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Do you have “Poly Prejudice”?

(image from here. oh, the things you can buy from amazon…) 

Poly Prejudice is a term I heard from a local fabric store owner who was bemoaning how some customers wouldn’t buy polyester fabric because they thought it was either not as good quality compared to natural fibers or just poorly made in general.

According to him polyester manufacturers have completely upped their game since the 70s when most people developed their disgust for man made fibers and now poly can be as good as silk or cotton (apparently Joann and the other big box fabric stores haven’t found these new great poly manufacturers… ahem).

Hmm… I had never thought about that… Did I have so much poly prejudice that I never even touched the “good” stuff to see if it was even worth working with? Honestly the only poly I’ve ever bought was some fake silk-like polyester from Joann or one time from (that stuff was so slippery and nasty feeling that I just stuck it in a box and haven’t looked at it in months). I’ve probably used some poly/cotton/rayon blends for knits but other than that I avoid the stuff.

Then there’s also the environmental issue – poly is made from petroleum products, not exactly earth friendly. Then again, rayon, one of my fave fibers uses lots of water and chemicals which may or may not be negated by the fact that it is made with renewable materials. And then there’s silk and wool – sorry vegans. And even if you buy organic cotton, odds are the dyes are still full ofchemical. Basically you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

***What got me thinking about poly prejudice again is my need for sweaters. Since I make most of my own clothes my only retail therapy I really get is with shoes and accessories but there’s something else I can’t easily make since I don’t knit – a good old fashion pull over sweater.

I was in a mid range department store the other day on the hunt for a cable knit sweater. The only one I could find that even had cotton in it was a cotton/rayon/poly blend and was two sizes too big.  EVERYTHING ELSE had poly or acrylic or nylon or some space fiber that was probably developed by NASA.

I looked online at Target – no dice. All poly or poly blend. Same at Urban Outfitters. Then I looked online at Gap – one winner (ONE!). It was a 100% cotton terry sweatshirt, not a knitted sweater but at this point I’m not complaining. J.Crew had one 100% cotton sweater and some all wool options but I dislike dry cleaning.

What does a girl gotta do to to get a natural fiber sweater up in here!? I’ll take a wool/cotton blend even! Sweaters are supposed to be comfy and cozy, not itchy from some metallic bits interwoven in it. Can poly be warm and cozy? Am I right to apply my poly prejudice to RTW clothing?

I think many sewists have some amount of Poly Prejudice, I know I do. But are we right to? Have polyesters really improved or do natural fibers still reign supreme in the quality department? Should I be ashamed of my prejudice?

Shopping for non-poly got me thinking about some points in Overdressed. It may not be cheaper anymore to sew versus buying clothes but if you don’t even have the option to buy a clothes made from natural fibers then sewing would be the only way to get those garments.

So what’s your opinion about polyester? Does it have a place in our wardrobe? Should we give poly a chance? Is poly the fabric rights issue of our generation!? Am I making a big deal over nothing?!!

Comments (63) for post “Do you have “Poly Prejudice”?”

  • If you did knit, your poly prejudice would be off the charts like mine! I’m wearing a 100% merino wool cabled cardigan that I made for about $20 with wool from Michael’s. Not scratchy at all! If you can sew, you can knit. Actually, if you can read, you can knit. It’s much easier than sewing and much more portable.

    Wool is the best, IMHO. It stays warm when wet, and the wool of today is soft and luxurious.

    But, okay, even I have store bought sweaters. I get mine from TJ Maxx and Marshalls, but have also seen them at Lands End, REI and Nordstrom. You just have to look a bit more for 100% wool.

    I’m trying to learn to sew, and read your blog for inspiration, but I find it very difficult.

    • I need to get back into knitting and learn something more advanced than rectangles. I think my passions for knitting wanes after the two months of semi-chilly weather here is over.

      Sewing can be hard at first but once you get the hang of it you can make lot of things in a very short amount of time compared to knitting a whole sweater. Good luck!

