Saturday, 28 January 2012

Merino wool jersey vs. Wicking polyester knit and some fabric acquisition

Several people asked me about, or commented on, the knit fabrics I used for the travel wardrobe, I hope I am answering these questions with this post.
Wicking polyester knit fabric
:My main source for this fabric is Stretchtex, although I have also bought some from Seattle Fabrics, it is available at The Rainshed, and I have also come across it occasionally at Spotlight.
1.Price The wicking polyester fabric I own was approximately 1/4 of the per metre cost of the wool jersey or silk jersey I can purchase (note, I bought a large amount of wicking polyester in 2006 and 2007 and am still using it up, the large purchase was one of the factors in how I purchased it so inexpensively) I am happy to use this fabric for childrens' technical clothing, which they may only wear a few times before outgrowing the garment. I am much more stingy with my use of the merino jersey.
2. Absorbtion: Wicking polyester does not absorb moisture readily. This makes it good for water sports (kayaking shirts, beach sun protection tops)
Sun safe tops
and for vigorous exercise in the heat. Merino knit tops absorb so much moisture that they sag and stretch when worn for these activities to the point of impracticality. Think wool swimming costumes!
Wash and wear: Wicking polyester can be washed in the machine with regular detergent and requires no blocking after washing. I line dry, but others dry these garments in a machine without problems, other than occasional shrinkage ( source, cycling group, not my stretchtex fabric)
1.Construction: Wicking polyester can be difficult to sew. Two of the fabric colours I have used (dark blue and dark pink) are needle resistant. I have to use a new microtex needle for each garment (including overlocker and coverstitch) and still get skipped stitches.
2. Smell. Wicking polyester holds odour readily, develops its own peculiar odour as the fabric ages and breaks down, and becomes musty if not bone dry. At home I soak all wicking polyester garments, (including purchased cycling jerseys, so it is not just the stretchtex fabric) in an anti bacterial/anti fungal pre wash product called Canestan, or, at a pinch, Napisan, to combat this problem. This works but is an extra chore I do not need for non-exercise clothing. Wearing a garment for a few hours of sweaty exercisewhere it keeps you cool, then washing it immediately is fine, wearing a garment for 12 hours of walking about and then putting it in a dirty clothes bag in your suitcase because you have a plane to catch is another thing entirely.
3. Longevity. Wicking polyester stains easily, pills, breaks down under UV drying conditions and generally looks like a rag after a year or two. Hand washed merino jersey garments look good for much longer.
4. Texture This is personal taste, but I find the texture of wicking polyester slightly unpleasant and on occasion clammy. This holds for purchased garments as well as the stretchtex and seattle fabrics. In warm weather I also find it hotter to wear than thin merino jersey, and definitely hotter than silk jersey. I also find the same fabric less warm in cold weather than either of the natural fabrics.
Wool jersey
I am a big fan of merino wool jersey for normal life garments and for travel clothes. It is as easy to sew as any cotton or rayon or poly jersy of a similar weight, I find that it is warm in winter, not too hot in mildly warm weather compared to poly knit fabrics of a similar weight. I hand wash it and dry small light garments on the line, heavier garments lying flat on a towel. A light merino knit t shirt hand washed and rolled in a towel then hung up in a hotel bathroom dries just as quickly as a poly knit t shirt of a similar weight and size, and does not smell musty if packed slightly damp.
1. Absorbtion:I do not like merino jersey for exercise clothes, due to perspiration in my hot climate. It sags and stretches. However, this makes it useful for baby soakers. An acquaintance of mine makes these for sale from merino jersey.
2. Moths and cockroaches :Wool jersey is subject to insect attach and requires careful storage where I live - all wool clothes are packed away when not in circulation, in an airtight container, which also contains a fabric square dampened with eucalyptus and lavender oils.
3.Texture :My son and husband find some of the wool jerseys itchy when worn next to the skin. I have not found any of them itchy so far.
4.Merino jersey is not cheap. Personally, I find it worth the price.
I have purchased wool jersey from an ebay seller in Sydney
September 8, gaining a light weight t shirt type jersey,
from Gorgeous Fabrics, gaining a much thicker terry style knit
V8305 surplice top
and from Michaels Fabrics, gaining a heavy smooth knit, of wonderful texture but a terrible progressive vertical shrinking habit.
SDC10155 Wool jersey internet descriptions do not appear to be consistent regarding weight, stretch nor texture.
More recently I have confined my wool jersey purchases to those where I can see and touch the fabric at Global Fabrics (New Zealand)/The Fabric Store (Australia). Although I have only been once each to the Sydney, Wellington and Dunedin branches, on each occasion this fabric shop chain appeared to stock most the weights and types of merino wool knit fabrics available in RTW, in lots of colours. There is a new Brisbane branch, which I have not yet visited,and the shops offer a mail service to rural customers, which I have not used, but as far as I know there are no internet sales.
Here is my merino haul from Dunedin, last week
The fabrics to the left are light t shirt weight jerseys, the blue one is slightly heavier, with a diagonal waffle pattern, and the far right is like a merino terry, backed with a knit nylon, which I plan to make into a lightweight hooded cardigan. These were all 30% off, except the nylon backed one which was $8NZ per metre instead of about $30NZ per metre as when I saw it in March, so I am pleased I had a very light bag of clothes with room for such purchases.
To make my fabric confession complete, here are the two rayon knits and the cotton print I also purchased at Global Fabrics,which is cleverly located close to several outdoors shops, three cycling shops and a sweets shop for the entertainment of husband and children. (46 minutes in Global Fabrics - my son was counting). I am very grateful that this shop is open on a Sunday.
Here is a boy's shirt portion of cotton Kiwiana (selected by the boy) and a heavy embroidered cotton remnant from this very nice fabric shop in Oamaru,
nearly opposite the museum with a SteamPunk display -11 minutes. Sigh, I prefer shopping without my children.

