual contexts. Of course “smooth-knit” is essential: Thick, fluffy wool weaves will look a bit odd on a hot July weekend.

Jersey knit: I’ve come to love the drape and elegance of a jersey maxi skirt, and have a few that are arty and asymmetric, too. This is definitely a casual fiber for skirts, but it works for my lifestyle.

For dresses

Polyester: Oh, I know. But I’m just being honest. Polyester/spandex blends are comfortable, drape beautifully, refuse to wrinkle even at gunpoint, and are eternally washable. Vintage polyester seems to have more stink-retaining properties than the stuff you’ll find on the racks at Target.

Cotton blends: Straight-up cotton dresses seldom work for me. Voile is such a lovely idea, but in practice it wads, wrinkles, and attracts absolutely appalling amounts of lint. Cotton blends, however, seem to be less linty. Most of my dresses are cotton/spandex blends, but cotton mixes well with silk, linen, and many other fibers, too. And so long as it remains both absorbent and washable, it’s A-OK by me.

Rayon: Most of my twirly, floaty dresses are crafted from rayon, which has some of the fluidity of silk but is (generally) machine washable. Rayon is generally pretty thin, so this group of dresses is worn in warm weather.

Fibers that I avoid

Linen: Unless it’s a linen KNIT, I avoid this fiber altogether. I am too tightly wound to deal with the rumpled look that goes hand in hand with linen. It feels great on my body, but the wrinkling drives me batso.

Silk tops: Unless it’s a silk KNIT, I avoid buying and wearing silk tops. They’ve got the warm in winter/cool in summer thing going on, sure, but they also excel at showing pit stains. I’d feel more self-conscious in a long-sleeved silk blouse than I would in a cotton blend tube top. No lie.

Straight-up wool: I’ve got a few garments, including a sweater dress purchased in Iceland, and they are marvelously warm. They are also so unbearably itchy that I can hardly sit still. I stick to softer blends and weaves.

Becky also had some questions about care instructions, and I am very loathe to generalize since disobeying those cryptic little symbols on the garment tag can lead to disaster. So here’s what I’ll say: Always follow garment care instructions if you have any doubts at all, if a garment is delicate or valuable, or if you cannot risk any shape shifting or damage whatsoever. Just do what the tag says and rest easy.

If you’re willing to experiment a bit and live with potentially ruinous results, the basic rule of thumb is that natural fibers can be hand-washed in cold water and hung/laid flat to dry. This treatment is unlikely to destroy anything cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, silk, rayon, or other plant- or animal-derived material. Most polyester is washable, too, despite care instructions UNLESS it is blended with something exotic, has loads of embellishment, or any other mitigating factors.

And that is my extremely wussy advice on garment care instruction rebellion!

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2012-05-01 06:01:33.

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48 Responses to “Reader Request: Favorite Fibers”

  1. Patience

    I’m a mostly a cotton girl. I like silk scarves, but they make me feel too dressed up, so I also have a lot of cotton ones. Tops–cotton. Pants-stretch twill, denim, and I like courderoy–I don’t care what anybody says. I have a fantastic pair of stretch wool pants that I splurged on years ago. Linen is the WORST pants fabric. It’s like it makes your cellulite more noticeable, somehow. Probably because it has no firmness to it. Linen is lovely for sheets, though.

    Skirts: Cotton
    Dresses: cotton. I have a few sundresses in a tech knit with built in sunblock. I haven’t worn them yet, so I’m curious how they’ll feel in our hot summers.

  2. Sylvia @ 40PlusStyle

    It’s always great to read about others’ preferences for fabrics. I personally don’t like polyester at all as it just does not breathe. Especially here in Singapore, that is vital. Silk is a far better material for tops and since no sleeves are necessary, quite manageable. Otherwise I’m a huge cotton and jersey fan and wool for winter.

  3. Becky

    Thanks, Sal, for answering my question! I never would have thought to break it down by garment type: brilliant! I was thinking about fibers at the time because I’d starting doing more shopping online and, since I can’t see or feel the garment, found myself paying more attention to descriptions of fiber/fabric and getting confused by some of the fabrics out there (viscose? modal? tencel? what in the world is that?!?). Anyway, lots of food for thought here. I look forward to reading the responses.

