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Dry Clean Only

The Care and Feeding of Silk, Dry Clean Only

How exactly did the dry clean only label come about?  Let’s condense history in to a brief paragraph.  Silk has been around for anywhere from 8500 to 5500 years.  Silk cocoons have been found in a tomb in Henan province China dated to 6500 BCE with a full bolt of cloth located, also in Henan province, dated to 3500 BCE.  Dry cleaning wasn’t invented until 1855 by Jean Baptiste Jolly.  So, from 6500 BCE to 1855 CE, water was used to clean silk.  Water was still used to clean silk until the advent of the washing machine.  How’s that? you ask.  A brief story in merchandising.

Major retailers of fine clothing would sell a silk blouse to a lady.  Or a silk tie to a gentleman.  Then when doing laundry, the silk item would get thrown in with the blue jeans…probably on accident, sorting clothes has been standard process since forever.  Whether accidental or on purpose, the result was the same.  During spin cycle, the zipper on the blue jeans would catch on the silk, tearing it.  This resulted in the blouse or tie being returned to the retailer.  Who would accept the return because, <expletive deleted> you Nordstrom and your “Customer is always right” policy.

The retailers were losing scads of money on damaged returns because people weren’t paying attention.  So they slapped a dry clean only label on it and made damaged goods the problem of the dry cleaning industry.  Fast forward 100 years and everyone is scared to buy or work with silk because it is a dry clean only fabric.

Now let me explain to you why, exactly, except for in rare instances, I would NOT recommend dry cleaning silk fabric.  Chemicals.  Now, I am not someone to whom the word chemical is a scary thing.  I believe dry cleaning is perfectly safe and use the dry cleaner for my wool cloak, and my down comforter, winter jacket.  I do not use the dry cleaner for silk because along with any stains, the chemicals will strip the natural luster from silk, resulting in a decided dullness.

“Silk tends to look dull and dingy after several trips to the cleaners.  In fact, many silks actually look better and last longer when washed by hand. (Parker, p. 61).  How can that be?  The Cleaners are supposed to make sure your garments look the best.  Except for those chemicals which are actually very harsh solvents which strip fibers of any residual moisture. And as we know…silk loves moisture.

Initially, dry cleaning used petroleum based solvent.  Yes…petrol.  As in gasoline.  However, due to the inability to obtain insurance coverage, what with the combination of highly flammable chemicals stored next to highly flammable fabric which had subsequently been soaked in those chemicals, the Dry Cleaning business does what commerce does best.  It innovated.  And by the 1930’s, the industry had shifted entirely to tetrachloroethylene, aka perchloroethylene or perc, as it is commonly known.

This was a wholly good thing, as perc is non-flammable, can be used with most fiber types, and is very stable, which means it can be recycled and is better for the environment.  And while it’s chemical composition won’t hurt silk, it will dull that luster we all love so much.  But for the low low price of $15.99 for Dr. Bronner’s and another $12.49 for the white vinegar to rinse your silk in, you can hand wash all your silk at home.  That $28.48 will last FOREVER…well, not literally.  But I bought my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s well over a year ago and still have half a bottle left.  And white vinegar has other uses than as a silk rinse…it’s an all purpose cleaner!

So save yourself the cost of a dry cleaner and at the same time you will save your silks.  Hand wash them at home.  You can even machine wash them!  Just make sure to separate out the blue jeans first.

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Seam Slippage

Seam Slippage

The un-talked of enemy of those who work with silk.  What is it?  Seam Slippage occurs when the seam is solid, but the threads/fibers to either side of the seam start to pull away, resulting in a gap in the fabric.  This typically occurs when not enough stitches per inch are used during crafting the seam, and are more likely to occur on seams that run parallel to the selvage, along the warp of the fabric.

