CARING FOR PRECIOUS CHILDREN’S AND BABY CLOTHES
– my top laundry tips
Of all the household chores, laundry is by far my favourite. I like sorting clothes into colour-coded piles, the clean smell of detergent when I empty the washing machine and the appreciation I have of our clothes that I love as I hang them up to dry. I like washing clothes by hand, in warm soapy suds, and the ‘schlap-schlap’ noise as I squeeze water through them. I also find a calm satisfaction when I am ironing, especially if I am listening to the radio or a podcast. I love textiles, and I am drawn to look after and appreciate the clothes that I love!
So when it comes to sorting laundry and selecting which clothes would be better off washed by hand or dry cleaned, I enjoy making them look nice and new again.
That is for my own clothes, and those of my close family. Now my children are grown, but I have fond memories of caring for their baby and children’s clothes when my children were young. It was quick and easy to launder little clothes, and to enjoy the memories of when and where they wore them, and the care required to keep them looking nice and fresh and ready to wear again and again.
Here are a few tips of how to care for Rachel Riley garments that my team and I design, make and sell. This will help keep them looking new and prolong their life, so the garment can be cherished not only by the child it was bought for, but other children who can then enjoy them too. Our garments are made from premium fabrics and built to last, so they can be handed down to siblings, cousins, friends, and from generation to generation, to be worn over and over again. Traditionally baby and children’s garments were always ‘passed on’ and enjoyed by many children.
Sustainability is about making quality products that can be worn many times. My favourite pieces are those that have been worn so much they are literally ‘thread-bare’. Buy less, buy well and look after what you have. It is economical in the long-run and better for the planet. I am shocked when I hear that high-fashion items are worn on average only 5-7 times. Classic children’s clothes can be worn again and again, and timeless quality never goes out of fashion.
Most items in our collection are 100% cotton, so can be washed in the washing machine, but some need a bit more love and attention. All will have wash care labels sewn into the garment, but if you want some additional advice, here are my recommendations:
Print dresses, shirts, babysuits, separates and other cotton garments
Cotton items can be machine washed. Ensure coloured items are washed with other similar colours, and do not mix, for example, red shorts with a white shirt. Strong and dark colours, like red and navy, are the ones that will ‘bleed’ most, especially in the first few washings. If in doubt, wash dark colours by hand. It will take less than 2 minutes to wash red shorts by hand, and as a machine load takes so much longer, it uses more water and electricity. If cotton items are soiled or stained, leave to soak for a few minutes in warm soapy water. Squeeze the clothes to push the water through the garment, and if there are specific stains that need to be removed, use a small soft brush (like a nail brush) to brush the stain in a localised area so just the stain is brushed and not the surrounding area. It will soon be brushed away. Then rinse till the water runs clear, squeeze until all the water is removed, and hang up on a correctly-sized hanger, either over the bath or shower or on a clothes line. I don’t have a dryer, and don’t miss it, as I like the way my garments retain their shape. Clothes can be misshapen when they come out of the dryer, or stretched, so it makes sense to turn garments inside out if you are using a dryer. Cotton items can be dried in the machine if you are in a hurry, but need to be folded when they are still warm, to keep their shape.
Not all detergents are equal. Some have really strong chemical components. Always use, either a mild, eco-friendly ‘non-biological’ laundry detergent or a ‘colour-care’ detergent to avoid colour fading. I use only a small amount, as a little goes a long way. We have noticed that some of the stronger ‘industrial’ detergents will fade strong colours, when the same fabric washed in a softer ‘non-biological’ detergent will keep the original colour. Baby and children’s clothes just need a small amount of detergent, and laundry liquid for hand-washing is specifically designed for a gentle wash.
All cotton garments will be enhanced by ironing. I enjoy making things look nice and new again with my steam iron! I have also heard that ironing baby garments kills bacteria with the high temperatures of the steam, so I washed and ironed all my new and second-hand baby garments when I was preparing their tiny layette.