  • Hmmm, I think I’m poly prejudiced and I didn’t even know it! Like Claire above it makes me sweaty too, so I usually stay clear. But if a new ‘breed’ of better poly came out, I’d give it a go ;o)

    By the way, I’ve emailed you about your mailing address for the pattern you won in my Christmas giveaway!

  • I buy some polyester fabric occasionally. There’s polyester… and then there’s polyester, if you get my drift. I try to avoid 100% poly fabrics, especially knits as they make me feel icky, but at the same time…. eh. Anytime something says blend it usually has some amount of polyester in it. I don’t think it can be totally avoided, although I wonder about the environmental implications. But like you say, you’re damned when you buy almost ANY type of fabric. I’m not sure what the answer is unless you are raising sheep, shearing their wool, spinning your own yarn and weaving your own fabric….

  • Even if something is 100% cotton or 100% wool, it’s not necessarily good quality. When manufacturers use short fibers to make the fabric, the sweater eventually pill or distort. So try not to be tempted by how soft the sweater feels. The short fibers are what make them so soft. And if the price is somewhere around $20, you can be pretty sure it won’t be very long lasting.

    I have a 100% cotton cardigan from Target that is just way out of wack now. It constantly slips off the shoulders and curls along the button placket and the hem.

    The acrylic/nylon cardi I have is my favorite. It’s stayed pretty much the same shape I bought it and is fairly warm. It isn’t as soft as the cotton cardi, which probably explains why it has stayed the same shape. And it only cost me $20 at Cotton On. I had that one for close to 2 years and bought the same one in a different color today (:

    Now, I don’t know much long these synthetic fiber cardigans are really going to last, but I wear them all the time and they still look classy (; I’ve bought a couple cardis from Target and they’ve all pretty much gotten distorted; I’ll probably never go back to Target for more.

    The 100% cotton sweaters at J. Crew might be better, but you gotta feel them by hand before buying it. Not all cotton and wool fibers are made the same! That’s why a good quality cashmere sweater is $200+. It’s all about the length of the fibers.

    • hmmm, the short fibers thing is a good point that i didn’t really consider. come to think of it, the nicest sweater i ever owned was a cashmere/silk blend cardi that hardly pilled at all but then i dry cleaned it once and it smelled so awful that i couldn’t stand wearing it πŸ™ i’ll take your advice and go feel the sweaters i’m thinking about buying rather than ordering online. πŸ™‚

  • Poly for me is a no go in the fabric store – I’ll go for natural and shun the plastic. I am very much like you, in that I make my clothes but can’t knit, so I have purchased some jumpers this year. And actually, I am pretty sure they are all acrylic. Sadly, price won me over when buying them, I was cold and needed something warm asap! And actually, they are quite cosy. So yes, I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite?

    • ugh, price gets me, too. it’s hard to shell down a bunch on one item when i don’t know how long it will last or if it will be in style in a couple years and when i could buy three cheaper ones for the same price as the expensive one!

  • The only polyester I will buy is charmeuse, and that is because my budget won’t allow me to indulge in silk on a regular basis and because I use it for lingerie. Otherwise, polyester holds in entirely too much body heat to be comfortable, no matter how cold it is outside.

  • 100% polyester does not breathe and when you perspire, it sticks to you. I get an almost desperate feeling when I’m wrapped in a sheet of what amounts to plastic especially when you live in a warm/hot climate. The last time I wore 100% polyester (back in 2004 and against advice), I had to stop in a store bathroom and remove the offending top, then walk home with my trench over my bra. I know polyester has improved since the 70’s, in appearance anyway, but I’m not convinced it’s improved that much in comfort. I’ll occasionally accept a small percentage blended into natural fibers, but otherwise call me polyester-prejudiced.

  • I really like poly in blends – it tends to make colors last longer and things less wrinkly. I don’t have a lot of 100% poly items, except for wicking activewear, which is a whole ‘nother class of fabrics. Like you say, poly is not necessarily worse for the planet than “natural” fibers which tend to be made with a lot of fertilizers (made from petroleum, generally) and/or dyed with a lot of chemical dyes. I have found a few poly knits that have a really nice hand, and in fact as far as things you can buy at the fabric store as yard goods, I think the synthetics are better than the cottons which tend to be really really thin and don’t recover well. Obviously what the garment manufacturers can get their hands on is a whole other thing.

