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Softly Chiffon

Pink chiffon top layers this dress worn by Audrey Hepburn

Nothing is as softly elegant as chiffon.  Typically sheer, and very filmy and lightweight, Julie Parker in All About Silk says that Chiffon is French for rag. Which is hard to believe given that this is easily one of the most elegant fabrics available.  When I hear the word rag, I think of the dictionary definition, and chiffon is not worthless.  Typically used as a top layer in prom or wedding dresses, chiffon adds fabulous sway and drape to any gown.

Now, on a technical level, chiffon is “A very lightweight sheer silk…made in a plain weave with fine, hard spun yarns of approximately the same size in warp and filling and the same number of ends and picks per inch.” Fairchilds p. 117.  Now, what the hell does all that mean.  Hard Spun means that the fibers, or in this case filaments, are spun very tightly so that they are squeezed together to allow for a very tight, fine weave.

Same size in warp and filling means that the hard spun is not just on the warp, but also the weft threads.  Everything is woven using the same number of threads on the warp and west to provide a very even, all over, plain woven fabric.  All of this creates the lovely, elegant fabric that we all know and love as chiffon.  But for the bad news.  Chiffon is VERY difficult to work with.  There is not a lot of give in this fabric and because of the sheerness of the fabric, you want to use this as a top layer, a la the cover image for this post, the inimitable Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

If you are determined to work with this very drape-y fabric, try starching with gelatin before cutting and sewing. While I have not yet tried this myself, I’m eager to give it a shot when Damask Raven starts carrying Silk Chiffon….and Silk Charmeuse.

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Water Marks on Silk

Water Marks on Silk…you hate them, yet they inevitably appear.

While at costume college, I led a Q&A session on The Care and Feeding of Silk.  And it was awesome!  So much enthusiasm, the energy in the room was high, everyone was sharing tips and tricks.  I loved it.  But in the course of the class, I dropped (deliberately) a spot of water on a previously starched piece of Habotai.  I wanted to demonstrate exactly what water marking was and why it was no big deal.

And as the silk scrap made it’s way around the room, it dried, and someone eventually commented on the discoloration.  Which was fine.  The discoloration was literally the result of the starched area versus the un-starched area of silk.  And it gave me the chance to answer that water doesn’t stain.  Water is a neutral element.  Starch rinses out causing the discoloration.  No one believed me.  So when I got home, I made a video with starch and silk.

However, I was not satisfied.  While no harm came to the silk in this process, I felt I had missed something.  I showed you can rinse silk in water to remove surface starch.  So that was a win.  But mostly, as someone who likes to dance in the rain, I felt really bad for all my friends who love these big, floofy, 18th and 19th century dresses, having to huddle under umbrellas or else have to wash and starch their big floofy dresses anytime they get caught in a rain storm.  Because of water!  Water is a neutral element!  So I tried again…with a bigger surface area than that tiny scrap provided…

So good news for floofy dress wearers!  Feel free to dance in the rain….because you do not have to wash the whole dress to treat a few water marks.



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Put the Starch Back in your Silk

Starch can be done

After the wash, can you starch silk?  Should you NOT wash silk taffeta because you’ll wash out the finish?  Then what?  Can you put the scroop back in the silk?  What happens if you didn’t previously wash your silk and now it has water marks where rain drops rinsed away the factory finish?

I tested three different starches on Tuscan Sunset Habotai and then I tested my favorite on a scrap of Pink Lemonade.  The overall winner really does bear out the statement that you get what you pay for.  My recommended Starch for silk is Le Blanc Portfolio Linen Press.  It creates a crisp, firm hand, and works well on Habotai as on Taffeta.

Before dipping and starching your finished garment, please test ANY starch on a scrap.  I recommend is keeping a scrap of silk after the finished project WITH the finished project. This is so that if you find yourself having to starch, you have a scrap to practice on first.

On to the video:


So YES!  You can starch silk…at least, you can starch Damask Raven silks.  But always test on a sample first.  Make sure you’re happy with the results.  And don’t be scared of your silk!  Don’t be scared to experiment and see how marvelous silk can be to work with.  It’s not a king cobra.  No one’s going to die if you try washing and starching silks.  Or maybe they will.  Only one way to find out 🙂

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“Water Stains”

Water Stains

CAVEAT:  I actually do need to start this one with a HUGE caveat.  Watered Silk, aka Moire, should never…EVER…be washed.  This is one of the few silks that is genuinely, unquestioningly, dry clean only.  What is it?  Moire silk is silk that has been pressed through industrial grade, steam rollers, which pull the warp threads slightly out of alignment from the weft threads, while simultaneously steaming the silk, creating a rippled effect that looks like, well, WATER.  It is very cool, as seen in this dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To give an analogy of why you do not want to get Moire wet, imagine you have just stepped out of a long, steamy, hot shower.  The mirrors are all fogged up, but you don’t really need them and you’re feeling a little silly, so you wright “Love you Sweetie!” in the mirror.  That “Love you Sweetie!” will stay on the mirror, visible whenever the mirrors steam up, forever.  Or until you wash the mirrors.  Or until the next time you step out of a steamy, hot, shower and decide you DO need the mirror, and wipe it away with a towel.  Getting Moire silk wet is the equivalent of wiping away the design with a towel.

Also, silk velvet.  Silk Pile is TRICKY so until I get some in stock and practice cleaning at home, I am recommending dry clean only for Silk Velvet as well.

Now, on to the Challenge:  WATER!

Oh No! Water!
Oh No! Water!

Oh no!  I’ve dripped water on my silk dress.  What should I do?  Let it dry.  Seriously, that’s it.  Water is a completely neutral compound.  Unless there is tea, or coffee, or Easter egg dye, IN the water, water does not stain.

Water on Black...How artistic!
Water on Black…How artistic!
Let it dry
Let it dry

The cause of water stains is starch.  That’s right…Starch.  Because water does not stain.  Because water is a neutral element. What happens, is the water rinses a small patch of starch off the silk, creating very slight differences in gradation of color.  I decided to test this theory, in the name of making sure I was passing on good information.

Now, according to WikiHow, you erase these gradations…with WATER.  Or Steam.  What you’re really doing is displacing starch from the surrounding fibers to the previously blank patch which the water had cleared away, thus restoring balance to the force.  However, if you are trying to remove “Water Stains” from a completed item that is difficult to wash, like a silk hat, follow WikiHow’s instructions.  When it’s a blouse you have, just rinse the whole thing, and re-starch once dry.  So it is seriously that easy.  Water staining—It’s just not a thing.


Very faint gradations in color, brought about by displaced starch...
Very faint gradations in color, brought about by displaced starch…


So I rinse and re-starch.  It’s truly that simple!