    • Alison

      As someone who was also long confused by these terms, here’s how I’ve come to understand it:
      Viscose, modal, and tencel are all types of rayon (as are most fabrics labeled “bamboo”, though I’ve read the FTC is cracking down on that). Rayon is the name of the fabric that has been processed from cellulose (ie, plant-based). The process can vary, and those often lead to different names (like cupro, tencel, and viscose), but they are all rayon fiber.

      And, as many people below already explained, fiber and weave are independent — so even though I’ve personally only seen modal as a knit, there’s no reason that it couldn’t be used in, say, a twill weave.

  4. Kristina

    I don’t like itchy wool, but pretty much wear anything else. I guess I don’t really mind being rumpled…

    I do have to be careful about what detergents I use, though. I’ve got a perfume allergy, and it may be just me, but it seems like detergents and fabric softeners are more highly perfumed than they used to be. Last week, I had to hightail it out of the gym because one of the people exercising near me had so much fabric softener in her clothes, my sinuses were shutting down!

    • Erika A

      Me too! My throat gets scratchy if I’m next to someone in the supermarket who washed their clothes with Tide!

      What do you use on your clothes? I use soap nuts and powdered borax, works on everything!

  5. BifocalAndRippedJeans

    Love your blog and read it daily 🙂 fabric care is a passion of mine – odd I know. Anyway, just wanted to add a bit about silk care: Silk has a special ‘hand’ and sound’ called “scroop” really. You know, that rustling slightly crisp feeling of a silk garment as it brushes against itself? That’s scroop.water destroys scroop. So…if you want to preserve that rustling crispness, don’t wet your silk. Hope that’s useful.

    • Cheryl

      I’m a silk painter and am surprised that I’ve never heard that word used to describe silk. Silk actually takes quite well to being washed, that is if you want to fiber to have both a softer hand and enhanced sheen with each washing. Unfortunately, silk also releases its color very readily, which is why it should never be scrubbed to remove a stain. I wash pretty much everything and rarely have a problem, but I’m a textile artist. One of the reasons I wrote my book, The Secondhand Wardrobe, was because I wanted other people to know how to avoid the dry cleaner, and the book has an appendix that details how to do just that.

    • Trystan (the CorpGoth)

      Fiber & weave are different things, & each one affects how a garment can be treated. Only some weaves of silk “rustle” — taffeta & dupioni, for example. Charmuse & china silk don’t, they slide & slip. You’ll find taffeta in a structured garment like a ballgown or a suit, & charmuse in lingerie. You can wash the lingerie in cold water & the silk will retain its luster, but you must dry-clean the ballgown & suit!

      • sarah

        Trystan is right! Also, you should NEVER wash a silk chiffon. Unless it has already been pre-washed quite a few times (and you can tell: the texture is slightly nubbier/more matte than that pristine smooth sheerness of silk chiffon), washing (even hand-washing) silk chiffon WILL result in shrinking – and not even shrinking; the garment will usually also usually become distorted. Be warned!

        • Cheryl

          Yes, of course there are always exceptions to what can and can’t be washed based on weave, what’s inside the garment (like a shrinkage-prone interfacing), and color-fastness. Maybe we can agree that “dry clean only” tags are over-used to the point of extreme consumer confusion.

  6. Cynthia

    Scarves: rayon. I have a lot of soft, spongy, loose woven rayon scarves that I’ve been finding lately, and I really like them.
    Tops: Silk or cotton. Or viscose. I haven’t had too many pilling problems with better-quality viscose tops.
    Pants: Cotton. Or cotton.
    Skirts: Cotton, linen, blends. I always wear something under skirts, and my upper body is where I tend to get hot/sweaty, so skirt fiber doesn’t matter as much.
    Dresses: Cotton, silk, viscose. Basically the same as tops.

    Here in the South I’ve pretty much decided that I don’t need to own ANY wool garments, except maybe for a few lightweight merino or cashmere cardigans. There’s no point to a wool skirt or wool pants or blazer here — there are about 2 months when we can wear them comfortably.

    I avoid polyester like the plague, because when the hot Southern sun shines on a polyester knit, you do not want to be inside of it. Plus, a lot of poly knits feel like bathing suit material to me. I tried one of the much-hyped dresses from Karina and that’s what it felt like (although the print was very pretty). I haven’t bought a woven polyester blouse since I was, like, 12, because there was one favorite hot pink polyester blouse that I had and every time I wore it I’d come home stinking, deodorant notwithstanding. I was traumatized for life.