    I don’t generally find it hard to find all-cotton or cotton or rayon-blend sweaters. I tend to avoid acrylic because it pills really quickly and looks cheap, imo. I don’t like wearing wool – no matter what it tends to make me itch and since I don’t live in a cold climate I just avoid it except in a few coats.

    • i guess i don’t mind a little poly for the reason you said but i certainly don’t like it to be a majority. maybe i’m just not looking at the right places to find cotton and cotton blend sweaters. I’m continuing my hunt. As for wool – i’ve found both really soft and really itchy wool sweaters, i guess it just depends on what kind of wool and the fiber length and other factors that determine softness.

  • I definitely tend to lean towards natural fibres more- I think I’ve had too many bad poly clothes experiences. When I find one that feels nice I’ll give it a bash but until then nature me up πŸ˜‰

  • There are some beautiful polyester and polyester blend fabrics that have tempted me, but regardless I stick to my resolution of only buying natural fibre fabrics that breathe. I live in a warm climate and polyester leaves me a sticky, smelly mess if I wear it, so it is to be avoided.

  • I’m on the page with “you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t” so do what feels right to you and everyone else can suck it. I have been, and still feel like I am, anti-polyester. I’ve recently made a couple full-on poly garments and feel almost guilty for liking them and wearing them… and even I feel silly about that. Like in a lot of facets of my life I usually choose the best possible option for the situation or garment at hand… be it a poly ITY knit with a terrific print or an organic cotton that was meticulously hand dyed by well-paid American adults in a non-sweatshop environment.

    • i like your attitude πŸ˜‰ i think the only all poly garments i’ve made were a long time ago and have been donated which means i probably didn’t like them. i guess i don’t have a good way to guage whether i even like working with/wearing handmade poly clothes.

  • I really hate the feel of polyester. I find it feels sticky against my skin and that just grosses me out. Occasionally I don’t mind some poly blends, but it really is a case by case kind of thing. Generally I find that it doesn’t matter how nice the fabric is to look at, if it’s not comfortable I just won’t wear it.

  • I love cotton with a bit of poly in it because of the wrinkle-resistance. I’m really not fussed about whether I wear natural fibres or not. The only problem I tend to have with poly is that it’s not very good for keeping me warm on a cold day – give me wool any time for that.

  • I love wearing polyester.
    I don’t find it makes me sweaty. I love the wrinkle-resistance and the drape. It can be a little fiddly to sew as it’s always trying to get away from you.

    Generally I find I wear my polyester made clothes more than my cotton ones! I don’t buy polyester knit but have plenty of poly-crepe, poly-cotton and poly-satin as well as 100% polyester!

    No poly-prejudice in my sewing room πŸ™‚

  • Interesting post! I’m not poly-prejudiced anymore, but it took awhile because I was a child of the 70s and remember the weird forms of polyester (a lot of doubleknit type fabrics). A good polyester can add some nice benefits (I like some in button down shirts), but I hear you on the environmental issue. It depends on the garment… with sweaters I just try it on to see how scratchy it is (and some wool is so scratchy). I buy sweaters because I only need like two for our winters and I’m just not tempted enough to try knitting yet. My favorite heavenly cashmere pullover came from a sale at J Crew–they often have a cashmere collection and it usually goes on crazy sale right about now.

    In general, my favorite fiber is silk–I’d say I’m silk-biased! I’ve also come around to nylon. I found this gorgeous microfiber nylon by chance for some lingerie and it beats most of the rayon and cotton knits I have for both comfort and ease of sewing/washing.

  • Polyester is certainly cheaper in price, and it has its benefits such as faster dry time, better shape retention, less wrinkability. But, as others have said, it’s not breathable and I know that it can produce insane static. I like the look of one of my poly dresses, but due to its slick swish, I feel like I’m wrapped in a tarp when I wear it. I’d rather wear a silk/cotton blend or something, but I can so rarely find that type of thing locally.

