How to Use a Clothes Brush
r. Stanley Ager, Butler to the second and third Lords St. Levan—entered service in 1922 at the age of 14. He and Fiona St. Aubyn, an author and granddaughter of the late Lord St. Levan and the Dowager Lady St.Levan, wrote an excellent book published in 1982 The Butler's Guide to Clothes Care, Managing the Table, Running the Home & Other Graces. The instructions below are taken from their book and represent a very good primer on using a clothes brush.
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HOW TO USE A CLOTHES BRUSH
It is the correct use of your clothes brush that really removes dust. Always remember that brushing should never be a scrubbing movement; it requires a strong sweeping motion or a firm flick of your wrist on areas where dust has accumulated. All strokes must go in the same way; otherwise, when light strikes the cloth, it will look a mess, like the ruffled hair on a horse's shank.
You must first brush the nap—i.e brush against the lie (nap)of the material—to remove all the dust that is trapped inside it. Then brush down the nap for a smooth finish. If you want to brush out a mark, brush it with short, quick strokes, but never jab at cloth or you are likely to break the fiber. Freshen up your clothes by using a damp brush on them. Dip the bristles of your brush in a bowl of water. Then flick the water from the bristles so the brush is left slightly damp, not wet and brush as usual. I always brush evening clothes with a slightly damp brush. If a suit is very dusty, brush it with a dry brush first and then use a slightly damp brush to freshen it up.
These instructions for using a clothes brush are adapted from The Butler's Guide to Clothes Care, Managing the Table, Running the Home & Other Graces published in 1980 by Stanley Ager, former Butler to the second and third Lords St. Levan.
Natural bristle clothes brushes are best of all. Synthetic brushes have less "give," and because they are hard, they can scratch the fabric. Also, synthetic brushes will wear out relatively quickly, whereas a natural bristle brush should last you a lifetime. Good brushes are, of course, expensive, but they are long lasting. To my mind, anyone who travels anywhere should take a small traveling clothes brush. I always carry a small natural bristle traveling brush with me whenever I go away. It fits handily into a suitcase. A velvet-faced lint brush can be used on finely woven and soft materials and on men's evening clothes (i.e. a dinner jacket). This type of brush is ideal for picking up fluff, hair or clinging particles. Some people remove these little bits with tape, but I thing this could leave marks on the fabric. It is best to remove them with your fingers, but this takes time and a great deal of patience.
I clean my clothes brushes the same way I clean my shoe brushes and silver brushes. These brushes need only occasional cleaning, and this is the best method I know of. I take a piece of strong white shelf paper or brown wrapping paper and wrap it round the edge of a table. I always double the brown wrapping paper and have the dull side (rather than the smooth side) face up. Then I take the brush and rub it briskly back and forth over the paper, from end to end.
I like to brush on a table. An unfinished wooden table is excellent. I always wipe it with a damp cloth before and after use. A polished table is so slippery that you must put the garment on a blanket or a strip of baize so it will not slide about. In this case, remember to cover the blanket or baize with a sheet so no fluff comes off on your garment. You can brush on almost any flat surface, provided it is at waist level and large enough to spread out your garment on. The surface should be firm so that you can bring some pressure to bear on the brush. I find a bed is a little bit too soft. Also, there's a danger of fluff coming off the bedspread, which makes for extra work—a candle-wick bedspread is the devil for this. If you don't happen to be near a suitable brushing surface, you can brush a skirt or jacket on its hanger. You should use a wooden hanger, which is sturdier and easier to hold steady than a flimsy wire hanger. Hold the garment with one hand and brush with the other. You must hold the garment at arm's length so you can turn it and see what you are doing. Again, you must never brush blindly; all brush strokes must be in the same direction.
FABRICS AND GARMENTS
WOOL: Wool is stout and needs especially strong treatment. We used to brush tweed with a special stiff brush called a dandy brush, which had long straw bristles. I don't believe this type of brush is available anymore, but brushing vigorously up and down the nap with a regular clothes brush is just as effective a way to remove dust from tweed. I feel that a well-tailored suit should be kept looking like one whether it is a woman's or a man's. Tailored suits take three times as much care as casual suits. Closely woven twills and synthetics don't need much brushing because dust doesn't stick to them. But a wool or tweed suit should be brushed every time it is worn, either before or after wearing. It takes less than five minutes. You should always brush a wool or tweed suit if you haven't worn it for some time. At the very least you should shake your suit before you put it away. A suit made of another fabric should be checked before every second wearing and brushed if necessary. Brush evening clothes much more gently than you would everyday clothes. And be careful when brushing a dinner jacket that the bristles don't scratch the silk facings.