  7. Genevieve

    I have never attempted to handwash a wool garment again after a disastrous experiment with my favorite black turtleneck in a sink with woolite. It shrunk to toddler size. Dry clean only for that stuff, friends.

  8. ParisGrrl

    If there was a Twelve Step program for cashmere addiction, I’d probably be a candidate for it. While dry-cleaning is often recommended (or tag-insisted) by the manufacturers, I’ve found that hand washing with a gentle liquid soap followed by towel and flat air drying keeps them soft and in great shape.

  9. Anna

    Several years ago I heard on good authority (sorry—can’t remember which authority, but it seemed quite plausible) that the dry-cleaning industry has some sort of lock on the garment industry, resulting in the proliferation of “dry clean only” labels on garments that could easily be washed by hand or even by machine on the delicate cycle.

    We do need to consider that linings, waistbands, stitching, and other construction details also affect washability. I have a thrifted Putamayo skirt of lovely cotton that was evidently stitched with thread that shrank in the wash. I’m still deciding whether to remake it as a skirt (experienced sewist here) or use the fabric for something else.

    That same speaker said that any natural fiber can be safely washed by hand, just as Sally says above. Hey, we wash our hair, don’t we—and that’s an animal fiber.

  10. Katharine

    I do tend to like cotton and cotton blends the best of all. I REALLY like cotton-wool or cotton-silk blend knits, a lot.

    Mostly, my preference of fibre centres on “it feels good”. I will never like polyester, because it just feels yucky. (I particularly hate that soft sheeny polyester jersey stuff that was for a while all the rage for sort of casual dressy separates for a while — EW that stuff feels so horrible!) I have trouble with a lot of wool, even some cheaper cashmeres, because they itch or prickle on my skin. I like old, well-worn, second-hand linen and hemp fibres, because nothing beats the soft, languid drape of perfectly worn-in linen or hemp (and it no longer wrinkles the same way, either) — but new, both are often faintly prickly to me, too.

    Rayon is nice, but some rayons can shrink surprisingly in the wash — more than most other fibres. Silk — well, like you, I find it really doesn’t breathe that well, and it also can float and stick in annoying ways.

    As for washing, I’ll wash almost anything, if necessary in cold, delicate cycle, and in a mesh bag, unless it’s leather, embroidered/embellished, fringed, or has a lining or other interfacing/tailoring elements. Or if it’s dyed a particularly vivid colour that I don’t own anything else in, and which I don’t trust — it’s less wasteful to just wash the single hot-purple item that might run by itself in the sink than to give it its own laundry cycle in the machine. This has worked out fine so far. The “dry clean only” labels are a CYA move on the part of clothing manufacturers, and I’m far too lazy to do regular dry cleaning runs; I usually take a bunch of clothes in seasonally and that’s it.

  11. D

    Hmm, I guess I’m not super picky (or observant…maybe that is the problem) when it comes to my fibers UNLESS I am knitting with them. In that case, I know I avoid yarn that has a high acrylic content.

    When it comes to new clothing that is not knit by me, I do think I avoid polyester most of the time. And I won’t wear my itchier wool sweaters without an undershirt.

  12. Aziraphale

    I’m mostly a cotton girl. The most useful cotton for bottoms of all kinds is, of course, denim, which really is usually a cotton blended with some kind of stretch fibre. For me, nothing beats the look of denim, and it’s wrinkle resistant, durable and comfortable as well. I’ve never worked in an environment where (smart) denim was not allowed, so it’s always been a big part of my wardrobe, for pants and skirts at least. I don’t own a denim jacket.

    I don’t own any pants that aren’t denim, unless you count leggings. I have quite a few skirts made of other materials, though — mostly blended cottons of some kind or other, but also wool. I love the look of wool, but I have a slight allergy to it, so for years I avoided it like the plague. But recently I discovered that I can wear a wool skirt with tights, which is awesome! The tights protect my skin and all is well.

    For tops I’m mostly a cotton gal, too, although they are often blended cottons. My knit tops often have some percentage of bamboo in them, which makes them wonderfully soft but more delicate. Getting a washing machine with a hand-wash cycle solved this problem neatly. My woven tops (shirts) are more likely to be 100% cotton, although some have a bit of stretch in them. My favourite tops ever are made of a “superwashed” viscose blend, and even after several years of washing, they are still blackest black, not pilled, and new-looking. If I could find such a top again, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    When it comes to washing instructions, I generally follow the rules on the tags, except that I use the handwash cycle on my washer to do my handwashing. Best investment ever!

