The following is a guest post from Deby, a regular reader of this blog, who is sharing some tips and strategies for caring for your summer knits. Fascinated by fashion since early childhood, as the granddaughter of a seamstress, Deby grew up learning about fabrics and sewing techniques. Today Deby works full-time in marketing as a visual communicator/writer, with an active interest in the fashion trends that influence us and how we can enjoy them to our benefit!
Living in a humid Midwestern climate, where the temperatures arrive in the 90’s by June and stay there well through September, I have come to love knits over any other type of fabric for summer. I have a professional position within my company, but I primarily work at home as a telecommuter, with forays out for meetings, lunches, and face time with my coworkers. Although I can dress as casually as I want at home, I always choose to dress professionally on a work day. I’ve come to learn that you never predict what might happen or who you will meet in the course of a day, so you need to look presentable, and knits fit the bill by combining comfort with good looks.
Knits are Easy to Care For and Look Great!
Despite their sometimes daunting appearance, today’s knits are surprisingly easy to care for once you master a few simple techniques. At first I was apprehensive about some of the newer knits I’m about to describe here, but I’ve learned they are laundry-friendly and can look great for several summers with the proper care.
When the temperature climbs, nothing beats knits for being airy and ventilating, without the downside of wrinkling by midday. For travel, knits are the ultimate packer’s dream—taking up ridiculously little space in your luggage. Plus, they look great after a short time to relax on a hanger once you have reached your destination.
Summer knits are beautiful to wear as well. When cut properly, they drape gracefully on the figure, flattering every body type, and skimming over flaws without adding bulk. Knits move as you do, and combined with interesting accessories, they impart a relaxed yet polished look that makes a positive impression in most social and work environments.
Popular Types of Knits
Rayon Polyester Ponte
This sturdy 4-season fabric is a wardrobe workhorse. Ponte is a tightly knit, thicker fabric, often featuring subtle textures, and maintains its shape without bagging—making it a perfect choice for pants, skirts and jackets. It is resistant to pilling and fading, and washes with ease. Most ponte is a bit too heavy to wear for a summer top in most climates.
Ponte knit skirts and pants jackets can be hung conventionally. You should use padded hangers for jackets, making sure the hanger is the right size for the jacket so the shoulder seam lines up at the outer edge of the hanger to prevent stretching. Ponte can be machine washed on a delicate cycle and is best dried flat.
A highly stretchy, crinkly-textured, yet shiny and breathable fabric, acetate rayon contains a percentage of spandex. It drapes fluidly on the body, making it a good choice for a variety of garments. Rayon acetate is available in different weights, from a denser type suitable for dresses, skirts and pants, to a lighter weight found in tops. Some stores feature travel capsules of clothing made from this fabric.
Moderately prone to snagging, these knits are resistant to pilling. Rayon acetates are best stored folded, as they tend to stretch out more than other knits when left on hangers. They can be washed by hand or on a delicate cycle, but do not twist or wring them excessively this can create “wrinkle shadows” on the fabric.
Lightweight Rayon Jersey & Slub Knits
A recent fabrication introduced over the past few years, lightweight rayon jersey has taken the world by storm as a substitute for cotton jersey in a lot of garments. Often mixed with cotton and a touch of spandex, this is a very soft and flowy fabric that is used for tops (especially those with asymmetric hemlines), dresses, and skirts.
A newly popular version of rayon jersey is called “slub knit” which is created by knitting the fabric with a thick/thin yarn, producing an attractive textured surface and giving the fabric a bit more body. You will also see slub knits in cotton or cotton/rayon blends. Another type of rayon jersey is modal, a smooth finely knit fabric with a soft hand that is often mixed with cotton. All rayon jerseys are subject to pilling.
Linen & Ramie
Linen and ramie knits have been enjoying a huge comeback over the past few summers. These fabrications come in a variety of weights, all of which tend to be of an open construction. Despite their sometimes ephemeral appearance, linen is an extremely sturdy fiber that washes easily. Linen tees give a wonderful sophisticated edge to summer casual and business wear. Linen and ramie can be washed on a delicate cycle, and are best dried flat, shaped in place on a towel. Linen’s texture improves with repeated washings.
Everyone is familiar with cotton knits, but newer blends combining cotton with rayon require a different care regimen than your standard 100% cotton or cotton/polyester blends. All forms of cotton knit can be prone to pilling. Most cotton knits, except those containing rayon, can be safely dried in the dryer but may require pressing with steam if curling occurs along hems or necklines.
