By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Whether it’s a whisper of cashmere, a puff of fluffy angora or a slip of a silky blended knit, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a soft, luxurious sweater against naked skin. Natural fibre sweaters are classic pieces that are worth every penny of the investment – their timeless style and comfortable fit should mean that they’ll be in your wardrobe for years to come.
But sadly, this often isn’t the case.
Though all of us adore luxurious knitwear, few know how to care for it properly. The result? Shrunken sweaters that would only fit your cat, annoying balls of lint that collect under your armpits, or horror of horrors – moth holes peppering your favourite jumper.
No one knows luxury fibres quite like our friends at cashmere specialist store Chinti and Parker, so we asked them for some tips on how to care for natural sweaters, without having to risk exposure to toxic chemicals from the dry cleaners. Our Care Guide is also beautifully illustrated with Chinti and Parker’s ethically sourced cashmere styles. Most natural fibres have the same care requirements as cashmere, but there are a few tricks, tips and exceptions, so we’ve laid them out for you with each material listed separately.
How To Care For Luxury Fibres Naturally
Chinti and Parker specialise in ethical cashmere, and suggest you hand wash sweaters after every three to four wears, using a delicate liquid detergent in a cold or lukewarm temperature. Avoid washing powders that can get stuck in the delicate fibres and obviously, stay away from bleach. Never use fabric softeners – instead, use a mild organic shampoo or a gentle, low-alkaline soap like Dr Bronner’s. Soak your jumper for quarter of an hour in warm (not hot) water. Rinse it using warm water, squeezing the excess water out, but never wring the item and be careful not to stretch the fabric. Place a light-coloured towel around the garment and roll the it together with the towel to remove any remaining water. Then, lay the item to dry in its natural shape, so you won’t need to iron it – never iron cashmere.
Store your cashmere – and all natural fibre garments – only when it’s 100% clean; moths love to eat our dead skin cells, sweat and hairs, trapped in the fibres and think it’s a great place for them to lay their eggs (ew, right?) Keep sweaters in a drawer or box with cedar balls, clove, rosemary or lavender sachets, to protect it from any nasty hungry moths – just remember that if you can’t smell the herbs, they’re too old to do their job: ensure the scent is pungent, as that’s what moths hate.
Moths also hate sunlight, so every month or so, take your cashmere stuff out and give it a good shake (to get rid of any potential moth eggs) and lay them out in a sunbeam. If you see holes forming in your clothing, you’ll need to put the garments in plastic bag and stick them in the freezer for at least three days to kill off any living moth eggs or larvae. Then, remove the bags from the freezer and wash the clothes as above.
To store garments during different seasons, plastic zip storage bags are recommendable for moth prevention. If you have a lot of cashmere in your wardrobe, it may be worth investing in a cedar chest to store your garments – these also look lovely at the foot of the bed!
Now, let’s talk about pilling and stains. Pills – those little bobbles of fabric that collect around the armpits of natural fibre sweaters – are a sign of quality, in fact – they indicate a natural material. It’s worth investing in an electric de-bobbler or a cashmere comb to get rid of them, but you can also use a razor to gently shave them off. As for stains, if you spill anything on your clothing, try getting it out first with cold water and a gentle stain remover, and wash as above. If that doesn’t work, you may have to take it to a dry cleaner.
Alpaca fleece has been around for millennia, ever since the ancient Incan kings recognised its unique qualities and christened it ‘the fibre of the gods’. Although alpaca clothing can last for years, only few people truly take care of it as they start to realise how it tends to outperform other fabrics. Alpaca is amongst the strongest, softest, lightest and most sustainable of wools, because it is naturally free of lanolin and other oils found in sheep’s wool. No harsh chemicals are needed to process alpaca fibre, making alpaca ranching 100% natural and safe for the environment. Cleaning alpaca clothing is similar to the cashmere procedures mentioned above: use warm or cold water, mild liquid detergent, no bleach, and soak it for no more than 5 minutes. You then gently squeeze the suds through the garment and rinse it clean, then lay it out flat to dry. Once dry, you may steam alpaca lightly with an iron.
Moths adore alpaca fleece, so store your woolly items in a wardrobe of insect-repelling cedar. You may also utilise for storage a clean pillow case or cardboard box, that will keep the air circulating around the garment. For alpaca never ever use plastic or dry cleaning bags, as this will cause moisture to build up and ruin the fibres. Remember that like most knit garments, this material is better folded than hung, to prevent stretching and distortion.
Angora is a type of wool obtained from the fur of the angora rabbit, which why its fibre is so lusciously soft – however, please ensure you source your sweater from an ethical brand, as many use Chinese fibers, which are brutally torn from the skin of living bunnies! Horrid. One wonderful quality of alpaca that it can be worn by people who are allergic to other types of wool. Follow the instructions given above for cashmere for washing and drying.
Angora garments can be folded or hung. If you choose the latter be very careful in hanging sweaters, if you don’t want your jumper to develop hanger humps. Never store in plastic bags, as this kind of wool won’t be able to breathe. Use a special sweater bag and don’t forget to place cedar near the zipper and hanger openings on the bag. If you’re meticulous with your angora maintenance, your garment should last a lifetime and you can pass it on to the next generation.
This is a bit easier: Chinti and Parker advise you can wash this material on a normal warm or cool machine wash cycle with regular powder or liquid detergent. Just like with a regular laundry procedure, separate lights and darks and wash them inside-out, in this case opting for wool detergents that don’t contain softeners or bleach. Once the washing is over, line dry your items and don’t tumble dry them – you wouldn’t want your sweater to shrink down three sizes! Personally, I like to wash my merino woolens in a pillowcase, so they don’t lose their shape.
Merino is one of the tastiest wools for moths, so don’t forget to inundate your closet with lavender or cedar balls and follow the same anti-moth rules as for cashmere. You may also want to store your garments in plastic storage bags placing pellet packets in each bag. If you do, it’s best to air out the sweater a day before wearing it, to completely eliminate any odours.
Mohair is one of the most expensive and refined wools, but it’s so sensorially exquisite, it’s worth the investment! Once you decide to purchase this luscious fabric, you’ll want to make it last forever and you will have to take incredible care in cleaning it. Mohair must be washed by hand with no twisting or wringing involved, using just a few drops of wool soap in lukewarm water. Once you gently move the fabric in the water and lightly squeeze it out, you can lay it out to dry naturally on a towel, preferably away from the sunlight, since UV rays may fade the colour and weaken the fibres.
Like the other fabrics mentioned above, mohair is susceptible to damage by moths, so it must be stored with lavender or cedar balls when it’s clean, because soiled fibres provide food that attracts the evil pests. Avoid storing mohair in plastic because it needs to breathe. It’s better to place loosely folded fabric in a cotton bag or pillowcase, then store it on a shelf in a cool, dry area. Remember never to hang mohair because the rubbing of the hangers wears the fabric.
All images: Chinti and Parker