  13. Kat

    I am so with you on the merino wool. One of my biggest gripes of the past 5 years has been the disappearance of slim fitting merino sweater options (turtlenecks! v-necks! crew necks!) from J Crew, Banana Republic, Land’s End etc. and their replacement with cashmere blends. Cashmere may feel lush against the skin, but it pills and wears so much more quickly than merino. I have ribbed merino turtlenecks that I bought in 2000 that still look fabulous. Bring it back!!!!!

    Scarves: Silk for all the reasons you listed, but also super light weight cotton and cotton/rayon blends – the great big, humungous shawl sized ones. They drape well in the summer, perking up plain t-shirts and dresses and then double as light weight wraps for chilly offices.

    Tops: Merino wool is my #1 love, followed by knit silk and polyester or rayon blends. I truly love cotton if it’s t-shirt material. Button down cotton shirts look great, but I just can’t deal with ironing.

    Pants & skirts: I’m a sucker for wool, it lasts forever. In the summer I gravitate toward cotton blends since my uniform requires chino style pants. I also actually love linen and linen/cotton blends in the summer. I don’t mind the wrinkles and I love the drape and light-weight comfort. They’r just so flawy!! In general, I try for natural fabrics because I think they pill less and last longer.

    Dresses: I prefer knits — be they cotton or wool blends. I loathe ironing and think lots of polyester pulls in odd places on my frame.

  14. Lorena

    I could not agree more.. silk is magical 🙂
    Have you tried any fabric made of bamboo ?
    I have seen very little of it, mostly in underwear and jeans – it holds up really well.

    • pope suburban

      Modal! I love modal. It makes the most amazing sheets. I got a set at some run-of-the-mill bed and bath store, and they’re my favorite thing. They’re wearing really well too. They’re cool in summer, warm and cuddly in winter (Well, with a blanket’s help). I’ve also had some modal-blend clothes, and while they tend to be less hardy than those sheets, they still wear quite well.

  15. Ann V

    I know this is picky, but as someone who sews and spends a lot of time thinking about fibers, I have to point out that ponte and stretch twill are types of fabrics and not fibers.

    Ponte is usually made from polyester or rayon/rayon blends. Poly ponte is firmer and rayon ponte has a softer hand and better drape.

    Stretch twill could be made from any number of fibers with some spandex. You can blend polyester, rayon, cotton and even wool with spandex to get a stretch twill. All twill means is that the weave on the right side of the fabric is going diagonally. Even denim is a type of twill. Also, twill fabrics tend to shrink more than other fabric types.

    So if you see ponte or stretch twill, you’ll still want to be sure to check the fiber content of those fabrics.

  16. KL

    I love merino wool and cashmere for winter tops, and cotton of course for summer. I’m also a big fan of silk EVERYTHING (especially scarves and dresses). Big thanks are owed to my classical Asian genes for low-sweatiness; I never wear deodorant and have never pitted out a piece of clothing. I have one rayon/poly dress that fits very snugly in the armholes, which gets sweaty but dries clear and odorless.

    My parents always say that silk is washable by definition, and may it is in China… but here in the US, I’ve found that silk prints aren’t always colorfast. Just because the FABRIC is washable doesn’t mean that the CLOTHING is.

  17. tiny junco

    Great post! The better you know your fibres, the more you will be comfy, stylish, and avoid laundering traumas! With the internet, it’s quite easy to search on your fibre name to come up with all kinds of good info. And since different fibres have different characteristics as to sheen, how they soak up color, etc. your choice of fibres really influences your personal style.

    I would like to point out that Ponte de Roma is not a fibre, it’s a weave – like crepe, boucle, twill, gabardine, and so on. In the last couple of weeks alone i’ve seen ponte de roma made up in 100% poly, poly with either 2% or 4% spandex, poly/rayon/spandex, and vicose/rayon/spandex (the last blend had the most scrumptious hand!).

    Of course, the fibre the ponte de roma is made of will affect it’s qualities. Spandex will add stretch, poly will add shine and durability, rayon and viscose will make for a matte ponte with more breathability.

