Fabric, like any other product processed with water–such as cheese, Guinness, whisky–is affected by the mineral content of the water used in its preparation and washing. Guinness’ success is partly attributed to the gentle waters of the Liffey, and certainly tastes distinctly softer in home territory. Similarly, washing imparts the fabric with the properties of the local water, so that fabrics from high mountains, washed or treated with pure fresh spring water have a uniquely soft finish and feel.
* In the UK and Scotland, woollen and worsted cloths are always sent from the west country north to Yorkshire and from the west to the south east of Scotland for the washing process, simply because the water is softer.
No sole weaver or commercial mill would accept the extra costs of transportation and time if they didn’t deem water content vital to the quality of the cloth.
* At home, check the effect of the water you will use on a scrap of fabric at the very outset, if possible before choosing, but certainly not before cutting. Cut an exact square and take a note of the dimensions. Test it first with cold water, and then with hot water. Dry it, press with a dry iron and then press with steam, note its dimensions again and check it against the first measurements. This will tell you how much it creases when wet, the shrinkage rate and direction, the effect of water on the colour and the finish, whether the square stays on grain, and the effect of the iron. From this information, you’ll know a great deal about how to work with, prepare and treat your fabric.
* Silicon finishes that spray onto fabrics to protect them from spills are extremely effective, they also prevent the first stages of grime, so for pale coloured upholstery and carpets they are fairly essential. That, or to make everything washable in robust linens and cottons.