As discussed in our last fabric content article, Knits Part I, we discussed some different types of knits and the pros and cons of each. However, the world of textiles is a wide and diverse one, so we will continue with knits today in an effort to make navigating this world a little less confusing for our readers. May you find this guide helpful and informative as you shop for your attire in the future. In the last article we covered Jersey, Terry and Velour knits. Now we will be moving on to some others that are commonly found in other types of clothing beyond casual sportswear and T-shirts.
Purl and Rib Knits
Similar to jersey, these knits (most often used for things like scarves or sweaters) can also pill, so care for these items, as far as washing inside-out, still applies. Yet, these types of sweater knits can vary a great deal more in fiber content so knowing the fibers you're buying can be an important factor when deciding what to buy. While most of the same rules apply as with other knits when they are made of synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester, one fiber content we have yet to discuss that is often associated with sweater knits is wool.
Wool is one of the most incredible natural fibers and contains many interesting properties. Yet, not all wool is created equal so the pros and cons can vary from product to product. In general, wool is preferable to synthetic fibers because production is more environmentally friendly. Wool is often used for fire fighters and soldiers because it is a more fire resistant fiber than cotton. Semi-grease wool (where only part of the naturally occurring lanolin is rinsed out) is water resistant and wool also has moisture wicking abilities, which enable it to absorb up to one third of it's own weight. Felted wool that has been treated with lanolin is not only water resistant, it breathes nicely, and has been found to be slightly antibacterial which means that is also resists the build up of odors. Because of these properties, wool is often used for cloth diaper covers where the interior absorbs and the exterior keeps moisture from reaching any exterior clothing.
Aside from there being many different animals that produce wool (alpaca, sheep, goats, muskox, camels and rabbits) there are actually different grades of wool that are derived from a single wool bearing animal. These grades are based on the measurement in of the fiber's diameter and also it's style as the outer layers of wool are courser than the softer inner layers. The finer the grade the more the wool will cost.
Merino wool is considered the finest of all with a diameter between 12-24 microns. No wool that is more than 25 microns is used for clothing, all wool that exceeds this measurement is used for outerwear, rugs, carpets and industrial uses.
Other fine wools include cashmere,
angora, (which is extremely warm, but is usually only used for accents unless it is mixed with another wool such as cashmere.)
alpaca, (which is similar to wool yet contains no lanolin which means it is not water resistant but is also hypoallergenic.)
vicuña (Which is extremely fine at about 12 microns but is extremely expensive due to supply limitations.)
qiviut (which is eight times stronger than wool, resists shrinkage and is softer than cashmere, this fiber is also expensive, a fine scarf running about $300)
and mohair (which is also warmer than wool but not as soft as cashmere or angora at 25 microns. Mohair is strong, elastic, flame resistant, wrinkle resistant and will not felt. It is usually more expensive than wool, but is sometimes blended with wool to decrease it's heating qualities.)
While finer wool is much softer, the courser grades are more durable and less prone to pilling. Organic wool is becoming easier to find but still can be rather expensive.
'Virgin' wool refers to the first spinning of a fiber whereas 'shoddy' wool or recycled wool is made from cut or torn wool material and re-spun into yarn a second time. This material, though environmentally friendly, is of inferior quality to virgin wool because the fibers of recycled wool are shorter, though it is sometimes combined with new wool or cotton fiber to help increase strength and fiber length.
It is this very recycling of fibers that seems to make all knits, be they synthetic or otherwise more prone to wearing through or pilling than the textiles of the past. Perhaps you have heard people around complain that clothes don't seem to be as well made as they used to be. Jeans and t-shirts are thinner, cotton prints are more shoddy and take less wear. The fact is, it's true. More and more companies are taking the cheaper route and replacing the high quality materials of the past with low grade, often shoddy materials. Even fabric stores are no longer reliable sources for durable, quality materials. Granted, this is gladly not always the case, but more and more we are finding that fabric stores will sell "first prints" (a sort of test for a specific design printed on lower quality material) of fabric in their quilting department and price them as if they were the real thing.
So, if you are a seamstress and prefer to make your own clothes, be wary of the big box fabric stores. We would suggest finding a reliable US supplier online such as Fabric.com for your sewing needs.
If, however, you have no intention of sewing and simply wish to shop for the finished product, be sure to check not only the washing directions and fiber content, but scrutinize the feel of the fabric. If you are getting a really amazing deal, then perhaps disposable clothing that will only last a year or two might work for you, but generally we are finding that the quality and durability of an item of clothing has less to do with the price tag and more to do with the fiber content and how cheaply the textile was produced. Buy your name brands if you must, and pay top dollar for them, but just know that it's likely that your $60 T-shirt will likely fall apart just as easily as a $7 top from the local discount store.
Stay tuned for our next look at fabric content article and may all your purchases make you happy!