In the past five years or so, polyester jersey has come a long way in comfort with the use of finely spun microfibers which create a more breathable fabric for warm weather wear. Polyester jersey is seemingly the perfect fabric; it resist pills, stains and fading. It comes in a huge variety of textures—from a matte crepe finish to shiny satin, so it can impersonate a variety of other fabrics while being easy care. Polyester jersey can either be hung to dry or dried on a low setting, and it seldom requires pressing (and only with a cool iron).
Silk knits are beautiful and cool to wear in summer (as well as being a wonderful insulating fabric for winter). However, both 100% silk and blends are often not very colorfast in laundering, so they are best dry cleaned. While silk is a very strong fiber, smooth knit silks and blends can easily snag and pill with normal wear, so they can require some extra attention to maintain their good looks.
Loose and Crocheted Knits
Transparent layers are on trend, and these airy openwork pieces can add something special to an outfit, in addition to disguising figure flaws—but they are delicate fabrics to wear and care for. Although some can be hand washed and laid flat to dry, dry cleaning may be best to insure the life of your garment, depending on its fabric content. Machine washing is not recommended.
Lurex has become a year-round addition to knits of all kinds, giving even the most mundane tee shirt an enchanting sparkle. Lurex can be washed on a delicate cycle or by hand, and lain flat to dry. Press with a cool iron if necessary, but don’t overdo it—lurex can melt when subjected to too much heat!
Visit any department store, and you will find yourself in a sea of embellished garments clamoring for your attention with embroidery, metal studs, beads of all materials, crystals, sequins, foil prints, and combinations of all.
The technology for attaching embellishments to fabric has much improved in recent years, resulting in garments that can now be washed on a delicate cycle in cold water— providing they are turned inside out first. Some of these garments can even be pressed with a cool iron.
However, in the case of embroidery, dry cleaning should be considered if the embroidery thread is of deeper and brighter colors on a light ground. The fabric content of embroidery thread is often different than that of the garment itself and can bleed onto the lighter colored fabric, even if the garment is washed in cold water—a situation that is almost always irreversible.
Laundering Your Knits
While most knits can be washed, either on a delicate machine cycle or by hand, some previously mentioned will require dry cleaning. Because dry-cleaning is an expensive service, you might consider using home dry-cleaning kits in between visits to freshen and extend the wear of your garment. Dryel is a good one to try because it is water-based with a pleasant fragrance.
I’m going to focus here on laundering knits in the washer because it’s simple, and you will often achieve a better end result than by actually hand washing, unless your garment is extremely delicate, such as a very openwork sweater.
Choose the shortest delicate cycle that will accomplish your cleaning goal and use Woolite or a similar detergent made for washing delicates. Your water temperature should be cool or cold. Wash like colors together because knits love to pick up colors and lint from each other, even when washed in cold water.
A Note of Caution Regarding Stains
If you have a stain, particularly on a light colored garment such as ivory or beige—do not use an oxi stain remover. Instead, pretreat the stain with the detergent you are using to wash the entire garment. Some dyes used to create the popular subtle beiges, nudes and ivories break down when exposed to oxi bleaches and will create whitish streaks on the garment which cannot be removed. Oxi stain removers are generally safer to use on medium to deeper colors.
Do not leave your freshly washed knits to languish forgotten in the washer! Remove them as quickly as possible once the cycle is complete. Knits are prone to transfer color onto each other when left in the washer after a delicate cycle because they are not spun as dry as a regular wash load, so the water content left in the fabric helps color transfer.
Your Tool Kit
How you dry and finish your garments will determine their appearance. You need a few key tools, specifically:
- A good steam iron (Rowenta is a good brand).
- Spray bottle of Wrinkle Release.
- A lint roller – the ones designed for pet hair work best.
- A fabric shaver – Choose one with at least a 2” diameter head and moderately sized holes to tackle pills of different sizes as well as cover a lot of ground when de-pilling.
- A selection of crochet hooks, from very small to medium sized
- A sewing kit with needles of different sizes and thread to match your garments.
Finishing Your Knits Once You’ve Laundered Them
How you finish your knits is dependent upon what type fabrication they are. Proper finishing makes all the difference in their look and performance and prolongs their productive life in your wardrobe.
Cottons & Polyester Jersey
Cottons and polyester jersey usually require very minimal finishing to look their best. 100% polyester knits can be hung or dried at a low heat, but they don’t require pressing—once dry, they’re good to go. Cottons are best hung to dry until they have proven themselves as non-shrinking, and sometimes require pressing with steam to look their best.