It is also prone to happening with silk.  This is mostly due to the filament nature of the fiber itself.  Silk is slick, and that slippery tendency includes having the filaments migrate away from the seam stitches, especially at stress points.  But not all is lost.  There are actually several steps you can take to avoid this catastrophe.

First, shorten your stitch length.  The average stitch length for commercial sewing machines is 2.5 mm or 10-12 stitches per inch.  Shorten that to 2 mm or 12-13 stitches per inch.  May not seem like much, but it makes a big difference in seam strength for silks.  Always make sure your seam allowance is at least 1/2 inch.  This is so you can do the next step:  flat fell your seams.  Or use French seams.  Really any double row of stitching is effective in combating seam slippage.  Binding the edges is NOT effecting against seam slippage due to the binding occurs on the outer edge to prevent fraying from the outside in, but does not really strengthen the seam itself.

And preventing slippage is that easy.  Seam allowance, stitch length, flat felling.  And however much you may hate flat felling seams (I HATE flat felling seams…I prefer pinking sheers and call it good.  I am a lazy seamstress in that regard), you will hate more having poured your heart and soul in to making the perfect gown, only to have the characteristics of the fiber destroy your efforts from the inside out.

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Costume College

Costume College

This is an annual event held in Southern California at the end of July.  I’ve been twice, once just to go, then last year I taught.  And the class was so wonderful and open, I decided to teach again.  So, here is what I am teaching at Costume College 2017.  All three classes are on Sunday, July 30.

9am to 10am What’s in a Weave.  This class is designed to talk about different weaving techniques, specifically silk weaves; however many techniques are universal (plain weave, satin weave, twill). And this class will teach you which weave is which.

11:30am to 1pm From Street to Stage: A History of Oriental Dance Costuming in Egypt.  Called by many the oldest dance, Raqs Sharqi has a long performance history. But what did they wear? While the standard costume is well known today, they didn’t always wear Bedlah when performing. Learn the differences between street wear and stage wear used in this lovely art form.

4pm to 5pm Care and Feeding of Silk.  This is the class I taught last year and in it, I answer all your questions about working with silk.  How delicate is silk? Can it be washed? Can you iron silk, and if so, how? Do you use starch? Bring your questions to Care and Feeding of Silk and I will answer them (if you can’t make it to Costume College, you can always contact me and I am happy to help by email).

So that’s it for what I am teaching.  However, on the flip side of teaching is studying.  And class schedules are set to mail out this week!  And then there are the parties!  Each night holds a different event.  So traditionally, Thursday night is the pool party.  This years theme is Happiest Place on Earth. Now, since the overarching theme is the ‘6o’s, this one is specifically meant for vintage Disney.  But wait!  There’s more!  You don’t have to dress on theme.  And this year, I’m going half theme.  I am going Disney…just not vintage.

Friday morning is Freshman Orientation, for those new to Costume College.  Now, I didn’t go to Freshman Orientation, even when I WAS in college, so I have yet to attend this event.  But it looks to be full of excellent information.

Friday night, is the ice cream social.  The theme this year is Casino Royale, and all spies are welcome.  I am again, interestingly enough, going with a Disney themed character.  Not from the Spy angle, more from the Casino angle.  Hey, I worked twelve years in a casino…I know a little bit about what customer service is like in that dark den of iniquity.

Saturday before entering the Gala party, you get to walk the red carpet in your finest dress.  This years Gala is Dinner at Tiffany’s, a nod to the fabulous Audrey Hepburn’s Little Black Dress.  And here is the crux of my problem. Not quite four months out, and I have no idea what Cinderella (me) is wearing to the ball.  I have ideas…but nothing set in stone.  I know sort of what I’d like to do, but not sure I have time to do it, with my other vending events between now and then.  And the day job.  So I’m working on it.  It may end up being vintage and vaguely couture.  Or it could be fully designed, draped and drafted to me.  It all depends on how well outside forces work with my schedule to make it all happen.  So fingers crossed, I get it all done.