    Hope this helps! steph

  18. T.

    I have become a cashmere addict in the past two years. I handwash it using Euclan (available for purchase on Amazon if you can’t find it locally). Just fill up a clean sink with room temp water, add a dollop of Euclan, soak the sweater for 15-30 minutes, then remove it, squeeze it (being careful not to twist or stretch), roll it in a towel to remove all excess water, and then lay it flat to dry. With Euclan, you don’t need to rinse! Just soak and then dry. The cashmere comes out nice and fluffy, and I have had no shrinking issues (water temp is probably a factor in how much something shrinks).

  19. Anne

    I love this subject, most likely because I am a huge fiber snob. It also doesn’t hurt that I studied textiles as an undergrad and that our department was sponsored by Cotton Incorporated. It will be 80 degrees today and probably 100 by the end of the month. I will try to live out the summer in floaty cotton clothes. I buy cotton jersey dresses when they go on sale at Garnet Hill and Anthropologie. My deviation to this rule is the collection of Pilayo pieces that I’ve slowly been gathering from Athleta. They seem to do a great job of wicking sweat away and they drape beautifully. I don’t wear many scarves in the summer time but the few I do have are all rayon.

    In the winter I seek out wool and cashmere sweaters. I have great luck finding good quality sweaters in consignment shops. I wear brushed twill, corduroy, and denim bottoms mostly. I wear a scarf almost everyday in the winter. I almost feel undressed without one. I have two wool, one cashmere, and the rest I think are rayon.

    The only fiber I really can’t stand is acrylic. I notice that it’s creeping into everything lately, especially sweaters.

    I throw almost every thing I own into the washing machine. I found a really good , environmentally friendly dry cleaner and everything else goes there.

  20. Trudy Blue

    I love wool with a passion—in store bought clothes and for knitting—merino, cashmere, alpaca, tweedy old sheep wool, all of it. And I handwash all my wool except for the most highly structured or tailored pieces, like dresses and pants. If it’s just a simple knit, then there’s no shrinking or other problem as long as you don’t use hot water or agitate the fibers. (And, obviously, no dryer.) Just squeeze the item in the soapy water, let it soak for a few minutes, squeeze the water out gently (no twisting), roll in a towel and then lay it flat to dry, shaping it as you go. I don’t like Woolite but wholeheartedly recommend Eucalan and Soak—two rinse-free washes that are sold in knitting shops and online. They’re pricey, but a little goes a long way and they can both be found in unscented versions. I discovered them when I started knitting, but now use them for any delicate, no matter the fiber or even when I just need to wash one item. Works great!

  21. Rachel W.

    Hooray fibers! I’m totally with you on those smooth wools for skirts, though I wonder if ‘worsted’ is a better word here than ‘smooth-knit’: with something like that, the smoothness comes in at the spinning process. The fibers in worsted wool are combed to be all parallel to each other, so the fabric is smooth and without loft or fuzz. A fuzzy sweater might be woolen, with the wool fibers in the yarn all carded to perpendicular to each other. That makes woolen fabrics (and knits) fuzzier and better at trapping air, and way warmer. Then again, it’s confusing because very few garments are woven with woolen yarn, and very few knitted goods are made with worsted yarn– and that’s leaving aside flannels, meltons, and coatings. Gah!

    Ach, I hope that wasn’t obnoxious!

    I want to love cotton knits for shirts and casual dresses, but since I’m cheap and picky, I always get frustrated when they out or pill. I’m starting to look for 100% cotton garments with tiny, tiny ribs– not the smooth, flat fabric of jersey knits. They seem to wear better! I’ve heard that jerseys are cheaper to produce because it takes way less thread to weave that flat fabric than it does to weave anything with a rib. Those wiley manufacturers!

  22. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    So funny — based on my outfit today, I had planned to write my own blog post about fiber snobbery! Coinky-dink or what? I’m wearing a silk charmuse skirt & a silk dupioni jacket. Oh yes, silk is my friend.

    Didn’t used to be that way tho. I used to not pay attention to the fabrics I wore. But sewing historical costumes made me focus on fibers & weaves more closely, & I started to learn differences. This made me realize that, oh, that’s why garment X is more comfortable than garment Y, even when it fits & flatters, it’s the fabric that doesn’t feel right.

