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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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That’s a Moire

That's a Moire

Watered silk.  Moire.  And all it’s variations (moire antique, moire francaise, moire ineraillable, etc….)  According to Wikipedia, Moire was available as early as the Middle Ages. This is certainly possible, as the earliest mangle found has been dated 1444, and was located in Bergen Norway.  Now Norway is pretty far removed from China.  Which logically says that the first moire was probably linen or wool.

This is just supposition.  The Chinese invented everything else so it is not impossible that they invented watered silk, and I just haven’t uncovered the term they use for it.  I was wrong about crepe, I could be wrong about this.  But if China did not invent this technique, and the earliest mangle was located in Norway, than most likely moire was first linen, possibly wool, with silk being discovered by a foolhardy chamber maid who was probably beaten for putting the very expensive silk through a mangle.  Yeah the effect was cool, but what the hell!

Alternatively, the meaning has changed over the years.  According to Fairchild, Moire was “formerly applied to various fabrics of great value and luster.  Gold, silver, and silk fabrics are called moire in 15th and 16th century French documents (p. 393).”

Now, what does all this mean?  Well it means that language is a living thing and meaning changes over time.

Conversely, Calendering is when a piece of fabric is passed through a calender, a machine with two or more cylinders which touch.  As the fabric passes through, heat and/or water is added, creating stretch and pull along the grain line of the fabric.  This creates a rippling, embossed, effect on the fabric surface.  This effect is not permanent unless specifically set using heat or chemicals.

Which is why this is one of the few fabrics I recommend for dry clean only.  If you don’t want to dry clean (because, hey…who does?) then make very sure you wash a test piece first.  Verify that the calendering effect is permanent.  If it’s not, then your options are to dry clean. Or make very sure it’s not going to rain the day you wear your dress.

 

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Silk Knit

Silk Knit Sweater

When people think of knits, they think of wool sweater, or cotton knit athletic wear.  But much like any fiber can be woven, any fiber can be knit, including silk.  Silk knits range from very fine, single filament knits, to four or more ply strands available for home knitting.  Well, technically I guess you COULD knit at home with filament thread.  But even a rank novice knitter like myself knows that it would take a devilish amount of thread to knit a sweater from filament.

The Met lists this as a 17th century Silk Knit Sweater

Silk knit fabric is usually listed as Silk Jersey, so if you want to buy a silk knit, jersey is the best Google search term.  For Silk Yarn for knitting at home, many yarn shops will have this in stock.  Again, rank novice knitter here, but make sure the yard you purchase will work for the pattern you intend to knit.

As for sewing with silk knits…it can be devilishly hard.  Silk is already a very slippery fiber in general.  Knits are ALSO very slippery by nature.  But, this fabric is particularly luscious, clinging to curves, gathers beautifully, and the drape is pure sophistication.  On the flip side, knits in general are prone to shrinking.  A lot.  So either buy extra and make sure you pre-shrink before cutting, or determine ahead to dry-clean only the finished product.

Now, as for styles, like any knit, Silk Jersey is excellent for clinging styles and close fitting garments.  Also like any knit, Silk Jersey is not good for structured garments.

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Silk in Warfare

The Great Kahn used Silk in Warfare

One of the many myths I am consistently confronted with is that silk is fragile and requires special care.  Part of the history of silk is the history of mankind…which means its a blood soaked history of brutal warfare.  Not just because the Chinese Emperors made the smuggling of silk worms and mulberry trees a crime punishable by death.  But literal warfare.  The Romans were first introduced to silk through warfare when they saw the silk banners of the Parthians in 53 BC.  And to this day, silk painting is a beautiful art form, with silk being a wonderful medium for Medieval recreationsits.

But while the Parthians banners were a peripheral use of Silk in Warfare, there were far more direct uses.  Like Genghis Kahn insisting his troops have shirts made of silk.  This wasn’t vanity or ego on the part of the great Kahn.  Silk, when densely woven, is surprisingly resistant to damage.  In the case of the Mongolian army, it acted in conjunction with the lamellar armour.  If an arrow managed to pierce the plate of the lamellar, the silk undershirt could halt penetration before it got to far, allowing for easy extraction after battle.  Silk is just not that fragile and damn useful overall.

Moving east, the Japanese also utilized silk in warfare.  Not just useful for the Kimono, the Japanese also used silk for Horo.  Essentially, this was a large framework over which was placed silk, which was worn by messengers.  The reason was not just to mark the messenger as a person of importance, because wearing such an ostentatious item surely marked one as a target.  The Horo was designed to deflect arrows shot at the messenger.  The linked video is about 11 minutes long, but if you fast forward to about 9 minutes, you get to see a reproduction Horo in action…it is glorious.  If you watch the whole video, you learn that the translation of Horo…is arrow catcher.

In addition to the east, the west also found a use for silk in warfare.  Namely, parachutes.  Up until the Japanese placed an embargo on the US during World War II, parachutes were made out of silk.  After the embargo, the US still needed parachutes, and fortunately for us, technology had advanced enough that Nylon was able to step in and take the strain.  Once on the ground, there was no expectation of recovering the silk for another jump, but many GI’s would pack it up anyway and ship it home.

Silk has a long history globally.  Not just in fashion, but as life saving measures for military throughout history, and in to medicine.  So when someone says silk is delicate–tell it to the Mongols.

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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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I love my cat…I love my cat…

Cat pee from silk...It can be done!

Ever wonder how to remove cat pee from silk, without having to kill the cat as an animal sacrifice to the gods of cleanliness.  Fear not, Damask Raven searched out the answer and tested it, with the help of our very own asshole cat!  Here it is:  How to remove cat pee from silk, without killing the cat!

Actually, he’s not a bad cat.  Manchu is pretty cool as cats go.  But like all cats, he has his quirks.  Fortunately, rather than resulting in the desire to strangle him, this particluar quirk provided me with the unique opportunity to pick the piece of silk to be damaged.

As any cat owner knows, this is a rare opportunity indeed, as cats tend to pee where THEY want, on THEIR schedule.  So watch the video to see what I mean, and learn a little something about removing cat pee from silk…

If you don’t have the patience for a five minute video, the steps were:

  1. Rinse the silk
  2. Hand wash with Dr. Bronner’s Baby Soap
  3. Coat in baking soda
  4. Repeat if necessary.

In the end, it was not as horrifying as I feared.  Most of all, I was lucky enough to test the theory on scrap fabric, rather than a completed fashion garment, but at least you no longer have to shell out a fortune in dry cleaning fees, when for the cost of a box of baking soda, you can fix it at home.