Fabrics That Work

General guidelines for choosing fabrics for clothes or furnishings … Choosing ultraviolet light—resistant fibers … Dish towels and dishcloths … Bath towels and hand towels … Bath rugs and mats … Table linens, sizes of tablecloths and napkins … Upholstery … Rugs and carpets … Carpet padding or underlay … Clothes that are cool, warm, low- or no-iron, UV protective
A beautiful cotton print tablecloth I once bought turned out to be colored with bleeding dyes, a fact I discovered only when I brought it home and read all its labels. Such dyes are unsuitable for a tablecloth, which requires frequent, vigorous laundering. Because this madras cloth had to be washed in cold water, separately from the rest of the laundry, I could not get oily food spots out of it. Even with cold-water washing, its lovely colors turned muddy after only two or three trips through the washer, and it became downright ugly. If I had read its labels before I bought it, instead of letting my eyes make the decision, I could have had an equally pretty cloth that would have stayed pretty.
The lesson here is that you cannot assume that an article sold for a particular function is well designed to perform that function. The store shelves all too often contain eye-catching textile goods that do not make sense when you try to use them. Suggestions for finding fabrics that work in household jobs, from towels to upholstery, and for avoiding the frustration, expense, and inconvenience of poor choices, are set forth in the material below. For guidance on how to choose bed linens and blankets, see chapter 15, “Beds and Bedding.”

General Guidelines on Choosing Fabrics for Clothes or Furnishings

Fabrics That Work

Fabrics That Work

Before buying fabric goods, read all the information provided on hang tags, packages, and fiber content and other labels, including, of course, care labels. Look for logos that convey information about the nature or origin of a fabric. Look for evidence of finishing treatments or types of dye used, for example, a tag that says an article is vat-dyed or yarn-dyed, or is a madras print. Does it require separate washing and hand-washing? Is it wrinkle-resistant? Water-resistant? Stain-resistant? Avoid inexpensive goods that are expensive or impossible to clean.
Carefully examine clothes and furnishings inside and out before buying. Evaluate them in terms of probable comfort, durability, and functioning: examine their construction, finishes, fiber content, and workmanship.
Buy preshrunk goods whenever possible.
To reduce your risks from unknowable factors, choose reputable retailers and manufacturers. A company whose major business for many years has been manufacturing towels is more likely to sell you a towel that performs well than a company whose major asset is a fashion logo. Of course, every rule has its exceptions, except perhaps the rule of caveat emptor.
Seams should hold together tightly and not pull apart. Look at the kinds of seams that are used. Although a plain running stitch is the right type of seam on many articles, flat-felled or other reinforced seams have much more strength and are desirable in play or sports clothes. Better quality sweaters and other knits often provide a length of matching yarn attached to a hang tag for use in case you ever need to make repairs.
Stitching should be small, smooth, straight, even, and tight. Look at the hems on sheets and towels, and at the quilting stitches on mattress pads and comforters. Mitered corners are often a sign of quality in bed and table linens.
Buttons should be securely attached, with a shank or thread shank, so that they fit readily into the buttonholes. On heavy garments such as winter coats, buttons should be attached with heavy-duty thread or by some other extra-strong means. Extra buttons should be provided. Buttonholes should be neatly and closely stitched all around.
Look for linings in blazers, jackets, skirts, and other garments. These improve the wear, hang, comfort, and appearance of many kinds of clothes and are usually a sign of better quality.
Although we all sometimes like clothes of a rough cut for fashion reasons, better kinds of clothing are usually shaped to the body, sometimes so subtly that you can barely detect how it is done. Look to see whether a dress or shirt is simply square or shows shaping through the cut of the cloth or darts, tucks, pleats, or other types of construction.
Weave should be even, close or tight, and uniform, with no crooked threads, knots, protruding threads, broken threads, or slubs (unless slubs are put there intentionally, for example, for fashion reasons). You should not see thick or thin spots except where this is done purposely for effect. You should not see crooked lines in the weave. The yarns should be of uniform size, and the individual yarns should show uniform diameter.
Goods should be cut straight. Unfold napkins and other flat goods (handkerchiefs, blankets, sheets) and hold them up to the light. You should be able to see that the threads are parallel and perpendicular to the edge of the cloth. The shape should be even and square at the corners.
Color should be even and uniform and penetrate well. Check for color penetration at the seams and darts especially.
Avoid overstarched goods—those whose appearance, body, or firmness is actually a function of starches that will launder out. If you rub the fabric between your hands, sometimes you can actually see excess starch powder fall out.
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