    Now I can’t stand most 100% synthetics, with the exception of the modern stuff like modal (which is actually a form of rayon, which is cellulose, & thus not a true synthetic imnsho ;-)). I wear a lot of blends, such as cotton with a touch of spandex, & I even prefer leather & fabric shoes over vinyl & other plastics. It just feels & looks better to me. I’m not a total fiber snob, bec. style often comes first, but given the choice, I’ll go for the more natural fiber when possible.

  23. Mrs.M in MI

    Wool. Wool, wool, wool, wool, wool for the win. As a cold person in Michigan, I wear wool head-to-toe from November to May, with my tailored gabardine and crepe pieces staying in rotation all year.

    Second place goes to silk, because silk long underwear is lovely but so is a summer silk dress or skirt with a beautiful drape to it.

    Third place to cotton, which I wear a lot of in the summer because I bike to work and then can easily throw my sweaty dresses into the wash.

    I usually freshen up my dry clean only pieces with Dryel, and then I only have to take them to the dry cleaners once or twice a season. In the winter I am always wearing washable long underwear under my clothes so my wool stays protected.

  24. shannon

    My top fiber is actually wool. I bike everywhere, and wool layers by the likes of smartwool and ibex are a fabulous thing because they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer and I can get as sweaty as I like along the way and they don’t show the sweat or stink up the place at all. I think there’s a lot more “non-athletic” cuts these days than even just a few years ago (I have a lot of long-sleeve tees and leggings that are very lightweight for year round wear (or cold weather layering…this is MN, after all) and don’t look like traditional “cycling apparel” (which makes me gag!). Very functional fabric, and I love that I get multiple wears (even commuting) out of pieces between washings. Kind of a pain in the laundry department (gentle wash, hang dry), but so worth it. (I should admit I’m also not above altering the standard “crew” neckline to be a bit more feminine if it’s a wool shirt I plan to wear to work a lot). Also discovering the world of non-athletic wool (gabardine and I are fast friends), but a lot of that seems to be fairly itchy, which I will not tolerate. Also enjoy cotton for ease of wear and care, not a fan of polyester or rayon or other synthetics (they just feel…weird. slippery. I’m not a fan.). But wool is where it’s at!

    • Anne

      I love wool biking jerseys. I’ve bought two for my husband and I hope one day he takes a hint and returns the favor. I belong to a biking club and by the time I buy a new kit every year, I can’t justify buying any more biking clothes.

  25. Sadie

    Scarves – Silk, very fine wool blends, cut velvet.
    Tops – Cotton is my #1, as well, followed by viscose and rayon knits, silk crepe, and washed silk.
    Pants – When it comes to pant fabric I want my pants to be machine washable synthetics or blends from the 22nd century. That, or quality denim, preferably with a bit of stretch. I have two pairs of ponte leggings, a heavy rayon ponte from Talbots, that I greatly enjoy.
    Skirts – This is where I get indulgent – of course I like a nice ponte, or a stretch blend, but also crepes, taffetas, velvets.
    Dresses – Viscose knit is my favorite #1 dress fabric. So easy. Followed by a secretly flattering stretch bengaline (this gets used a lot in retro-repro clothes – looks woven, doesn’t wrinkle so much, stretches a bit.) And then, crepe again. Cottons, too.

    Some synthetics and synthetic blends do sneak in during thrifting – I avoid 100% polyester as a rule because my skin dislikes it. My skin also dislikes merino wool, which is wretchedly inconvenient in New Zealand as quality fine merino knits are everywhere. Linen and I don’t get along – with my long wavy hair it makes me look untidy, rather than cool and sleek, and I avoid it whenever possible.

    In my DREAMS I wear taffeta and velvet dresses. In these dreams I also have a personal valet.

  26. KiwiMichelle

    My wardrobe consists almost exclusively of natural fibres. Didn’t do it on purpose, just must be what I’ve gravitated towards over the years!

    I own lots and lots of merino….a product of living Down Under I guess. Even my cycling gear (including my knicks!) is merino.
    The lot gets chucked in our front load washer on a “wool” wash. No problems so far 🙂

    Second to merino in my wardrobe would be cotton, sometimes with a little spandex incoporated to give it shape.

    Shoes are exclusively leather…..I’ve got stinky feet and synthetic shoes just don’t agree with them.