Smocked cotton dresses and smocked baby items can be washed in exactly the same way as cotton clothes, either printed, striped, checked or solid colours (see above). The thread used for smocking is cotton and colour-fast, and is incredibly hard-wearing, as it is made of multiple threads of cotton yarn. Ensure that you wash like colours together and mixed colours like floral prints are colour-fast so will not shed dye. Be extra careful of red and navy as they are strong colours, so make sure they are washed separately. As a precaution I washed smocked items by hand, but only because I liked to look at them while I wash them, especially if I had sewn them myself, with many hours of love sewn into these needlecraft ‘works of art’!
We use 100% cotton jersey, and 95% cotton jersey with 5% spandex which helps the garment maintain it’s elasticity and ‘stretch’ back into shape. Jersey can washed in a similar manner to cotton (see above), but extra attention is required as jersey is a knitted fabric, so can easily be stretched out of shape. Little items such as babygro’s are so tiny that they will more easily keep their shape, but knit dresses should be dried flat, for example over a clean towel on a towel rail in a bathroom or can be hung up to dry naturally. If tumble-dried ensure that they are still a bit damp when removed, and gently stretch them into shape. If the garment is still slightly damp when ironing, it will be even easier to iron and will end up looking like new.
I almost always hand-wash knitwear, as then I know it won’t be stretched or distorted, but many of our knitted pieces, such as cotton cardigans and sweaters can be washed in the washing machine. Ensure that excess water is wrung out of it, or that it has been through the spin cycle. When I have washed a sweater or cardigan by hand (make sure the buttons are all closed, to prevent stretching out of shape), I place it flat onto a clean towel, and roll it up to absorb the excess water. Sometimes I keep it rolled up for a few minutes, so when I unroll it, the sweater is almost touch-dry, flat, and in perfect shape. Then I lie it on a clean dry towel to dry completely, for example over a towel rail (or a banister). When it is completely dry I do a once-over with the steam iron, (first the sleeves, then the front, rarely does the back need doing, as the steam goes through front and back). It is so easy to hand-wash knitwear, and really preserves it perfectly, especially for precious items like cashmere. I have many sweaters and cardigans that are over 30 years old and still look as good as new, as I have looked after them carefully. They are classic styles, so are timeless.
Shorts and Dungarees
Our cotton, canvas, corduroy and babycord are all cotton, so can be machine washed with similar colours. These fabrics are strong and resistant, but corduroy should be turned inside-out before washing, to prevent marking the outside pile. These items can also be tumble-dried, again inside out, and a quick steam iron on the wrong side will keep them looking crisp and fresh.
Our party dresses are usually made of fancy damask brocades and velvets. These should not be laundered at home. As with any other fine and delicate fabrics, they should be left to the specialists and cared for by a dry cleaner. If there are stains of which you know the origin, let the dry cleaner know. It is their job to remove these, and the more information they have the better. Dry cleaners can do incredible things – I once had a whole pot of coffee accidentally spilt down a wool and velvet dress. I didn’t even try to sponge it down. I put the whole thing in a plastic bag and took it to the dry cleaner the next day. It came back completely unstained and good as new!
Our coats are quite formal, and designed to be worn for special occasions, usually on top of party dresses and smart outfits. As they are not usually used to run around in the park, or eat in, coats rarely need cleaning! If your coat does get marked, it is quite easy to ‘spot-brush’ or ‘sponge-clean’. This means exactly as it says. Take a clean, soft brush (it can be a clean toothbrush, or nail brush) and with a very light touch brush the stain out. If it is ingrained, pick it out. A few fibres might come too, but this will be un-noticeable if you do it carefully. Or, take a clean sponge, wet with warm water and sponge at the soiled area. If the mark does not come off easily, put a tiny (quarter a small pea) amount of hand-wash detergent and sponge again. Rinse with a very small amount of water on the localised stain. This should remove it. If not, take it to be dry cleaned. I would usually take coats to be dry-cleaned at the end of the winter season, before putting them away for next autumn.
Word of warning about bleach – don’t use it on textiles. The only time I have ever had need for diluted bleach on fabric is for heavily soiled white linen sheets. There is no use for bleach on baby and children’s garments, and should not be used on anything fine and dainty! It is too strong and harsh and could damage these delicate fibres.
And my final recommendation, is to take pleasure in caring for your baby and child’s garments - the time when they can wear such cute tiny clothes goes so quickly, try to enjoy it while you can!