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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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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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Grease Stains!

You’re in your Faire Finery, eating a big old hearty greasy breakfast of Bacon and Eggs, getting ready for a full day of entertaining mundane’s, when the WORST happens…

While reaching for the salt, you drag your silk sleeve through the bacon grease!  You don’t have time to go change, Faire awaits.  You just know that stain is gonna be good and set by the time the long day is done.  And it’s SILK!  You don’t want to trash the silk, it’s your best shirt, and it was a little pricey.  But now you have a set in stain.  What to do?

Disclaimers:

I ran this experiment on Damask Raven silk, a scrap from an already completed project (hey, if I’m wrong in my cleaning methods, I don’t want to trash MY shirt!)  As such, I knew the fabric had already been washed and the excess dye from the factory had already bled off.  If you have not pre-washed your silk prior to making your garment, test a small inconspicuous area for color fastness before attempting the following cleaning method.

So here is a piece of Glorious Gold, a good size square, pinked to prevent fraying during the coming trial.

Glorious Gold silk scrap before attacking it with a forkful of grease
Glorious Gold silk scrap before attacking it with a forkful of grease

The Challenge:  GREASE!

Not bacon grease, but a lovely pot of vegetable grease used to fry up some chicken.  Remnants of chicken, paprika, and cayenne pepper give it that lovely orangey/yellow hue.

The Challenge!
The Challenge!

Oh NO!  I purposefully smeared a full forkful of chicken grease on the silk.  Then left it to dry overnight, resulting in this:

Oh NO! A Vicious smear campaign!
Oh NO! A Vicious smear campaign!

Back side of the same piece of silk.  Fully set in, and spreading throughout the surrounding fibers.  What a mess!  Heartbreaking if it happens to your silk Faire Finery.

Fully set in and spreading to the edges...
Fully set in and spreading to the edges…

So what is one to do?  Dawn.  Yes, Dawn, which fights grease while saving baby ducks.  Hey, if it’s good enough for baby ducks, it’s good enough for silk.

Dawn to the Rescue!
Dawn to the Rescue!

Ok, I admittedly over-saturated the piece.  You probably don’t need this much Dawn.  But after soaking the hell out of the fabric, I left it to sit for a few hours.  After rinsing it out fully and letting it air dry, the results were this:

Clean at Last!
Clean at Last!
No More Stain
No More Stain

Clean at last!  Seriously, Dawn is a miracle cure, which you can use on any grease stain, almost any fiber.  I probably would not use it on wool, due to wool’s propensity to felt when the fibers are wet and worked over.  But Dawn does not hurt silk and DOES get the grease out.  Just as advertised 🙂

Clean silk!  And for good measure, here are pictures, front and back, of the same silk, one week after running my test, and ironed.  I figured if there was any residual grease in the fibers, the heat from the iron would bring it to the surface.  Nary a trace to be found.  DAWN!  It gets the grease out!

After one week and a vigorous ironing
After one week and a vigorous ironing
No grease hiding here!
No grease hiding here!

And that is how I remove cooking grease from silk.  Has anyone else tried a different method that worked for them?