    Natural fibers aren’t created equal, though. I’ve researched different types of wool, and Merino wool tends to be the best (and better than cotton!) in terms of odor prevention, dirt resistance, durability, comfort (no itch and more contour), and dry time. I’d recommend looking for 100% Merino wool sweaters online if you’re on the hunt for something made from quality fabric that you don’t have to dry clean.

  • Yeah, I gots the prejudice. I won’t say poly is non-existent in my stash, but it’s rare, and always part of a blend with natural fibers. Like many of the commenters above, my hatred is entirely because I find it so hot and stifling to wear… I find that anything with more than about 20% poly doesn’t breathe enough from my taste. Oh, and you already know I think you should start knitting. πŸ˜‰

  • I don’t mind a poly-mix in some fabrics, but I won’t wear acrylic jumpers or cardigans as they make me sweat (even when it is freezing cold!). My warmest winter jumpers are ones I’ve knit myself, but I’ve found wool jumpers and cardis via UK online shops Boden and Woolovers.

  • I definitely have Poly Prejudice–like someone mentioned above, polyester makes me sweaty. I’m finally at the point that I won’t buy it at all unless it’s a blend with a natural fiber and the natural fiber content is more than the polyester content. I used to make exceptions for a fabric whose pattern I really liked, but not so much anymore.

    As for RTW sweaters, I’ve been getting mine from Tommy Hilfiger outlets for the past couple of years. They’re thick and 100% cotton (usually). They do shrink up a little though, and they only really look awesome for the first year, but I get them on sale ($25-$30) and they’re ridiculously comfortable.

  • I hear you about the JoAnns of the world shunning the “good” poly fabrics πŸ™‚ I hate hate hate those “silky” fabrics they have so much of – terrible to sew and to wear. I wouldn’t say I’m a poly snob at all, though, because I actually love sewing with, and wearing, poly knits. It doesn’t get much better than a nice heavy ITY for drape, wrinkle resistance, and ease of wear. A nice poly knit dress looks as good after a day of abuse as it did when you put it on in the morning! So my rule of thumb is natural fibres for woven fabrics and polys for knits (cotton knits are fine, but only if they have a bit of lycra – 100% cotton jersey just does not have enough stretch/recovery for me).
    I’m no help in the sweater department since I don’t live in a climate that really requires sweater-wearing. If I’m cold, I just add another knit sweatshirt!

    • i hate those silky fake fabrics from Joann! I admit, I found one that I used in a purse that was ok to work with, more like a rayon challis than a fake charmueuse but other than that those fabrics are just tacky and nasty to feel and work with!

      i’ll take a little poly in my heavier knit but for jersey’s i like all cotton or rayon (i like mine a little more stable so i don’t usually buy jersey with lycra in it).

  • I love poly performance fabrics for workout pants and shorts. I hate wearing cotton lycra bottoms with a passion. Because of this, and a few amazingly comfy acrylic sweaters, I’m not against poly in ready to wear. It is harder to tell what you are going to get when it comes to poly fabrics. I love cotton and silk and often know what I’m getting if I’m buying from reputable dealers. Poly is different. Each one feels different so you can’t really tell what it will be like or sew like for online purchases. Because of that, I don’t buy a ton of poly fabric. But, I’d like to go fabric shopping for apparel fabrics this year and get more since I’m not against it. Now, if I could afford to only wear sand washed silk….that would be nice too πŸ˜‰

    • it’s insteresting. a lot of people complain that poly makes them sweat but most workout wear is partially or all poly because the makers claim that poly dries out faster than cotton so even though you sweat (as you are prone to do when exercising) your sweat will evaporate off those clothes quickly and you won’t stay sticky and sweaty.

  • I would say I definitely have a poly prejudice. When it comes to polyester imitating silk, I would rather buy the silk. And I find that with sweaters, the acrylic ones are not not much cheaper than a wool one. I personally only buy cashmere sweaters because they are warm and not itchy and can last a long time. I rarely wash them so it’s not a pain. And you don’t always have to spend a lot- ebay is a great source. And if my sweater gets a hole in it? I darn them. It adds character.

