Some secrets of silk fabric care:
preparing silk fabric for sewing; washing and ironing
silk garments and bedding
Manufacturers of silk garments and bedding usually don’t bother to pre-wash fabric they work with. That’s why they put labels saying “Dry Clean Only”.
But I highly advise to pre-wash the entire piece of silk fabric before cutting it. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Don’t pre-wash home décor silk (which is usually heavier and wider) if you are going to use it for sewing curtains and throw pillows, and embroidered silk fabric which may not shrink proportionally.
I am against dry cleaning whenever possible because of chemicals even if it is organic. In China, they make silk fabric for at least 5000 years. And people cared for traditional silk garments long before dry cleaning. Silk is tough fabric, it only appears to be delicate! It certainly can be washed in water.
Below you can see a painting of Robert Frederick Blum (American artist, 1857–1903) “In the Laundry”. It looks like they are washing silk garments.
But not all silk fabrics and garments are equal. Pre-washing (especially if it is not done properly) can take out the crispness of some decorator silk fabric, prints or colors can run (very rarely though for modern fabrics), silk fabric can lose some of the sheen and may turn muddy (especially if you put it in a washing machine). So, in the end, it is your choice if you want to pre-treat silk fabric before cutting. As for me, I always do that and never had any problems.
Here are some rules for pre-washing silk fabric
1. Fill a container with lukewarm water (30-35 °C, 86-95 °F ). You can add to the water a few tablespoons of a distilled white vinegar or a few drops of a liquid hair conditioner. Don’t use your washing machine, most silk fabrics have to be hand washed. Of course, there are exceptions.
2. Gently push your fabric into the water and move it around a little so all the fabric is soaked.
3. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so.
Usually, irons have special settings for silk but I found that the temperature of this setting is really very low. So I iron my silk fabric on the wool setting ( and some even on cotton) and never burned even sheer chiffon. The silk fabric is not afraid of a hot iron.
Satin and other shiny fabrics can be ironed on the right side, but it’s better to iron silk on the wrong side
But I made burn out tests and results were positive, I had organza from pure silk for sure. So I started to use this fabric as a press cloth and was never disappointed. The main thing is that I can clearly see through the fabric where I am ironing and I can easily avoid that awful creases that form sometimes and can spoil the whole garment.
Moreover, with organza as the press cloth, I am able to avoid those terrible watermarks that my steam iron sometimes produces out of nowhere.
So I highly recommend to buy quite cheap organza silk fabric (well, really, it is not costly silk fabric somehow) and use it as a press cloth.
Anyway, it is best to always pre-treat your silk fabric using the manner in which you intend to care for the garment. This pre-treatment before cutting and sewing with ensure longer life of your garment.
How to wash silk garments and bedding
Now their experience is almost lost. How many silk garments do you have? And even you have some silk dress or a blouse you don’t wash it, right? You go to dry cleaner.
But if you can sew you can make as many silk dresses as you want and then you will need to know how to wash them.
Natural silk is not only delicate, but also expensive, so I’ll try to give some recommendations on how not to spoil your favorite silk garment by incorrect washing.
2. Try not to wash delicate garments made out of lightweight silk (like chiffon, georgette, crepe de Chine, charmeuse) in a washing machine (even if there is a delicate or manual washing mode). Handwashing is much better for these types of silk. The fibers of silk fabric in the wet state lose their strength and are destroyed by mechanical action. It is possible that from one wash in the machine those garments will not fall apart but it may happen after a few washings.
3. Handwashing of lightweight silk garments can be done… in a salad spinner. No, I am not going crazy. And of course, I am not going to use the salad spinner to make food after that. But it is really great for washing silk scarves, shrugs, and blouses. Here is a small video how I am doing this. Also, I soak the garment in the warm water with some shampoo in it for about half an hour.
5. After washing, don’t squeeze or twist the garment. Let the water drain and put the garment on a towel and roll it up to remove water. Never put anything made of silk in a dryer. Let it air-dry.
If you are interested how to sew with silk fabric check out my other posts