Sewing Vloggers

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Washing Silks

For some time now I have wanted to do a post on washing silks. My dear friend Ima gave me some lovely silks she picked up "somewhere in Asia". Having been packed away for sometime I felt they needed a bath. I will detail my method but I can't take credit for it. Many years back, in her early days, Martha Stewart had a "laundress" on her show. She told how she wouldn't trust her silks to anyone but this woman who clearly was employed by Stewart. Since I was sewing and wearing a lot of silk blouses to work at that time I put her method into action and have been using it ever since. Wish I knew that woman's name!
Rule Number One: use shampoo to wash your silks, not dish liquid, woolite, or laundry detergent. Silks (and wool) are protein fibers, just like your hair, so use shampoo. You don't ever want to use Biz on silks. The enzymes are very bad for these protein fibers.  Next, you will need some vinegar, white or cider will do. This will go in your rinse water and will help set the dye and prevent it from leaching out. As Claire said, these silks will bleed. They all do. Use coolish to lukewarm water for you washing and cold water for your rinsing. Add a capful of shampoo to a sink full of water. I don't use the machine. Some do, I don't.

This is the sink water after washing and rinsing. You can see how some dye has leached out. The vinegar helps prevent that from happening to an even worse degree. The odd thing is this  dye is brown and the silk is a deep teal.Hmmmm,,,,
When you are washing yardage, set it up in loose folds before you place it in the water. You don't want to just shove a pile of rumpled fabric in the water. Let's treat this yummy fabric with respect. So lay the layered, sort of folded fabric in the soapy water. Do not wring or squeeze tightly. Pull the folds toward yourself and press the wash water thru. Do this over and over. The let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Pull the stack of fabric toward yourself and pull the drain plug. Let it drain.  Add about a cup of white vinegar to the rinse sink, filled with cold water. Lay your folds in that sink and push back and forth, again no squeezing. You can see the folds here in the rinse sink.

Drain the water and fill the sink again, each time pulling the fabric toward yourself and letting gravity help pull out the suds. No squeezing! Do this three or four times, that is filling the sink with fresh water, until the water is free of any suds.

Looks nasty, huh? Next get a big old fluffy towel. A beach towel is great. Lay the yardage in its folds on the towel and start rolling up.
Now imagin my right hand is not holding the camera and is on the towel roll. Knead the roll with both hands to press out the moisture. Press and press and press some more. You want that towel to suck up as much as it can.

I then took the yardage outside and hung it in the shade. No sunshine for these deep colors. It wasn't easy finding a decent place to hang the silk in the shade around here! Let it dry till still slightly damp. You are now going to iron it dry. Use a dry iron on the silk setting. I do not use a press cloth. If it is still steaming, keep ironing. There is more moisture left in the goods.

Here you can see the teal yardage that I have just ironed dry. It has just as much luster as it did off of the bolt. The silks to the left still need to be ironed. The teal piece is 4 yards but 30 inches wide. It washed to a lovely softer hand. Prior to washing it felt like upholstery fabric with all the sizings and finishings put upon it. The silk to the left is 14 YARDS LONG and I really think may be a sari. It sports wonderful gold painting  which I feared would not iron well. I was right. The sari silk needed a lower temp and a press cloth to protect the gold dyes/paints(?).
 Be aware that your fabric will most like change hand and become softer and more drapeable. If you don't want this effect, dry clean it. Also know that you can manipulate this silk. If you would like a "sand washed" finish, by all means use the washing machine. Throw in a pair of jeans and some sneakers with the fabric. Then throw it all in the dryer once washed. Those sneakers and grommets will beat the dickens out of the silk and give it that "washed" look. This was quite popular back in the early 90's but I am not sure it is now. To me it is much easier to just use the dull side of a charmeuse to get a similar effect.

I don't know what I will do with all of that sari fabric but the heavy  lustrous teal is definitely calling out to me. Not sure what the right pattern is just yet, but I am on the lookout.


As you can tell, I have been playing with the blog. We are not there yet, but its coming. I need to play with my mosaics and header more. I also did my seasonal picture change. After over 70 pics, I have one. It is certainly not great but it is the best of the lot. I had to do this alone and it was quite a challenge to get the height right. I literally stacked up pots and coffee cups and set the camera on top. I must say I absolutely love my remote for the camera. You just sit there and click away. FWIW, the shirt I have on is my absolutely favorite shirt in the whole world. One of my six brothers (8 sibs) left it at my house during a stay, maybe John. I started wearing this chambray shirt. It has to be at least 15 years old. I have dyed many a yard of fabric in it, transplanted shrubs in it, and barbecued lots of chicken in it. It has paint stains, but its softness still sucks me in. I starch it, iron it, stains and all, and feel like I am wearing a Chanel. Go figure..................Bunny


  1. Thanks for the tips on silk washing technique. It is similar to the process of washing wool garments that I learned.

    BTW, I love that shirt!

  2. Thanks for your tips. I love your new picture.

  3. Bunny, I am SO glad you said not to use BIZ for anything silk. I've been given my Mom's wedding dress & was thinking about soaking it in BIZ, because it is mostly lace. There may be some silk in there as well, so I think I'll try the shampoo instead. You may have prevented a disaster!

    Thank you, my friend & BTW, you look marvelous, Darlink!

    Try making your header 800 x 600 & see if it works better for you. HTHelps

  4. Thanks for the advice on washing silk--I'd been wondering if I could do that. Is there any type of silk you wouldn't recommend be washed?

    Your lovely teal fabric reminds me of a pattern I saw today in the New Look catalog

  5. Ooooooo. Love the teal fabric also.
    Thanks for all the info on laundering silk. I've done it also, but I was guessing.
    I've got you beat in the siblings race - 10, 6 sisters!

  6. Thank you for another informative post. When I dye protein fibers an acid is what is used to set the dyes - usually vinegar or citric acid, so that totally makes sense that it would be ideal for the washing/rising/treating process.

  7. Love the photo of you, Bunny, and this is a great post packed with information.

  8. thank you so much for the great advice on washing silks and getting the desired textures. Good to know about Biz, too.

  9. Thanks for this info on washing the silk. Do you just put the vinegar in the first rinse?
    BTW, great photo of you :)

  10. I love doing this to my silks, and loved your description of the "laundress"...I remember her, but don't know her name either. The other thing I love about washing my own silks is the smell - it's so much nicer than that nasty dry cleaner's smell.

  11. thanks for the tips on silk. I have washed many silks but could use an update. However, I always thought the brownish water as a result was dirt leftover from dry cleaning or washing with regular detergent. those things do not actually get the dirt out but spread it around. But then I do use a soap with lemon and grapefruit juice.

  12. I have been using this technique for years, however, I also use the conditioner as a rinse. Because conditioner has emulsified oils, it helps keep dark colors dark and keeps silk from wrinkling when hung out to dry.

  13. I know for a great way to simply clean and wash silk dress. Morea bout this here: How to clean wedding silk dress ?


Engaging commentary:

The "Imby Flowy Top"

  I absolutely  L O V E my Imby Flowy top. Can you tell? This was such fun to make, so easy and quick. It is also so very comfortable to wea...