VELVET: I would never use a bristle brush on velvet, because it can mark the material. You should use a brush with a velvet finish on the face, or better still, a piece of velvet. Gently rub the piece of velvet down the nap of the velvet garment. Never rub up the velvet nap, or you will leave a mark. Steaming is the best way to liven up velvet and should be done last thing; you can hang the garment in a steamy bathroom while you're taking a bath or shower before going out.
TO BRUSH A JACKET: Take everything out of the pockets so that they lie flat and if they have flaps, make sure the flaps are not tucked inside. Then turn up the collar and lapels before laying the jacket flat face downwards. Fold back the shoulders so they lie flat and the sleeves fall naturally on either side of the back seam. Because I am right-handed I start from the right, which on a man's jacket is where the buttons are. Wherever you start, always brush up the nap first and then brush down the nap immediately afterwords. Brush the entire length with a single long stroke, which will allow you to be fairly vigorous and will leave no brush marks. Sweep your brush up the right front of the jacket, covering the area from the outside edge of the armhole to the edge of the jacket, beyond the buttons. Take the brush from the hem to the tip of the lapels, and then brush back down again to the hem. Brush the outside of the right sleeve, up and down the nap. Fold the sleeve forward and brush up and down the nap on the inside. Fold the sleeve back to its first position. The shoulders are the next part of the jacket to brush. Take the brush from behind the outside of the shoulder to the inside edge of the collar, and then back again from the edge of the collar to the tip of the shoulder. Brush the shoulder using short quick strokes, because it is a small area. It is particularly important that the bristles of the brush lift the fibers of the material on the shoulder as this is where dandruff collects and dust is more likely to accumulate. Next, brush the left-hand side of the jacket, using the same strokes as you did on the right. Otherwise the garment would look patchy and uneven in the light. You then, of course, brush up and then down the nap. Brush the outside of the second (left) sleeve first, then fold it forward and brush the inside, not forgetting to brush the part of the jacket behind it. Fold it back to its first position and then brush the shoulder. Do the collar last; brush across the interfacing from left to right and right to left. You will be surprised at the amount of dust that has collected there! Then fold the collar back down and brush forwards and backwards across it. Your jacket is ready to hand in your cupboard.
TO BRUSH TROUSERS: If your trousers have cuffs, turn the mown before you start brushing. An incredible amount of dust collects there, because you kick dust into them as you walk. You must brush up the nap first to uncover the dust, and then smooth the nap by brushing downwards. Brush the dust out of the cuffs with short quick strokes. Next brush the outside of the leg from the cuff to the waistband in sweeping motions. Then brush down the nap from the waistband to the cuff. Turn the leg back and brush from the inside of the opposite leg (including the material on both sides from the crotch to the waistband) with the same long brush strokes. Brush from the cuff to the waistband and from the waistband to the cuff. Turn the trousers over and brush the outside of the second leg. Then pull back the second leg and brush the inside of the first leg. If you trousers are cuffed, fold them back correctly. You now have a well-brushed pair of trousers.
TO BRUSH A SKIRT: Lay the skirt flat on a table. Begin by brushing the back. Brush from the hem to the waistband, then smooth the nap by brushing from the waistband to the hem. Turn the skirt over. Always save the final brushing for the front of the skirt as this is more visible.
TO BRUSH FELT HATS AND BOWLERS: You should brush a hat to remove settled dust after you take it off. I use a clothes brush on hats, but I brush gently so as not to finish with a bald patch, as there isn't a great deal of nap to play with.
TO BRUSH A FELT HAT: Place your left hand inside the crown with your palm turned upward. Press your thumb against the headband on one side and spread your fingers to steady the inside crown. Now begin brushing in a clockwise direction, starting above the ribbon and working upwards to the top of the crown. As you work, turn the hat by rotating your left wrist anticlockwise. When you have brushed the crown, brush round the brim in exactly the same manner.
TO BRUSH A VELVET RIDING HAT: Place a riding hat near a boiling kettle and steam it, then brush it with a fine natural bristle clothes brush. Hold it as you would a bowler or felt hat, and smooth the nap by rotating your left wrist anticlockwise and brushing anticlockwise with your right hand.