Fabrics & Blends Containing Rayon
If your garment is lightweight and contains a percentage of rayon, no matter what the other fabric content is, you will get better results if you hang it to dry on a generously sized padded hanger. You never put rayon knits in the dryer, because even low heat can cause it to shrink. Rayon is a cellulose fabric that wants to shrink when wet and subjected to heat.
By hanging rayon to dry, the fibers are encouraged to re-conform to how they were before they became wet. This is especially important if you are drying lightweight rayon jerseys or slub knits. Ponte knits, which also contain rayon but are more substantial, can either be hung to dry or dried flat. Once dry, press with a cool iron, or use Wrinkle Release to smooth out the fabric if it is too delicate to press.
Fabrics Made of Acetate Rayon
Although acetate rayon is a cousin to other rayons, its post-laundering care is different than that of other rayons. Acetate rayon dries very quickly if hung on a padded hanger, with the benefit of smoothing out if subjected to a breeze, or can be laid flat to dry. However, unlike other rayons, acetate rayon can be put in the dryer at a very low heat, which will smooth out any wrinkles, but it cannot be safely pressed with an iron.
Fabrics Containing Linen & Ramie
Linen and ramie knits have a tendency to twist and curl up when laundered, so they need to be reshaped. After washing, garments should be laid flat to dry on a towel and blocked to shape. Once dry, they will feel a little stiff—this is their nature. Soften them up by tossing in the dryer on a low heat for 10 minutes, and then press them using steam. Linen and ramie are very sturdy fabrics but like silk, need a little extra attention to look their best.
Embellished & Lurex Fabric
These fabrics should always be air dried, either flat or on a hanger. Lurex can be lightly pressed with a cool iron, but most other embellishments such as sequins, foil treatments, and some beading are not heat resistant and should not be pressed. Use Wrinkle Release to smooth out these fabrics if necessary.
Repairing Lightweight Knits
The enemies of all knits are pilling, snags, and holes, and can be particularly noticeable on lightweight knits. I am going to show you how to fix all three problems so that you can rescue and renew your garments—it’s very simple, and knits are forgiving even if you are not an expert at first!
How to Fix Pilling
The most common plight that affects the appearance of lightweight knits, making them look old and frumpy before their time —is pilling. Your fabric shaver is your best friend in this combat. Ideally, you should de-pill knits after every couple of wearings to keep them looking new. Some knits pill more than others—examine your knits to see how badly or if they pill. Regular de-pilling will not affect the fabric’s integrity because you are basically only removing lint that accumulates from abrasion. Knits tend to pill under the arms and down the front—areas where your arms move against your body, or where you might lean up against a desk or counter. Pants tend to pill in the thigh area.
Don’t be afraid of your fabric shaver. It has been designed to remove pills without damaging the fabric itself. Before you get started: if your garment has snags as well as pills, repair the snags before you tackle the pills or you may inadvertently snap a thread, which will then cause a hole to develop.
The best technique to de-pill a garment is to smooth it flat atop an ironing board, then press lightly on the fabric moving the shaver in slow circles over the area that contains pilling. Do this in a good light so you can see all the pills. You will get better looking results working in circles than running long straight lines with the shaver.
Pictured below is a very finely knit semi-transparent ramie/rayon slug knit cardigan before and after de-pilling.
How to Fix Snags
Loosely knit fabrics tend to snag more than others, but this is usually very fixable, even if a thread has gotten snapped. Here is where your selection of crochet hooks come into play.
Knitting is a single thread construction process by which the fabric is created lengthwise through a series of horizontal loops. The first thing you want to do when tackling a snag is to try to help the knit repair itself as much as possible. Do this by grasping the fabric on either side of the snag in all four directions and gently stretching it to encourage the thread to “reseat itself” along the horizontal line of knitting. This will make the snagged thread loop become much smaller so the fabric will regain its normal appearance as much as possible.
Next, insert the smallest possible crochet hook into the knit from back to front through the hole formed by the snag, catching the snagged thread in the hook and gently pulling it through to the rear. Now the front of your fabric will look normal and the loop will be at the backside. If the snagged thread is long enough, you might want to twist it a little to hold in place. Otherwise, it is fine left alone if it is very small.
How to Fix Small Holes
Over time, your knits may develop small holes which can be easily repaired. Most holes are the result of a snag or a broken thread that occurs during normal wear. Some fabrics, such as lightweight linens and rayon jerseys, easily develop holes as a result of broken threads which are very fine and often knit more loosely.
