Acetate: A synthetic fabric. It doesn’t like biological washing powder, vinegar or pre-wash stain removers. It also doesn’t like soaking, rubbing, ironing, rubbing, wringing, twisting or spinning. This is a definite “dry clean only” fabric. It looks a bit like silk.
Acrylic: A synthetic fabric that’s quite washable, although some prefer to be hand washed only (check the label). A cold wash is best. Don’t bleach. Avoid ironing it when it is wet or damp and only use a cool iron. It looks a bit like wool and is often mixed with wool.
Angora: A natural fabric made from goat hair. Hand wash gently in warm water using hand soap. Dry flat and do not twist, wring or rub – this will make it stretch or turn to felt. Avoid ironing it.
Broderie anglaise: This is usually made from cotton, but can be made from polycotton. It can be machine washed (if the garment it is attached to allows this) but put it in a pillowcase or lingerie bag to stop the holes getting hooked on things.
Calico: This is a type of light cotton weave with a particular print (usually floral – think Laura Ashley). As it is cotton, it can handle hot washes, tumble drying and hot irons. It will probably need ironing, too.
Cheesecloth (muslin): Very fine cotton. For some reason, muslin/cheesecloth garments usually run colour. Wash items separately, preferably by hand, although you can use warmer water. It can be ironed, preferably when damp. Don’t wring it.
Chiffon: Very light see-through fabric made from synthetics or (luxury of luxuries) silk. Hand wash the synthetic chiffons; dry clean the silks. Alternatively, just spot-treat any dirty marks.
Corduroy: Usually made from cotton or a cotton blend and is quite hard wearing. It is a bit more delicate to wash and should be turned inside out to protect the distinctive pile. If you have to iron it, iron it damp and turn it inside out.
Cotton: A natural fibre that’s very tough. It can handle the hottest washes and the hottest irons. It can shrink when new, so be careful with this. If buying cotton for dressmaking, preshrink the fabric by washing it before cutting out the pieces and sewing the garment.
Down: These are soft feathers usually used to stuff things. Wash in cold water using a delicate cycle. Tumble dry on low or dry in the sun– it will take ages. Fluff it up periodically to move the feathers around and stop them clumping. If you dry clean it, air it well afterwards, as the down will trap the toxic fumes – not what you want to breathe in while you sleep.
Fur: Real fur should either be brushed or (if really dirty) dry cleaned. You can spot-clean marks with shampoo or hand soap and cold water, stroking in the direction of the fur.
Lace: Can be made from cotton, linen or synthetics. It is best to use a delicate cycle on the washing machine or handwash it. If washing lace in the washing machine, put it in a pillow case or a lingerie bag to stop it snagging on zips, buttons and hooks, which can tear the lace.
Leather: Tough as old boots – literally. You can hand or machine wash it, but it will go hard after drying. It is better to spot clean leather. Salt water ruins leather, so soak a leather item in milk if this happens. Then rinse. To soften leather after it has dried hard, work it to and fro in your hands – roll it and unroll it a few times to soften it.
Nylon: A synthetic fabric. It prefers to be washed in cold water, but can handle being machine washed on regular. It dries quickly and doesn’t usually need ironing.
Satin: This is a finish rather than a fabric type. It is made from silk or from synthetic fabrics. Silk satin should be hand washed, but synthetic silks can cope with the delicate cycle in your washing machine. If you iron it, use a cool iron and iron it on the dull side to protect the shiny finish.
Velvet: Can be made from synthetics, cotton or silk. Wash inside out, using the delicate cycle. Hand wash or spot-treat silk velvet. To fluff the pile back up again after drying, hold the item over a steaming kettle (be careful not to get burnt).
Wool: A natural fibre from all sorts of animals. Hand wash and dry flat. Don’t wring it or spin it. If for carpet a professional carpet cleaning is fine.
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