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Silk and Static

Static

Yesterday, I commented in my blog that silk was anti-static.  This bears further explanation, especially as googling “silk anti static” will get you no where.  Or more specifically, it will get you many pages of how to discharge a static charge from your silk.  And it’s all good advice.  I think my favorite was from a physics blog, which shows silk has a moderate charge.

But that’s not the whole story.  If you live in a dry area, like, for example, the high desert of Nevada, than silk tends to be very static-y.  There isn’t enough moisture in the air to prevent a static charge from building up.  Which, yes, will cause a static charge to build up.  If you live somewhere with a bit more natural humidity, like, say, New Orleans, LA, then silk will almost never build up a static charge.  Why is that?

Silk is essentially a protein fiber, consisting of fibroin and sericin.  Like hair, it will go crazy with static in dry weather or when an electrical storm is on the way.  But also like hair, silk is NOT prone to static in high humidity environments, due to the way it absorbs moisture.  So to prevent static in silk, you “water” it.  Water is in quotes, in this instance, because you don’t to actually put water on the silk.  Water won’t hurt silk, but if you’ve starched it, it will leave spots and require re-starching.

So how do you “water” your silk?  With steam.  If you have a steam press, that works.  Provided it does not leak water on a starched garment, you can steam press your silk.  If you don’t have a steam press, you can hang your silk over a humidifier.  Lacking that, hang it in the bathroom, turn the shower on hot, and close the door.  Let it steam for five to ten minutes.  Please note, do not hang your silk IN the shower.  The goal is not to actually get the silk wet.  The goal is to allow the silk to absorb moisture from the air (Parker, p. 42).

Now, if you don’t have time to steam your silk, that doesn’t mean you don’t wear it.  There are other options to discharge the static build up.  Wearing layers, with either a silk or cotton under garment, can prevent static.  Wikihow recommends running a metal hanger through the garment, placing a safety pin in an inconspicuous location, or using a metal thimble, all of which will work just as well.  And the old standby, which works for everything, is running a dryer sheet over your garment.  All of these work to discharge a static build up in your silk.  But to avoid it in the first place, try watering your silk ahead of wearing it.

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Silk Crepe

Crepe

To understand Crepe and how it is made, we have to dig a little bit in to spinning techniques.  Only a little bit. I’ll try and keep it brief.

Fibers, or in the case of silk filaments, are spun in to threads before weaving.  Fibers/filaments are spun with either a z-twist or an s-twist.  A Z-Twist means that when the fibers are spun, the spirals formed from spinning conform to the central portion of the letter z.  S-Twist means that the fibers when spun conform to the central portion of the letter s (Fairchild, p. 184).

With that bit of technicality out of the way, we can jump in to crepe.  From All About Silk, crepe has finer warp threads with heavier filling threads, with threads alternating between z and s twists.  These irregularities give crepe a crinkly, pebbly texture, and an elegant drape and flow.  However, the irregularity of the texture makes it hard to hold a crease.  Among the easier fabrics to work with BECAUSE of it’s texture, crepe truly is a dream drape to work with.

One additional word of caution before buying or working with crepe: due to how very tightly twisted the filaments are, crepe is VERY prone to shrinking when washed.  100% silk will dye to any color you want, and despite belief to the contrary, silk CAN be washed with water, it can even be machine washed.  But, crepe will definitely shrink, so make sure to purchase extra to allow for that shrinkage.

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Busy busy busy

busy busy busy

No, not another cloth weave.  While I will continue with my descriptions and details of different silk weaves, that is just one of my projects.  And to give my brain a break from this is that, I thought I would outline some of my plans and upcoming events.  Busy, Busy, Busy.

 

So far this year, Damask Raven is confirmed vending at Hot Raqs, Miss Fisher Con, and Cairo Shimmy Quake.  Also plan to be vending at West-AnTir War and Great Western War.  Additionally, am teaching three classes at Costume College.  So this is shaping up to be a very busy year.

