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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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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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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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Stains!

Sweat Stains...

At the event last week where we were vending, the concept of washing silk with soap and water for removing stains seemed to stun many people.  We shared two of the three pieces we’ve washed.  We shared the Grease Stained Glorious Gold Damask and the Marinara Stained Cotton Candy Damask.  It was great because as soon as we showed these two pieces of formerly messed up and begrimed silk, the wonderful people of the SCA started giving me ideas for what else they wanted to see smeared on silk and how I might go about removing those stains.

So while the last week has been a mad flurry of unpacking, organization, and yard work (bureaucrats…they…are…EVERYWHERE), so that TODAY I don’t actually have anything to present for cleaning.  What I do have is a long list of suggestions for what the people want to see done to silk.

Torture Tests which have already completed:

Grease, “Water Stains” and Marinara Sauce

Suggested damages:

Coffee. Coffee with milk.  Red wine and white wine.  Tea, cocoa, chocolate, and soda. Beer, ink, blood, mud, baby food, spit up (there is a story behind that one), sunscreen with avobenzen (which causes discoloration on fabric), vinegar, salad oil, dog slobber, bug spray, lipstick, mascara, foundation, grass, condiments, sweat stains, and “natural human protein” stains (we are a sick sick crowd…)

Whew!  That list should keep me going for a while.  But there is always room for more.  So if there’s something you want to see smeared on silk for later removal, please feel free to comment here. Or email info@damaskraven.com, post to our Facebook Page, or make a suggestion to the Facebook group, Care and Feeding of Silk.  There are many ways to get your question on cleaning silk to us and we will gladly follow up as quickly as we can.

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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…

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