Natural fibres

Over on Instagram, I shared a little about my love of natural fibres. How it’s not just a preference, but something that has fundamentally changed how I feel about my body.

Before I discovered natural fibres, I really thought that my body just smelled bad, that I just had to try and mask the problem, but that ultimately my body was to blame. Spoiler alert: a wardrobe full of polyester will probably make anyone stinky.

Silk Noil Waikerie
Silk noil Waikerie Shirt with linen Glebe Pants

Now that I sew my own clothes, I’ve worked out that even amongst natural fibres there are winners for me. Linen, merino, silk, and even modal/bamboo work much better for me than cotton (which holds smells).

My preference for the fibres that I make my shirt, tees and pants from has a lot of crossover with the fabric I like to make my undies from! Merino and bamboo/modal are my favourite undies fabrics (especially in combination in the Kapunda Undies (bamboo side-panels and merino gusset and front and back is my favourite)!

Tarlee Funnel Neck
A funnel neck merino Tarlee T-Shirt hack worn with Birchgrove Pants, which you can’t really see.

What are my favourite fabrics?

Maybe you’ve noticed my wardrobe is a lot of linen? Linen has great qualities, and comes at a great price! I especially like undyed linen! Linen can also be great to sew with (if it’s not a shreddy b-word)!

Silk noil is my weakness (A+R Fabrics is my go-to source)- I love how it’s fancy but perfect for everyday-wear! It’s great to sew with, and doesn’t need ironing after washing (I air-dry and give my things a flick before hanging them out).

Merino is an old-favourite and my new favourite merino comes from The Merino Collective in NZ! I first tried it in this whisky shade from A+R Fabrics, which I used to make this Tarlee T-Shirt. I stocked up on the Merino Collective Fabrics from For Fabrics Sake (NZ-based) when they had a sale recently!

Muna and Broad Tarlee Tshirt
A bamboo Tarlee T-Shirt with linen Glebe Pants and quilted cotton Belmore Jacket

How do I wash my natural fibre fabrics before sewing?

I pre-treat my fabric in the way I intend to launder it. Coat fabrics don’t get pre-washed because I’m not going to wash them. Since I wash my clothes in cold-water, and generally air-dry my washing, that’s how I wash my fabrics before cutting & sewing.

How do I wash my clothes and how often?

I do a lot of spot-treatment to clean marks (I’m messy, what can I say)? And of course, I wear clean undies every day (and socks, if I’m wearing socks that day), but everything else is fair game. Of course, if something needed to be washed, I would wash it (can you tell that I’m preparing you?)!

My natural fibre t-shirts (in cotton, bamboo and merino) certainly go more than 5 wears before getting a wash… longer for merino.
Natural fibre pants? They get aired between wearings, they get the sniff test and they get washed a couple of times during the season.
Natural-fibre bralettes? The sniff test returns, but they’re certainly not 2-wears before washing.

Basically, moving to natural fibres for my clothes has also moved me from the ‘1-wear, 1-wash’ which was necessary with my polyester clothes because they made me stinky, and I made them stinky in return.

Waikerie Shirt
A linen Waikerie Shirt worn with linen Glebe Pants

What are some changes I’m trying to make

I love bamboo, but I’m trying to shop modal instead (you can hear @Michelleofatime chatting about the dark side of bamboo here).

I’d love to find some more sources for hemp fabric- especially 4-way stretch which would be appropriate for undies. Hemp has similar moisture-wicking, antibacterial qualities to merino (from what my googling has shown).

The ethics stuff: I’m also glad that there’s a crossover between fibres that I love to wear, and fibres that tick my particular environmental ethics boxes. I know that folks set these ethics for themselves, and everyone has things that are more important to them and things that are less important to them. For me, avoiding plastics is my main aim. This means I also mostly wear leather shoes (because plastic-free, but also because ethics and because there’s less smell with leather).

Bamboo Tarlee hack
A bamboo Tarlee T-Shirt hack

Basically, I love natural fibres!

15 comments

  1. I am just starting to move into making my own clothing (for very similar reasons! I couldn’t find stuff in natural fibers in my size!), and I’m wondering if you have any advice about pilling/wear on natural fiber fabrics? I find that all my clothing now seems to pill/wear through in areas of high friction, and I’m wondering if there are particular fibers I should stick to to prevent that from happening, or I should just accept it and design my clothes so the high wear areas can always be replaced…

    1. I would say that some pilling is almost inevitable in certain fibres in high-friction areas, but I’ve also noticed that some fabrics pill much quicker than others and I think that comes down to quality (which doesn’t necessarily match up to the price paid for the fabric.

      I have a pair of natural linen Glebe Pants that I made in heavyweight linen from The Fabric Store which have pilled and aged much faster than other versions and now look rattier than the pair I made more than a year before them (and wore much more)!

  2. If you do an internet search for underarm protection shields or underarm sweat shields you will find a large number of products. No doubt you could make your own as well.

  3. I’m afraid even though I wear nearly all-natural fibres I’m a bit OCD about washing clothes. I wear Ts only for one day and trousers for 2-3. I leave wool garments for longer. And I made 4 boiled wool over tops last year that I never washed. But I am fussy about anything next to my skin. It’s nothing to do with smell, it just makes me feel better.

    1. I like the emvironmental aspect of not washing too often as well. Generally my garments don’t get a lot of conecutive day wear, which does help.

      My wool pants basically never get washed- on the ones I’ve made it would be possible to hand wash the lining but I haven’t needed to!

      1. Okay, I’m wearing a shirt for the second day in a row – and it’s grand! You may have halved my washing load!

  4. Love natural fibers too. Agree about Modal versus bamboo for enviromental reasons.
    For deoderants I now don’t wear any. I shower every 2 days unless dirty or sweaty so need to wash. I have found that since I gave up wearing deodorant I don’t smell unless doing really physical stuff. I don’t like too many chemicals on my skin and now find deodorants irritating. I have found my clothes don’t stain nor rot/ wear out in the underarms any more. Clean undies every day otherwise spot clean and smell test before deciding on wear or wash unless obviously too dirty to wear – I do have 4 dogs so probably wash clothes more often as they like to sit on my knee.

    1. Absolutely agree that many deodorants can cause a lot of issues with clothing, and can make them wear out even quicker! Great that you’ve found a solution that works for you!

  5. Very good point about smell, among synthetics many drawbacks. Polyester also just makes you sweat more, even in winter. But for true smelly horror, try acrylic 😱. They were quite popular when I was a young mountaineer, and oy.. You could get by skiing, since everything including your nose was frozen, but the warm car on the way back ..

    1. Oh gosh! I can just imagine. I remember feeling very confused about why the sporty base-layers would smell so bad when they were supposedly designed for situations where you sweat!

  6. OK, this is great, and can we talk about deodorant/anti-perspirant with natural fibers for a minute? When I started sewing with natural fibers, I read that the yellowed and bleached-out armpits in my old clothes were caused by anti-perspirant so I switched to a natural deodorant. But now my clothes get sweaty, and sweat smells after a long day. How do other sewists protect their clothes while cutting down on laundering?

    1. Truth be told, I’ve tried a variety of natural deodorants and not really settled on anything that I thought ticked all the boxes.

      A sewing buddy of mine recommends Nuud, because she found that most natural deodorants were actually quite acidic and quickly ruined the ‘pits in many of her self-made garments!

      1. I hadn’t really connected the stains in my shirts/dresses with the natural deodorant I use, that is interesting. I have read that some people put an extra layer of removable fabric in the under arms – like a gusset – to protect garments but I haven’t explored it.

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