Knitting is a loop construction, so you must examine the hole to determine where to pick up the loose loops with your needle. You may want to use an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric smooth while you are working. Use the finest needle that is suitable for your fabric; using an overly large needle will cause further damage. If you do not have a thread sample that came with your garment, then choose a sewing thread that closely matches your garment in color. Most sewing thread is cotton/polyester, but silk is also available in specialty shops.
Use a light hand—don’t pull the thread too taut while sewing or you will end up with unattractive lumps that will belie the existence of the repair. Attempt to match the thread tension of the knit fabric itself to create a seamless transition from thread to yarn, making the repair seem invisible.
The image above illustrates knit’s loop construction and the basic technique for sewing up a hole by sequentially grasping all the free loops with the thread and pulling the edges together. You can work from either the front or back of the fabric, but I find it looks best if you work from the back. When you are finished with the repair, press the fabric (with steam if possible) on a padded surface to help smooth out the repair. If carefully done, very often these types of holes can be (almost) invisibly repaired.
Last But Not Least
I hope this tutorial has been informative and allayed your fears about caring for summer knits. It’s impossible to remember everything, and it is a vast subject, but if I have left anything out, or you have any questions, please ask in the comments section and I will do my best to answer!
Thank you Deby, this was most informative, and it looks like my mom (who used to sew a lot) taught me well. With the exception of washing my silks, I have been following pretty much the same routine. I have been using the ‘Gleener’ fuzz remover for over a year now, and like it much better than the shaver. It has three different brush heads for different fabrics. Also my biggest cause for snags are my diamond rings, and I will not wear them anymore when I wear a fine knit like linen. Do you think I could use Dryel for my silk scarves?
Hi Cornelia, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! My own experience with attempting to launder silk scarves has almost always resulted in disastrous bleeding of colors. I would recommend you try Dryel for your scarves. The Dryel kit consists of a zippered bag and several pads that are saturated with a very pleasantly scented cleaning solution that you place inside the bag with your garment(s). It also includes a spray bottle to spot treat stains. If this method doesn’t prove successful for cleaning your scarves, you should take them to be professionally dry cleaned. The good thing is that Dryel won’t cause your colors to run. Good luck and I hope it works for you!
Deby, great post! Just wanted to comment that cashmere is becoming an all-season fiber as well. It should be hand-washed (or sometimes dry-cleaned) and never hung! Same with winter wools.
Do you have a favorite lint shaver? I’ve been looking for a good one.
Also, to add to your stain section, baby powder or cornstarch is a great way to soak up oils and fats when the spills happen. If you’re handwashing, though, be sure to get all the powder out! A small nail brush or toothbrush (gently!) is handy for this. Also, I read that applying salt to fresh wine stains can help soak up the stain.
Sarah E, these are great suggestions and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I haven’t tried the baby powder or cornstarch method to soak up oils, but it sounds like a good idea.
You are right, I had forgotten about cashmere being an all season fabric now–I guess with the hot weather we’ve been having, I’ve tried not to think about wools! (If this post is popular, Debbie may want me to do a winter knits version, where I would talk about the different kinds of wools and how to care for them.) I love cashmere and have several sweaters that are nearly 25 years old, but don’t look it. I always wash them in the machine and hang them up to dry. Then, I fluff them in the dryer for about 10 minutes, remove them immediately, hang them up again and use a lint roller and/or fabric shaver on them if needed.
Here is a pointer that I remembered about removing ink stains that I learned many years ago when I worked as a technical illustrator and we used Rapidograph pens with black ink. Spray the ink stain immediately and profusely with Windex. You will be amazed at how rapidly the ink will wash out of your fabric–and this technique works on any washable fabric, woven or knit.
I actually don’t have a favorite brand of lint shaver, although I tend to prefer the battery operated ones with the round rotating blades beneath a screen (like in the photo above). They are more efficient and do a better job. The one in the photo is actually my favorite one I’ve ever had–is a “no name” brand I bought on a whim at Hancock’s Fabrics. I paid 8.00 for it, convinced it wasn’t going to last 10 minutes without breaking down, but I needed one in a hurry. To my surprise, it has been going strong for 2 years now! So check out your local fabric store–they cater to people who sew and craft, and can recommend a good one.
I want to add a comment about hanging garments up to dry. I only hang them on thickly padded hangers so their weight distributes, preventing stretch-out and they don’t develop shoulder creases.
I have been told that hairspray will get ink stains out but have never tried it.
Hairspray is tricky because the formulations can differ so much, and it can get very sticky. It’s probably the ammonia in the windex that’s such a good solvent. You could probably also try diluted rubbing alcohol, depending on the fabric.