  27. sarah

    I am also a sweaty gal and so I stick almost entirely to natural fibers: linen, cotton, silk, wool, cashmere for all of my garments (and hemp or bamboo if I can get my hands on it!). Though I don’t wear a lot of rayon, I don’t mind a linen-rayon blend to release wrinkles from my beloved linen. Perhaps my FAVORITE fabrication of all time is about a 50/50 cotton-silk in a lightweight shirting. I find that the combination of fibers lends a particular sheen (almost like sateen) and the hand is intoxicating for me. That said, I also live in the pacific northwest and so I sew with a lot of heavyweight tweeds and suiting fabrics made of wool and silk.

    I cannot afford dry cleaning. So. Here’s what I know: generally speaking, the more delicate or open the weave or knit of a garment, the more likely you are to experience shrinking/distorting when you wash. Do NOT hand-wash a silk chiffon garment unless shrinking doesn’t matter to you. Also, washing silk chiffon changes the hand – it becomes more opaque, and less smooth. Linen is hand-washable. Wool can be. A sweater can be blocked as it dries to help prevent shrinking. I have found that some shrinkage over time is common for both wool and cotton knits. I have not had trouble with woven (not knit) wool and cotton fibers shrinking. I use ecover for my handwashing and I always use cold water (which means cooler than tepid, but not so cold that your hands turn red). I add the ecover as fill the sink, swirl the water, and then add garments. Agitate lightly to make sure everything is submerged/getting wet. Let stand 3 minutes. If you do not want your sweaters to shrink, it is important not to leave them in water for more than 3 minutes – I set a timer. Rinse. Roll in a towel, then lay flat to dry or hang on a rack.

    Other issues to consider: linings are often made of acetate which is not washable and will sometimes start to shred upon washing. If you are going to wash a lined item, check the fabrication of the lining. If the lining is made of a different fabrication or even a different weave (same fabrication) than the shell of the garment, you also risk one side (shell or lining) of the equation shrinking while the other does not – this can result in distortion of the garment (so if your cotton twill jacket is lined with cotton voile, stop and consider if you want to risk it before you wash). Similarly, spandex fibers break down with heat, and should not be put in the dryer – that goes for your cotton tees with a bit of spandex in them. Dry on “air only” setting to preserve the elasticity of
    the spandex. Rayon can be machine washed. I believe tencel can, too, though I’ve only ever hand-washed it. Poly can be machine washed. I NEVER buy acrylic, because my experience is that it can only be dry-cleaned.

    As for your commenter who wrote in about rayon blends losing their colour and pilling, part of the problem there is that the fabric is a blend. Remember, all these different fibers also have different lengths (as well as reacting differently to water/heat/agitation/soap/etc); pilling is the result of fibers of different lengths rubbing against each other during the washing process. I’ve found that knit fabrics made from blends are the major offenders here. As far as colour leaching goes, that can be a property of the fiber or of the dye itself – certain colours (reds, purples, blacks, dark blues) are more likely to leach than others.

  28. Ericka

    I actually love polyester–great prints, nice drape, no wrinkles? Yes please. I love the idea of natural fibers but don’t always work in the execution in my life I find. I also admit I don’t sweat much; If I perspired more, I’d probably lean more that way. I also can’t do too much high maintenance clothing.

    By categories

    Scarves: Silk all the way. Also lighter wool blends if they have great prints

    Tops: Nothing too wrinkly, so not much pure cotton. I do rayon blends, silk blends, cotton blends, knits, vicose, modal

    Pants: Admittedly I don’t wear many pants, but when I do I like some give so knits, ponte are nice. I also love leggings (cotton blend with lycra).

    Skirts: Love wool blends, cotton blends. Never linen or anything that regularly takes an iron to look decent.

    Dresses: polyester, rayon, cotton blends

  29. Megan Mae

    Wool, cotton, leather. I adore wool in pretty much 3/4 seasons. For the hot hot summer, thin cottons and linen are my go-to if I can swing it. I am totally okay with the itch, the wrinkles, and sometimes difficulty to wash. My fav fiber is ultimately wool and I’ve found a number of items with wool blends just by feel alone. My favorite knit t shirt is 10% wool. But the weight makes it great for summer.

    I can’t stand super thin rayon, nearly any polyesters, and acetate makes my skin crawl. One of my favorite things about All Saints is that they line almost everything in cotton.

    I have KP on my upper arms so if it’s got sleeves it has to be soft and natural fibered or it can literally sting to wear.

