Ever tried on clothes in a shop and they fit perfectly, but once you’ve washed and dried them they just are a little too tight? Seems to happen to us all at some point or another.
No it’s not that extra slice of cake you had for dessert last night (or the night before), it’s more than likely your clothes shrunk in the wash… yes fabric can shrink! The average amount is 5% but it can be as much as 10%, and that’s a big difference! (And a really good reason to check those care labels on your clothes before washing or chucking in the tumble dryer).
The majority of fabric is not preshrunk (or washed) after it is woven and before it is cut and sewn. There are some fabrics that are bigger culprits than others when it comes to this, and they tend to be your natural fibres: cotton, wool, silk, linen, bamboo, hemp and rayon.
So why isn’t fabric pre-washed or pre-shrunk if we know this is a problem? Firstly, can you imagine washing a roll of fabric that almost 100 metres long? And then drying it? Especially since many fabrics cannot go in a tumble dryer, that would be a nightmare of a job. And then it would need to be re-rolled onto the bolt (or roll). Secondly many fabrics have special treatments on them that make them stain resistant, stiffer, softer, anti-static, waterproof etc. washing would remove these treatments and could cause damage to the fabric prior to sale. And some of these fabrics should not be washed (like waterproof ones!)
All of this is really to say it would add a very big expense to the fabric companies and also to the cost of fabrics, and in turn the prices of clothing or products made from those fabrics.
You will notice that synthetic fibres are not on the list of “shrink in the wash” fabrics – but there is an exception and that is spandex/ lycra which will shrink in the tumble dryer (and will break down quicker – think of how your tight fit jeans get little broken fibres in the high stress areas if you tumble dry them!) Putting things like swimwear in the tumble dryer will weaken the fibres and cause them to break – shortening the life of your garments.
The same can be said for ironing synthetic fibres with a warm to hot iron – it will melt and shrink. So don’t do it!
So what can you do about it? Firstly if you already have things in your wardrobe, make sure you are washing them according to their care labels. It’s hard to go wrong with a cold wash though, and that’s what I always recommend (it’s better for your clothes and the environment – which you can read more about good laundry habits here)
The second thing to do is to check the care label when you try something new on, is it made from a fabric that is likely to shrink? Is it already a really snug fit? Try going up a size – you can always take it to your local alterations specialist to have it taken in AFTER you’ve washed it if it’s too big. If it’s got room to shrink then you might just be alright.
If it’s already shrunk, and you love it – all is not lost! Take it to a seamstress or alterations specialist and see if they can let out the seams or add a panel into the side, you will not be the first nor the last person to do it, and a good seamstress will make it almost undetectable to the untrained eye.