 

And on top of vending plans, I am learning to make patterns, hopefully soon to be on sale everywhere Damask Raven vends, and learning to digitize embroidery, for that perfectly matched trim.  And because I feel I’ve been neglecting my blogging here at Damask Raven, I set myself the task of writing one blog post a day from two days ago until Hot Raqs.  Now, that isn’t entirely selfless.  One of the classes at Costume College is a class on different silk weaves.  By writing the posts, I’m prepping myself for that class.  And hopefully sharing some knowledge along the way.

 

So I am juggling.  A lot.  And learning a lot.  Pattern making is new to me, and once I get the hang of it, I’m looking forward to a series of blog posts highlighting my progress.  With the thirty seven posts in thirty seven days I set myself, I will probably start that soon, as it is a learning process and curve.  And continuing to show off the Baby Lock, although I’ve decided to speed up the lessons a bit with that.  Also have to keep up with stain removal and the Folly of Dry Cleaning Everything.  So more posts to come, and  I will try to mix it up, so as not to bore everyone with this is that blog posts.

 

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Cleaning and Maintaining Our Silks

The Care and Feeding of Silk, Dry Clean Only

I’ve been trying to post on Tuesdays a stain removal.  Unfortunately, the stain I’m currently working on is exceptionally stubborn, so I have no video to post.  But in keeping with a cleaning theme, I decided to post what we use to clean silk, and why we use those things.  This seems like a reasonable substitute for stains.  So here is what we use for cleaning and maintaining our silks.

I’m going to start with Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap.  I use this to pre-wash my silk before cutting and after events for a light clean.  This is VERY gentle soap, but it will remove excess dye from the fabric, which is good, since then you don’t have to worry about the dye rubbing off on your skin.  Also good since once the excess dye is gone, you have a piece of washable silk.  Minimally effective on stains, I mean, it worked on beer and mostly on marinara, but it is not a heavy hitter when it comes to stain fighting.  For that, I use Dawn.

Yes, Dawn dish detergent—that Dawn.  My logic when I first tried it was that it was safe for baby ducks, it was probably safe for silk.  I have not been proven wrong in this.  Given that I do pre-wash all my silk before sewing, I have never had Dawn cause a color bleed.  I DESTROYED the grease stain while leaving the silk as supple and soft as ever.  I love Dawn.

Vinegar.  Just plain white vinegar (NOT apple vinegar).  Aside from being a catch all cleaner for the natural home, vinegar restores luster and shine to silk.  I put a cup in every load of laundry.  Every. Single. Load.  It is that good for silk.

Baking Soda has been used once, but it is a power house at smell removal.  Yes, smell removal.  See my blog on cat pee and silk.  Have used salt as a mild abrasive on certain stains, and even contact lens remover.  These are all one off items, used for very specific stains.  Generally, if you have Dr. Bronner’s, Dawn, and Vinegar, you’re in good shape as far as silk care goes for the home couturier.  And as always, if you’re unsure, dry clean is an option.

Thank you for reading Damask Raven, where we do History in Style.

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Frixion Pens–Not quite invisible ink

Frixion pens...They Rock!

Almost a year ago, my mom gave me a pack of Frixion pens.  And she was very excited because if you mark fabric with the Frixion pens, then iron over the mark, the mark disappears.  This is SO COOL!  No more tracing paper!  No more wheels leaving pin pricks in your fabric!  No more uneven lines from the combination of wheel and paper!  I loved my Frixion pens instantly.

I love you Frixion pens
Seriously…it was that good

So I used my Frixion pens pretty heavily on all my projects.  In May I taught my Care and Feeding of Silk Class at West Kingdom’s Golden Beltane.  And one of the kind ladies told me of a rumor that if the fabric got cold…like, for example, during a long flight…the ink would come back.  Having not heard that I was immediately horrified.  I used these pens on EVERYTHING!  And the marks were gone!  Could it be true?