  30. Krysta

    I have cotton, cotton, cotton! And some rayon tops & dresses, but mostly one form of cotton or another. (Including blends, but my rule of thumb is that it needs to be at least 50% natural or natural-like fibers. Even though rayon is man-made, I lump it in with natural fibers because the qualities I’m looking for in it match up with natural fibers (breathability, able to wash, feel, etc). I’ll use wool and wool blends for socks and shawls (those items I knit myself).

    The thing with those dry-clean-only tags on natural fabrics… Often times those are on there because the fabrics have not been handled in such a way as to prevent shrinkage and/or the dye running if washed at home. Wool (and other animal fibers, but sheeps’ wool especially) will felt very easily unless it’s been chemically treated prior to spinning to avoid this. Also, as others have mentioned, silk’s hand will change when it gets wet, and that’s a permanent change.

    I’m okay with the rumpling of linen myself. I think that’s because no matter what I do, I get some rumples if I’ve been wearing clothes for 10-15 minutes or so. It’s inevitable, and linen just shows it a bit more quickly. I have a dress I made out of a linen/rayon blend that was lovely, but it did rumple quickly.

  31. Krysta

    Oh, I forgot how I wash!

    The vast majority of my clothes get thrown in the washer on cold/delicate, and then in the dryer on low. Bras, tights, and rayon tops get hung to dry.

    Generally, items can be washed in cooler water than what the tag says no problem. However, you court undesirable outcomes if you wash clothes in warmer water than what the tag says. Ravelry (a site for knitters/crocheters/spinners) regularly has long, involved discussions on garment care and different fiber types, and when it’s alright to go against what a tag says. I think I’ve also seen similar discussions on sewing boards too. (Ravelry you need to be a member of to see the forums.)

  32. Angela

    Scarves – I think silk twill is the ultimate in beautiful elegance, but I often find it too dressy for everyday. By and large, my preference goes to tissue-woven scarves in luxurious blends of wool, cashmere, angora, or silk. (Not all in the same scarf, of course; just two of these together always feels so good on the skin and helps keep me warm)

    Tops – Jersey knit in cotton/poly blends tends to be my preference. I like things that are form-fitting and comfortable, and that can be machine washed. If I want to feel smart, I love a crisp dress shirt in a non-iron woven fabric.

    Pants – I am a sucker for wool pants. Soft woven or tweed, I think they look so sharp. Of course, I hate the dry cleaning obligation they create, so I also enjoy ponte knits for more casual looks.

    Skirts – I can’t pick a favorite! I love ’em all, except maybe 100% cottons (too wrinkly and not forgiving enough) and corduroys.

    Dresses – I love a jersey knit dress (especially in silk, but that exceeds my usual budgetary constraints). It’s hard to find jersey knit dresses that aren’t too sheer to be worn on their own, though, which offsets the “ease” about the fabric that draws me to it. Having to work that extra layer in makes it more fussy.

  33. Jill

    For pants, I tend to be a jeans person – in a variety of colors. For dresses and skirts, almost anything goes. Rayon and polyester can be too warm at times. Cotton and cotton blends are always comfortable in all seasons. For scarves: hands down – silk and silk chiffon. There’s nothing like the way silk scarves flow and lay so softly around your neck. They are elegant. By the way, found a fun video on scarf tying on this site:

  34. f

    Hi, I’ve been trying to figure this out for a very long time and couldn’t find any answers, so I thought maybe I could get some advice here.

    I have a hand knit beanie that has been slightly stretched out (thanks to people wanting to wear it, having larger heads)… and I’m trying to figure out a way to shrink my beanie back to its original size or just smaller..

    The fabrics used are: 55% linen, 40% acrylic, 3% wool, and 2% polyester.

    …but the directions also say “Do not wash, do not bleach, do not dry clean, do not iron”
    so I am completely lost on what I should do!
    I have read something for wool at least, to quickly dunk the fabric in hot water and squeeze the water out but do not agitate, then lay it out to dry on a towel.

    However, I don’t know if this also applies to the other fabrics or how it will affect them either.

    Any advice..?? Thanks!

    • Sally

      Oh gosh. I’ll see if I can rally some fiber experts to respond, too, since I’m just making an educated guess myself: Since the content is mostly linen and acrylic, it shouldn’t shrink that much if washed. But I think the hot water dunk and flat dry plan is good for starters. Then you can see if it shrinks just enough.

      You might also consider taking the hat to a fabric store or yarn/knitting store and asking an employee for input. Those folks are like fiber librarians!