I tried Elnette hairspray to remove ballpoint ink marks from a vintage wine colored Etienne Aigner handbag last week, and it worked perfectly.
Good insights. Thank you.
Am I the only one who detests rayon? It’s in everything nowadays. The carbon disulfide that is generated while making rayon from bamboo is very toxic to workers and the environment. Plus, it bleeds color, shrinks and pills.
I used to hate ironing, but now I like it ‘cos I love my cottons and linens, which are increasingly hard to find.
Nutrivore, it took me a long time to accept rayon. I was convinced it was going to fall apart after one wearing. And you are right, it is in everything today. It has become more popular in part because it is considered a “natural” rather synthetic fabric since it is made from cellulose fibers. Depending on the quality of the rayon, it can either wash and wear beautifully, or be a nightmare of bleeding, pilling and shrinking. I always wash rayon garments very carefully and always hang them to dry so they can regain their original shape.
If you love linens, you should check out J. Jill’s summer collection which features a wide variety of styles, colors, and prints. Ann Taylor and Loft also have a line of great knit 100% linen tees.
I believe the newer rayons like Tencel are much more environmentally friendly than the old traditional rayon, and more breathable and durable as well. I’ve been looking for items made of it so I can see how it feels in person though.
I love Tencel, but be careful laundering prints with dark colors! I ruined a printed (black floral on ivory ground) shell just by hand washing it in cold water–the black dye was totally not colorfast.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Deby! Very informative!
Glad you enjoyed it, Kayla!
Thanks for all this great information Deby! I really appreciated the photos of the repairs. They were very helpful since I can barely sew on a button. I don’t know if my eyesight is good enough to do the loop repair to fix small holes. I’d love to see a post on caring for winter knits too.
KimM, I have horrible eyesight too! Truth be told, my astigmatism is so bad sometimes I can barely thread a needle. To help me see what I am doing, when working on these tiny repairs, I wear a pair of readers that is a step up from what I normally wear to give me super clear up close vision (its like wearing magnifying glasses) and I use a high intensity lamp to really light up the work area.
A post on winter knits will be in the works in the months to come, in time for autumn, my favorite season!
Thank you Deby! Excellent information you have provided and I’m thankful to have all of this detailed and explained. Although I am extremely careful about laundering my clothing and follow all of the suggestions you have provided, and although I’m meticulous about caring for my clothing I’ve never used a fabric shaver (I was afraid of harming my clothes) and I’m glad to know that it is key in order to properly care for knits. I also sincerely appreciate all of the other tips you have provided, and the detailed info about knit fabrics, and I’m looking forward to your forthcoming post about winter knits.
Thank you, Terra. Do not fear the fabric shaver. It does not have exposed blades to harm the fabric, it just shaves off lint that has accumulated on the surface.
Fantastic advice. Thank you!!! I’ve been doing some of these things for years, but I’m sad to say that I have thrown out a number of pilled knits. I have de-pilled cashmere and wool forever, but had no idea you could also do it with summer knits.
Happy forgiver, I threw out some knits too before I discovered the wonders of the fabric shaver! I used to have a little device called a DeFuzzIt, which was a plastic handle and some type of rough screen material that could scrape the pills off, but it took forever and I confess I gave up on some garments — it was just too exhausting!
You can de-pill any kind of knit. You can also use your fabric shaver to de-pill fleece fabrics.
Thank you Deby! That had a lot of good information. I am also a lover of knits and Dryel.
Tonya, I’m glad to hear someone else shares my love of Dryel. I’ve tried every brand out there!
I’m very tempted now to get a fabric shaver! Thanks for the informative post- and yes please do a winter fabrics one!
Meli, if you go to a fabric store, they will be able to recommend a good fabric shaver. I have had great luck with the one from Hancock’s Fabrics. They might sell them online!
Thank you so much for writing this very helpful and informative post, Deby! I really appreciate that you took the time to outline so many key factors in caring for our summer knits. I know I learned a great deal from what you shared, and I’m sure others did, too! For one, I didn’t realize that a fabric shaver could be used on the type of knits that are prevalent in my closet. I have at least one dress and one skirt that I can save as a result of this tip! My husband has pulled snags through my clothes on numerous occasions. He’s actually much more handy with these types of things than I am! Maybe I should have him read this post 🙂
Debbie, thank you for inviting me to write this post! I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the winter edition!
Thanks for sharing! I’ve always puzzled how to care for silk and cashmere. Everytime I wash them, they seem to get damaged.