  • i’m not a big poly fan. i hate how static-y it gets in the winter. if given the option i would definitely choose a natural fiber over polyester.

    you don’t have to dry clean wool. in fact, i’d advise against it (nasty chemicals!). just soak in warm water with a little hair shampoo and conditioner for 20 min. or so. then gently remove it from the water, squeeze it out as much as you can (don’t wring–i usually roll in a towel) and lay flat to dry. you could also use the spin cycle of your machine to get excess water out.

    if you’re not a knitter, you could always offer to trade skills with one in exchange for a hand-knit sweater. there is nothing like a custom handknit sweater.

    • oooooh, trading might be good, although the time it would take someone to knit me a sweater would probably be a lot longer than me sewing someone a dress.

      thanks for the wool washing tips!

  • No poly-prejudice here! But I’m also a generation or so older than Dixie and most of the sewing bloggers!

    I grew up having to iron everything–handkerchiefs, t-shirts, table linens, bed linens, every piece of clothing! *eek!* To this day I despise ironing. I don’t mind pressing while sewing, but if the finished article has to be ironed regularly, it’s ain’t happenin’!

    Since I live in a warm–very warm to hot most of the year–climate and sometimes have to change clothes two or three times a day in the summer, I really want to eliminate–or at least minimize–ironing, particularly during the six hottest months of the year.

    There are some terrific poly and poly blend fabrics available. Rarely at the stores convenient to us, though.


    • Hi Taja, I, too, live in a place with very long, very hot summer and often have to change. Ugh. It’s no poly for me in the summer! My cousin swears by the Downy wrinkle reducer fabric softener, though. I’ve never used it but she has three kids and hates ironing, too, and loves the stuff!

  • Like you touched on, I think it’s a case of polyester being good, but we just don’t have access to the better fabrics like the makers of clothing do. I always look on the inside of clothing now if I’m a store to see what the %’s are – there’s always something unless it’s high end, and even then it’s likely. What irks me the most is the RTW clothing I like to wear the best is always 90%+ natural and a small portion of synthethic. Synthetics lend so much to fabric – ease of care, won’t become shape distorted, less likely to crumple and crease after a day of desk-jockey-ing and it adds to the strength of the garment as well. I would TOTALLY sew with fabrics that are a blend of both, were it that I could actually get me hands on them. I’ll admit though that the ability to wear natural fibres was one of the main factors for me to start sewing. But now that I can, I want to go back to the middle.

    • I agree, in sewing and lower priced RTW it’s hard to get your hands on the good quality stuff. I just get the feeling that the poly fibers I see in a lot of RTW clothes are a bit ratty. πŸ™ I wouldn’t mind a minority of synthetic in my fabric but even that is hard to find.

  • Interesting topic! I feel like I definitely have the prejudice, but I do wonder if it’s well founded or just the result of everyone else hating poly. I have a few knits that are poly blends, and they do tend to hold their shape and resist pilling better than their natural counterparts.

  • I just took a textiles class this semester and learned some interesting things regarding fibers and their environmental impact. My textbook said that many people assume cotton is more eco-friendly than poly, but that’s not the case. Polyester is oftentimes made from petroleum and whatnot but it can be made from recycled water bottles, which is pretty cool. And the process of growing, harvesting, and processing cotton is really detrimental to the environment, unless you’re buying organic cotton. The problem with synthetics is all the chemicals used to make the fibers and the problem with natural fibers is all the chemicals used to make them suitable for their end uses.

    From what I’ve read, I’m starting to think that bamboo is probably the most eco-friendly fiber available. I’ve never personally used any fabric made from bamboo fibers but all the bamboo knitting yarn I’ve seen and bought is wicked soft.