It was fortunate for my fabric shopping interests that I wore my boots out on the last official day of walking, otherwise I might have been tramping the Otago peninsula before our flight instead of bringing home goodies.
(Gail, I have posted about this dress previously here)
I throughly enjoyed my trip to New Zealand. Here is my last souvineer photograph.


Faye Lewis said...

Wonderful dress and fabric. Can you tell me what pattern you used for your dress?

Alison said...

Thanks for the comparison of wool vs wickaway. I have some silk weight wickaway (as labelled in the shop) in my stash which I bought at Rose City Textiles. I can feel the poly/nylon/whatever it is and am not 100% sure about making it up. However, I do adore wool jersey & agree with you about its wear and use. Fabulous for travel even if you don't go hiking! I also find I don't get over-hot in a plane but I would if I wore a fleece jacket.

kbenco said...

Faye the three dresses in this post, from top down are Vogue 8305 (OOP), Burda Style magaxine 06-2009-101 and Burda Style magazine 7-2009-105. I hope this helps. said...

Thanks ever so much. I am near to Seattle, so I will check there.

Carolyn said...

Wow. I am hugely impressed with your travel wardrobe; both for you and your family... You are amazing!!
I bow before your sewing prowess!
Re the fabrics, I am insanely jealous that you have access to these fabric stores, particularly The Fabric Store. ALL those fabrics you mentioned are completely unavailable here....
The last time I was in Melbourne and visited the Fabric Store, I then sincerely wished I had brought no clothes with me so I could fill my suitcase with fabric instead...

Sue said...

I love wool jersey too, but have developed a sensitive skin recently and can no longer wear it :(
Thanks for the interesting post!

Sue said...

PS - the Fabric Store in Brisbane is well worth a visit!

StephC said...

The Fabric Store in Brisbane is fantastic... I can't keep away from it...

Thank you for this post! My husband and I have been researching these types of fabrics lately, I sent him a link. :)


And your tops look really really pretty.

M-C said...

Mm. Sounds like I should be looking to Australia for the merino knits that are so difficult to find in Europe, thanks for the tip :-).

As to smell in poly knits, the best I've found is an old-time American trick: a handful of borax added to the regular wash. Radical in getting rid of any trace of mold, very satisfactory for the funkiest of cycling shorts and such icky tasks. No fumes, no smell, nontoxic if not directly ingested, it's an excellent product from other points of view as well.

It's almost impossible to find in Europe though, only comes in 25k bags for use in pools, so I'm not sure how it'd be for you? The main obstacle to distribution as far as I can see is that it's very cheap, in the US the 20-mule-team brand is found only very high, or very low, in supermarket shelves in the detergent section. And it's not to be confused with boric acid, which is used against cockroaches and crawling insects but is slightly different chemically.

shams said...

First, what a great comparison between these two fabrics - a really useful lesson.

Second, what a gorgeous haul of fabrics, from Dunedin!

Third, you really know your style and have made some gorgeous garments to fit and flatter your body.

Fourth, I love that shot of your worn out boots. And your sock shot on the driftwood.

I saved this post to read when I really had time to absorb it. Thanks for a great post!

Ruthie said...

Having been out walking in the snow today in Derbyshire, I realised why people have special baselayer garments for walking. My cotton and elastane cami and long sleeved tee were clammy :-(. My Craghopper lined walking trousers were fine though, as were my cheapo thermal leggings.

Sharon said...

So how did you convince your walking boots to disintegrate on your last hike, perfect timing.

Gorgeous fabrics and DH is nearly as bad with the timing, I leave him at home when I can.

Thank you for the fabric comparisons, even the different weights of the merino wool.

Love the socks on the driftwood :)

Paola said...

Just wanted to add to your comments re wool jersey - I just about live in the stuff in winter/spring here on the NSW South Coast. The Fabric Store's mail order service is pretty good too. Last year, I rang up and asked for swatches in neutrals and warm colours, and was sent about 15 to choose from. The order arrived in no time. It's a dream to sew and wear - keeps me cosy, but breathes when the temperature inches up over 20 celsius.

velosewer said...

Thank you for a great fabric comparison. Congratulations on your NZ fabric haul and I'm glad it was a great trip.

fabric epiphanies said...

I like the driftwood photo as well.

There is a new merino shop in Christchurch which I will be trying for size when the kids return to school next week. Unfortunately Global fabrics and a few others met an untimely end in last February's earthquake so it will be nice to have one or two replacements.

I like merino for light weight but warm winter garments but use wicking fabrics as undergarments for my kids for winter sport and training. Unfortunately they are a little hard to come by here though and the RTW ones like skins which all of the kids seem to wear are horrendously expensive.