I don't love you -- Frixion pens
Yes….It was EXACTLY like that…

Fast forward a few months.  I did not mention the Frixion pens at Costume College because I needed to know the truth of the allegation before recommending their further use.  And I finally bit the metaphorical bullet and did my Frixion pen test.  And sadly, yes, the marks did come back.

Head desk...head desk...head desk...
Head desk…head desk…head desk…

But, as per usual at Damask Raven, I did not stop there!  The challenge then became, are the marks truly permanent?  No!  No they are not.  A minimal amount of effort and a little Dawn pulled the rest of the stain right out.  Why Dawn?  Well they are wax pens.  I figured if anything would cut through the fat base in wax it would be Dawn.  And I was right.

So yes!  Use Frixion pens.  They truly do make it easy.  Or don’t. Using even something as easily removable can be very nerve wracking and if your comfort level says tailor’s tacks, then use tailor’s tacks.  In the end, it’s all personal choice.

Thank you for reading, I hope this was useful.  Til next time…

Life is short.  Buy the fabric.

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Out out Damn Spot!

So this saga starts at Golden Beltane.  We were prepping our steaks for grilling when some wind kicked up and splashed some blood on my sleeve.  Because I am an idiot, I grinned.  Yay!  Blood stains!  And I didn’t have to donate them myself!

If you get blood on silk, move hell and high water to soak that stain immediately!  It can be done on a set in stain, but seriously, if the stain doesn’t get the chance to set, it is ever so much easier. Here is the progression.

Internet says to use salt water to break down the stain.  The stain looked at me like “Really?  That’s your A game?”

I try Dr. Bronner’s AND Dawn.  Just to see if basic detergent will work.  The Stain yawned.  I actually saw it yawn.

Internet says to try a little ammonia in water.  The Stain laughed at me.  It seriously laughed at me.

Internet says to try Hydrogen Peroxide.  The Stain gasps like Vigo the Carpathian and fades sullenly in to the background.  But does not disappear entirely.  And there we sat…deadlocked for three weeks.  I felt a great deal of kinship with Lady MacBeth during this time.

Then I start looking up how Dry Cleaner’s remove blood stains.  And among the list of ingredients is Protein Stain Remover. So I go to Amazon and type in Protein Stain Remover and it kicks back…Contact Lens Cleaner?  Yep!  Right on the box.  Protein Stain Remover.  Daily cleaners for contact lens wearers.  So I figure what the hell and next time I’m at the store I buy a bottle.

I’ll be damned if it didn’t work!  But…it worked off camera.  So then it became a new game between me and blood.  I stabbed myself many times and always got different results between Hydrogen Peroxide and Protein Stain Remover.

DISCLAIMER:  ALWAYS TEST ON AN INCONSPICUOUS AREA OF THE GARMENT FIRST!  I don’t want anyone to ruin their dress because they never pre-washed the fabric and the Hydrogen Peroxide lightens the dye under the stain, resulting in permanent discoloration.  On to the results!

As a general guideline, I found that if it’s a fresh stain, less than two hours old, the Protein Stain Remover works fine on it’s own.  You do have to work it in to the fabric a little bit, and you do have to wash with Dawn after, but it works.  The longer the stain sets, the more firepower you need.

So if the stain has set for several hours or longer, start with Hydrogen Peroxide.  Let the HP sit for at least twenty minutes.  Put some Dawn detergent directly on the area and rub it in.  Rinse thoroughly.  Now, if the stain has set for a significant length of time (Golden Beltane was in May…I didn’t try cleaning the silk until late July), you will need the next phase, which is the protein stain remover.  Be generous, rub it in, let it set for twenty minutes.  Wash again with Dawn.  Et Voila!  The Stain gasped it’s last and died like a George R. R. Martin character.

