Silk is one of the most luxurious fabrics in the world, once worn next to the skin you will never be able to accept another polyester! It is versatile, comfortable and elegant; a practical luxury with a place in any wardrobe.
It was first developed in ancient China and, not surprisingly was reserved for those of great power and importance. Silk is made from the cocoon of the silk worm. This is, as you can imagine, a lengthy process and explains why the price of silk is so high.
Silk worms are raised on silk farms and fed on a diet of mulberry leaves. When they are a month old they spin a cocoon and these cocoons are sorted by colour, size, shape and texture. The sorting is time consuming by important as it can affect the quality of the silk strands.
The cocoons are then softened and gradually and patiently unwound. A single cocoon may contain 400-900 metres of silk strands but these are still too delicate to turn into fabric. It takes about 3-10 strands reeled together to produce a single silk thread that will then be woven. If you feel uncomfortable about the idea of silk farms take a look at ‘peace silk’.
Silk is so pleasing to wear as it is a natural fibre, like wool or human hair but on a much finer scale. It is very strong and can stand a lot of pressure but it is also very delicate and cannot withstand heavy abrasions. The protein within silk gives it many of its characteristics such as sensitivity to chemicals, acidity and oil. Many of its natural properties help it to be hypoallergenic (making it good for skin allergies) and resistant to dirt and stains. Silk allows the skin to breathe and for this reason I say once you have tried silk you will never turn back. But it is so expensive I hear you say! May be so, but if taken care of and treasured, handwashed and stored carefully it will last a very long time. A bit like cashmere, an initial expensive outlay but with tender loving care it will be an investment and oh so comfortable to wear.
Care of your silk.
Care instructions for most for silk items, especially for pure silk, recommend dry cleaning. For dupioni silk, lighter silks like chiffon, China silk, and crepe de Chine, and multi-color or hand-dyed prints, dry-cleaning usually is the best option. For other types of silk, though, while dry cleaning helps maintain the original texture of the fabric, it does carry some risks. Commonly used cleaning solutions aren’t suited to silk and silks can be damaged if placed in the same vat with rougher fabrics. To make sure your silk gets proper treatment, always tell the dry cleaner that your garment is made from silk and make sure they know how to clean silk.
Silk fabric has been produced for over five thousand years, whereas the dry cleaning process has only been around since the 1840s. Clearly, dry cleaning isn’t a must. Even dupioni silk, which is almost always labeled as dry clean only, can be hand washed if the seams have been serged and you don’t mind the fabric losing some of its firmness or color. Although low-quality silk may become rough or dull after hand washing, better quality silk tends to looks better and last longer when hand washed. The natural coating on silk fibers reacts well to warm water, so hand washing also has the advantage of refreshing silk and giving it a better drape. Silk can be hand washed in cool or lukewarm water using a mild detergent such as Woolite, Ivory soap, or shampoo dissolved in the water. Because silk resists dirt and stains, only a small amount of soap should be used. Silk, like most natural fibers, doesn’t tolerate abrupt changes in temperature very well, so stay with one water temperature throughout the wash. Avoid soaking silk as this may fade the dye. To both revive faded or yellowed colors and protect the fabric from alkali damage, rinse the silk in water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar added. While some people prefer a matte finish, this texture is usually a sign of alkali damage, which can eventually make the fabric brittle. The vinegar rinse will minimize this. After the wash and vinegar rinse, rinse the silk thoroughly in cool water.
In general, machine washing is the worst way to clean silk as the agitator and other garments can damage the fabric. Garments made with a combination of fabrics or those that are highly detailed should not be machine washed at all. However, if the instructions for your wash machine state that the machine is safe for silk, there should be no serious problem washing most silks in it. Before washing, make sure there’s no soap or dirt on the inside of the machine that might stain the silk. Place the silk item in a mesh bag or a pillowcase loosely tied closed. Use a small amount of a very mild detergent and wash on a gentle cycle, such as a wool cycle, at a temperature of no more than 86°F (30°C). If you use a spin cycle, keep it as short as possible.
A capful of hydrogen peroxide and or a few drops of ammonia added to the wash will help keep white silk bright and rinsing silk in white vinegar diluted with water will help remove yellowing. While recent perspiration stains may be washed out or dabbed with a tablespoon of ammonia dissolved in half cup of water, older perspiration may be removed with a vinegar solution. Unfortunately, though, perspiration stains on silk, as on many garments, may not be completely removable as perspiration causes damage to the fibers. Remember, silk may be strong, but harsh chemicals can cause permanent damage, so avoid using bleach or any product that contains bleach, enzymes, or whiteners on silk.
Even if you machine wash, never use a machine dryer to dry any silk as the friction and lack of humidity and can damage the fabric. Instead, roll the silk item up in a bath towel and gently press the water out. Never wring silk. When most of the water is out, finer silk should be hung up to dry, while coarser varieties, such as bourette, should be dried on a flat surface. Keep the garment away from heat sources or direct sunlight, both of which can turn silk yellow.
Silk should be pressed while still damp, never when completely dry. If the item has dried, dampen it with water from a spritzer bottle before ironing. To avoid damage, turn the item inside out and iron on the reverse side of the fabric on a cotton-covered ironing board. Use a low setting and don’t use steam, which can leave watermarks. Because many silk garments are hand sewn, take care not to apply pressure to the seams of the garment.
For long-term storage, keep silk in a cotton pillowcase or other material that can breathe. Avoid plastic, which traps moisture and can cause yellowing and mildew. Silk, like other natural fibers, is a favorite with moths, so store cedar chips or balls with your silk to keep the bugs away.
Silk may be considered a luxury, but caring for it properly doesn’t cost much in terms of either money or time. Gentle washing, drying away from a heat source, and storage in material that provides air circulation is all silk really needs to stay looking good. Care for your silk garments well and they’ll keep their original softness and sheen for years.