Most of your wardrobe is likely made out of cotton, but the tag "100% Cotton" can be equally applied to a great garment and a mediocre one. The quality of the fabric can make a huge difference in how well the finished article retains its shape and colour, and cotton can be woven a number of ways to suit different uses. Read on to discover what makes our clothes a cut above!
How to tell
While the biggest differences separating high-grade from low-grade cotton appears after being used and washed a few times, to some degree you can recognize quality while the garment is still on the rack in the store.
Grab the clothing gently and release. Quality cotton is made from fine, supple fibres which will readily straighten out again with minimal wrinkles. Low quality cotton is conversely coarser and stiffer, and will show clear wrinklage. It is almost impossible to produce cotton that does not wrinkle at all - that requires synthetic blends.
The fine-spun threads of good cotton feel soft to the touch, even on thick garments. This is however not a fool-proof test, as low quality cotton can be chemically treated to appear soft, an effect that disappears after a few cycles in the washing machine. "Non-iron" shirts are made this way. As a rule, none of our garments are non-iron. With the advent of steamers, there is no reason to wear clothing that hides its imperfections with softening chemicals.
Cotton is much less susceptible to pilling than wool and other materials, so only cotton from the very bottom of the barrel will show any pilling from hanging in a store.
Even "coarse" cotton threads are generally very thin, so the evenness of the weave can be hard to ascertain with the naked eye. On more textured weaves like oxford and twill you can however tell if the weave looks straight and tight, or uneven and lopsided. Keep in mind that even fine-spun cotton will sometimes be made on high-speed looms which leave microscopic ruptures in the material. These tears will only be evident after washing the garment a few times. We only stock items that remain straight after appropriate washing.
Finer threads allow the weaver to produce denser weaves, which are generally stronger and nicer to wear. Therefore convention says that quality cotton lets less light slip through than cheaper alternatives. For normal clothing this is true. However, for light summer shirts it can be beneficial to use very thin threads in a looser weave to ensure breathability and low weight, with the trade-off that it will never be as durable as a thick work shirt. This is fine in our eyes as long as the customer is aware - just as you would never use a Ferrari to tow a big trailer.
Sources of cotton
Cotton is a cellulose fibre harvested from the seeds of the Gossypium plant family which grows natively in India, Africa and the Americas. Here in Northern Europe cotton clothing is a fairly recent phenomenon; cotton imports to Norway being forbidden until 1813. Before, home-grown linen, wool and furs had been dominant together with a small quantity of imported silk. With the introduction of industrialized spinning, however, cotton yarn could be spun strong enough to be used in large looms and have since since relegated other natural fibres to luxury garments in most parts of the world, as the plant itself is much easier to cultivate and process on an industrial scale.
The most sought-after cotton are from plant strains that produce long fibres. The longer the fibres, the thinner the yarn can be spun, resulting in a finer and stronger textile. Fine does not necessarily mean thin: For thicker garments several threads can be spun together, or groups of threads can be woven together in a thick weave.
Since climate and soil conditions are critical for cotton quality, raw cotton is primarily ranked by area of origin. Egyptian cotton is regarded as the best, followed by Sea Island cotton from the West Indies and American Pima cotton. Indian and Pakistani cotton is also held in a high regard. Cheaper garments will instead use the more common upland cotton grown in China and the US which is fine for most uses, but will never give the softness and strength of higher-grade variants.
Cotton plants are highly susceptible to vermin, leading to heavy use of pesticides and fertilizer in most plantations. Good suppliers do their best to source cotton from known sustainable farms with good labour relations.
On our webstore you will find items called "Oxford shirt", "Melange" and many other terms that pass by without thinking. These are types of weaves.
Like other cloths, cotton fabric is made from yarn that is spun into threads which are subsequently woven into cloth on large looms. Lengthwise threads, called the warp, are strung out and intervowen with a horisontal thread called the weft. The weft ties the cloth together by alternating between going over and under the warp. The pattern it takes is called the weave. Different weave patterns have different properties that suit different applications. Here are some used in our garments:
The simplest type of weave - the weft goes over one warp and under the next. Looks tidy and symmetrical and is well suited to coarse threads, making it common for work clothing and other heavy duty garments.
The weft is offset, for example going over a warp thread for one line, then under for the next line and so on. This offset creates distinctive diagonal lines in the fabric. Twill can be woven very densely, making it a premium weave and well suited to heavier clothing such as jackets and trousers. Denim is a type of twill, originally from the French city of Nîmes (de Nîmes). Many Schnayderman's items are made with twill.
A type of twill where the offset is repeated in reverse, creating a chevron pattern. Like regular twill it can be woven very densely, making it excellent for sweatshirts and winterwear. Since the pattern is highly decorative when used with two different colors it is often found on high-end trousers. Soulland among others use herringbone.
Like plain weave, but instead of using single threads both weft and warp consist of several threads grouped together. When you look closely at an oxford shirt this appears as a fine checkered pattern. Normally only the warp will be coloured whereas the weft will be left white, leading to a textured hue. Oxford weaves are normally very abrasion-resistant while still being light, making an oxford shirt a go to item for office workers. This weave is generally warmer than poplin and cooler than twill. We stock Oxford shirts from several brands, like AMI Alexandre Mattiussi.
Plain weave using warp and weft of different thickness, originally with silk warp and wool weft, but now primarily cotton for both. Poplin has a very good strength to weight ration, making it excellent for summer coats and shirts. For their summer collections some of our brands use poplin, such as Goetze and Still by Hand.
Poplin with different colours for warp and weft, usually using thicker threads. Thicker and heavier than poplin and therefore a common sight on workwear and winter clothing. Bleu de Paname usually have at least one Chambray item in their lineup.
Any weave that is made with coarse threads, then brushed to create napping. The naps make flannel extremely soft and warm, since it retains more air pockets than other fabrics. Originally only used for wool, but now also available as cotton (sometimes called flannelette). Typical for autumn and winter wear. Libertine-Libertine is well known for their flannel Hunter shirts.
Any weave using multi-coloured yarns, creating a deep, textured tint. A very nice touch on soft clothing such as sweaters. Often used with grey or dark colours which would otherwise look dull and uniform. Many of our sweaters, such as Helly Hansen's classic Crew sweater, are made with melange.
We hope this guide was helpful to you!