    • Interesting points. I love bamboo rayon but I always thought the rayon process used lots of water and chemicals? It seems that with all of the problems behind each fiber making process the best way to be environmentally friednly would be to go naked!:/

  • I don’t care for poly and try to avoid it at all costs in my sewing experience. That’s not to say that I judge people who prefer to use and wear poly – I get it, it’s cheaper, and much easier to find. But personally, I can’t get behind how difficult it is to press seams (argh!) and how horribly sweaty it makes me (which, as a serial sweat-er who lives in the humid South… no.) I don’t mind a small blend, but the 100% stuff really isn’t allowed in my sewing room.

    The thing that makes me the most mad about poly sweaters is that they are SO expensive! And why? Polyester is pretty cheap to produce. This is what kicked me in the seat to start knitting my own (wool!!)sweaters… and I’ve found that I hate knitting with acrylics anyway (the lack of elasticity hurts my hands, and they don’t block out as well as a nice wool), so all the more wool for me πŸ™‚

    • During the short time that I did knit I hated acrylic yarns, too, for the reasons you said, although the only acrylic yarns I ever bought were from big box craft stores so maybe there are some nicer acylics out there that I didn’t know about.

  • For my tops, I try to avoid polyester, since I find it sweaty. What I do like about it is that it is not so prone to attracting cat hairs, their durability and it holds so well in the laundry. This post made me check the labels of my clothes just now! Since I wanted to be open minded I checked the clothes that didn’t make me so sweaty and I thought were polyester. They appeared to be rayon! The ones that were most uncomfortable during summer were the poly garments. I have a couple of pants I like a lot that appeared to be rayon/poly blends, not completely poly (I don’t wear those when it’s hot or very cold though).

    Maybe the manufacturers say people don’t wear/buy poly because of prejudices against the quality, but from what I’ve read and experienced myself the reasons for avoiding poly are often valid reasons, not prejudices. Just as valid as the reasons for liking poly or poly blends.

  • I have bought a lot of poly fiber in the past because it was pretty and on sale, and it was, well, cheap. I am not sure I would know how to tell the difference between good poly and cheap poly when shopping. I am trying to shift towards more natural fabrics. Outside of the petroleum issue, I think my big gripe of poly is the fact my arm pits can’t get any air and end up smelling worse than with natural fibers. I’m trying to be more selective on projects, like sleeveless or open sleeved tops.

  • I am poly prejudice EXCEPT when it comes to one type of clothing – exercise wear. I HATE wearing cotton to the gym – it soaks up and HOLDS onto my sweat. No bueno!

  • I made probably my favorite and most- worn dress ever, of polyester – in the late 60″s (dating myself). Since reading Overdressed, I don’t buy it, even if it looks good. Never again! I love cotton.

  • I am guilty…poly to me is synonomous with overheating to death! Before I started sewing, I had a ton of the stuff in my wardrobe, but have pretty much purged it all. However I will tolerate it with fiber blends, for the aforementioned benefits of colorfastness,stretch and wrinkling. Have you tried looking for merino wool sweaters? Merino wool fibers are much longer than your standard wool, so it doesn’t itch, and less pilling. Happy sweater hunting:)

  • I have poly prejudice — because it stinks! Literally, I think it traps odors. And my engine runs hot, so I can’t handle wearing synthetics.

  • Gosh this has got people interested and I have to say I haven’t found any good polyester though haven’t looked for it either. I don’t like the way it feels on and how it breathes, for the most part. I think I need to do some research ….

  • I have a couple of acrylic sweaters, and while they’re soft and don’t pill, I hate that I can’t wear them more than twice before they start smelling. On the other hand, I really like my knits with a bit of elastane content, to give them better recovery, so I guess I’m flexible. I try to stay clear of anything with a higher poly content than… say, 20%.
    That said, I have one lovely angora wool sweater that doesn’t need washing at all (if I can keep from spilling things on it), it *never* smells, and it survives my washer’s wool program beautifully.

  • I used to think polyester was total crap, but recently I looked at the tags of several of my most worn tops from Ann Taylor and noticed they were either 100% (or the majority) polyester or poly blend. Of course my first reaction was, “WTF Ann Taylor!”, but then I realized the fabric felt pretty nice and it draped and fit really well, so now I’m considering searching for better quality poly at fabric stores.

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