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Working with Silk Fabric

Working with Silk Fabric

One of the things that keeps people from buying and working with silk fabric is fear.  Fear that it’s delicate and they don’t want to damage it, fear that they’ll mess it up.  So here is a crash course primer on how to work with this lustrous fabric.

First off, pre-wash the fabric using your preferred method.  The Caveat is that Silk Velvet and Watered Silk should always be dry cleaned.  Otherwise, either hand wash or machine wash the fabric in preparation of working with it.

Once you have washed and dried the fabric, iron it.  Just like with cotton, linen, or synthetic blends, you don’t want to cut wrinkles in to your silk.  Use a pressing cloth to protect your fabric from scorching.  If you have a very good iron, you might be able to get away without a pressing cloth, but if you are at all uncertain, far better and scorching that happens occurs on the pressing cloth, NOT your fashion fabric.  While you can remove many stains from silk, scorching is basically fire damage.  There’s no coming back from that.

If you don’t want to buy a cotton press cloth, you can make one from a scrap of silk organza.  Simply cut the scrap approximately one yard by one half yard, surge the cut ends to prevent fraying, and you’re good to go.  Make sure it’s SILK organza.  Polyesters can melt under high heat, and again, if it melts in to your silk, there’s no coming back from that damage.

After you have ironed the fabric, lay it out like you would any other fabric for patterning.  Make sure the entire piece is fully supported on your cutting surface.  Silk is SLIPPERY!  That zero friction is one of the difficulties of working with it.  If the full weight of the fabric isn’t supported, then when you start cutting out the pieces, the fabric can slip right off the cut surface, which will pull the fabric and pinned pattern pieces out of alignment, pretty much wrecking the project.  You can recover from this, but why cause yourself unnecessary agony?

For pinning and cutting–If you are comfortable with pattern weights, then by all means use them.  If you prefer pins, then I use Dritz Ultra Fine Pins.  Be cautious about jamming the pins into the cut surface underneath.  Because they are ultra fine, the point can dull very quickly.  As long as the pin shaft has not bent, you can always sharpen them using the emery pad on an old fashioned Tomato Pin Cushion.

When you’re satisfied with your pinning, it is time to cut.  Now, I have not used rotary cutters on silk, but that is mostly due to my inability to use rotary cutters without slicing my hands to ribbons.  I use Gingher Dress Shears with a micro-serrated edge.  The micro-serrated edge will hold any slippery or slinky fabric in place for a clean cut.  If you use a standard knife edge set of scissors, it becomes an exercise in frustration as the silk slides off the blade while cutting.

Once you’ve cut out, transfer any markings using either Tailor’s Tacks or Pin Marking, or a smooth tracing wheel and wax paper.  I do not recommend a serrated tracing wheel for any fabric due to the serration pokes tiny holes in whatever fabric you’re marking, which MIGHT close back up, but again, why risk the mayhem when alternatives are readily available?

Sew as usual, but I do recommend using silk thread when sewing silk fabric.  I also recommend shortening your stitch length to 2mm, or approximately 13 stitches per inch.  The filaments on silk threads are considerably finer than cotton, linen, or rayon threads, making the thread virtually invisible against the fabric.  And silk threads will run through your machine the same way cotton, linen, and rayon threads do.  Use the finest size needles for your machine and for hand sewing.

Originally, this post was published in June, 2016.  I am adding this paragraph here to reflect new knowledge.  When I originally published this post, I did not know what I now do about Seam Slippage.  Given this new to me knowledge, I wanted to include a paragraph about finishing your seams, as a preventative to seam slippage.  My first recommendation is to flat fell your seams, but a good alternative is french seams.  Both work well in giving a clean finish to your seam, and in preventing seam slippage.

And that’s it.  Follow these guidelines to make sewing with silk less stressful.  For additional tricks and tips, read this post from threadsmagazine.com.  I think the only thing we disagree on is thread type.  Otherwise, everything there is what I also recommend.  Happy sewing!