Care and Feeding of Silk Fabric
That may be a bit dramatic. Silk doesn’t ACTUALLY need to be fed. But it does need a little TLC to maintain its beauty. Here is what we do when making beauty with Damask Raven silks. These were the steps obtained after much trial and error, using different soaps and soap combinations.
You may choose to Color test a small swatch. Believe it or not, even with huge advances in dyeing technology, lots of times the fabric will still bleed the excess dye off during washing. This doesn’t mean you can’t wash the fabric, just make sure you are ok with the level of bleed off before dunking the whole big piece. More than likely (but not guaranteed), it will only bleed off once and future washings will result in no additional loss of color saturation. Added bonus to washing first: bleed off will occur in the wash water, rather than on your skin during wearing. I am a very impatient person. Also, I accept that color bleed is a fact of sewing life, so I skipped the color swatch. But do what you are comfortable with.
Color Test: Fill a bowl with lukewarm water. Add a teaspoon of your intended cleaning product. Soak the swatch in the bowl for a fifteen minutes. Rinse the swatch in cold water and roll in to a white towel. If any of the color transfers, there is dye bleed off. VERY IMPORTANT! Not just silk, but ANY fabric you buy, is prone to color bleed. Ever wash a red sock with a white towel? That is color bleed. Not saying there is no way to avoid it completely, but if there is, I haven't located that secret yet. I promise to share if I do.
Now to wash:
Fill your sink or wash basin with lukewarm water. Ok, not to the top. Leave some room for the fabric so you don’t slosh water all over the place resulting in flooded desolation. Also, lukewarm is something I had to look up. Seriously, I had no idea it was warmish, closer to cold, water. Seriously, who does that to themselves?
As the sink is filling with lukewarm water, add a very gentle soap. I use one tablespoon to a full sink of Dr. Bronner's Baby Soap. DO NOT use detergents like Tide, Gain, or anything with harsh chemicals...not even Woolite. I actually began washing silk with Woolite and the color bleed was alarming. I was pretty convinced my red fabric was going to come out pink from color loss. While that didn't happen, and my red is still a vibrant red, the color loss was minimal when using Dr. Bronner's vs. Woolite.
Submerge your fabric. If you purchased more than one piece, wash each separately and change the water between washes. You don’t want to wash a vibrant red then find the blue in the next wash is now purple from bleed off. You truly don’t need to agitate it any, since when you start the rinse, you will be handling the silk plenty. I have found that after the fabric is submerged, walk away. Leave if for at least 20 minutes, but no more than hour. If you happen to be walking by and feel the need to swirl the fabric around, go ahead! But really, it isn't necessary.
Move the fabric to the side and pull the plug. Once the water had drained,
Refill sink with cold water and a cup of vinegar to begin the rinse. The vinegar serves several functions. It helps break up the Dr. Bronner's which is still in the fabric. It helps the fabric keep a lustrous look to it. And, most importantly, it helps the dye to set. Let soak another hour before draining the sink again.
While your fabric is soak/rinsing, lay out towels on a large flat surface, end to end. Like you are creating yardages of towels. You don't need so much that you have yard for yard of your silk, just enough that you can roll the silk.
At this point, you have two options: A) Refill the sink with plain water and let the fabric sit 30 minutes, or B) Let the cold water run over your fabric while you push the water gently through. Think washerwoman on the river bank while you make sure there are no suds left on your fabric. If you choose option A, make sure to follow through with option B when the thirty minutes are up. They probably wouldn’t really damage the fabric, but might cause you some irritation if you are wearing your new dress with a patch of dried soap pressed against your skin.
DO NOT WRING OUT THE FABRIC! I know it’s hard. You wash the dishes, you wring out the dishcloth. Twisting puts stress on the silk. While silk is generally not as delicate as its reputation leads one to believe, you don’t want to distort it or add wrinkles where none need to be.
Take your newly washed silk over to the towels you have laid out. Spread your silk as best you can on the towels. Unless you have bigger towels than me, you will probably have to fold the silk over on itself. This is ok. Once you are satisfied with your silk arrangement, begin to roll the towel up with the silk inside it. This is gentler than wringing the fabric and will press the excess water out.
Unroll the towel and leave the silk to air dry. This gets especially exciting when you have cats, because they REALLY like silk. If you had to fold the silk to lay it on the towel, you may have to turn the silk once to let the other side air dry. OR, and this is what I did to keep the cats off: you can buy a clothes rack and drape the silk over that.
Once the silk is dry, use a pressing cloth and a cool to low heat iron to iron out the wrinkles. Suggested: Test your irons heat on the swatch you color tested. Better Suggestion: USE A PRESSING CLOTH.
Cut and sew your beautiful new fabric in to your new dress or tunic.
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Updated March 16, 2018