Feeling too relaxed


The outer layer of a pale blue skirt, cut in panels to a full drape, shrank excessively following perc drycleaning. As a result there was an excess of lining.

Cause: The acetate or viscose fibres in the outer cloth showed no trace of cracking and the weave itself is very elastic. This means it is going to be very difficult to make this fabric as cloth on the roll without setting a slight stretch into it.

If this fabric is not properly relaxed prior to garment make-up, then it will display relaxation shrinkage in cleaning. This is exactly what has happened here.

Responsibility: This lies with the garment maker in this instance. Failure to appreciate and eliminate relaxation potential is causing problems across a lot of garment ranges of this type.

Solution: It should be possible to produce a better result by carefully resetting the fabric panel by panel on the bed of a professional ironing table or the buck of a free-steam press.

Working to dimensions provided by the owner, each panel needs to be placed under tension and this tension maintained through the pressing sequence.

The process should finish with a thorough vacuum lasting for at least 20seconds so as to cool, dry and set the material to the desired size.

The prospects for success are probably slightly better than 50/50, depending on how much length has to be recovered.

How to avoid it

When an item shrinks, customers often blame the cleaner for the damage. Frequently, the cleaner’s first response will be to dispute that the garment has actually shrunk.

This is not a sensible approach. Most items lose size to some extent in laundering or drycleaning and there is no point in arguing with the customer. The key issue is the cause of shrinkage and who takes responsibility.

Felting shrinkage is caused by putting wool garments into a drycleaning cycle when they contain too much humidity, or by allowing free droplets of water into the distilled solvent. In the latter case, failure to clean the water separator frequently could be the cause. Felting is generally the drycleaner’s responsibility, even if the garment was damp when handed in.

Relaxation shrinkage can affect every type of fabric and is almost always the manufacturer’s responsibility. Only the manufacturer can determine the amount of stretch set into the cloth. The garment maker is often in the best position to relax the fabric prior to make-up. The cleaner should never share the blame for relaxation shrinkage and neither should the owner.

Backcoated fabric may carry a coating which is solvent sensitive. This can produce dramatic shrinkage, despite the optimism of the supplier. If the coating is hidden, there is little the cleaner can do to foresee or avoid it.

Upholstery covers often shrink due to the structure of their piping, rather than the main fabric. Some manufacturers use a polypropylene core which is strong but sensitive to perc. Others use paper wadding and many of these waddings relax dramatically in cleaning. Both are manufacturer defects and the cleaner should not take any of the blame. However, where suite covers are unlabelled, cleaners should warn the customer that there is a possibility that the item could shrink and that this risk cannot be foreseen. The owner needs to authorise cleaning under these circumstances, because the drycleaner can rarely avoid or eliminate this risk.

Skirt shows its lining


A lined skirt made from a blend containing wool and silk shrunk excessively following drycleaning. As a result, the lining hung 100mm below the top skirt.

Cause: Even applying very strong tension to this fabric failed to bring it to the length of the lining. This, together with examination of the wool fibres under magnification, indicated slight felting caused by humidity in the wool when the garment went into the machine. If the shrinkage had been pure relaxation, then applying tension should have brought the item near to its original length.

Responsibility: The cleaner is responsible in this case. This is a difficult fabric to clean and finish successfully. However, the manufacturer is not at fault here.

Solution: In addition to shrinking, the cloth acquired a rather hairy surface, so although the lining could be shortened to give a shorter skirt, the result is not going to be very satisfactory.