Silk legend dates back to 2640BC. Here are some tips to preserve silk in the 21st Century.
Silk’s history is more mysterious than any other fabric. This is a fitting description for a fibre made from the silkworm’s cocoon. Its story begins with the Yellow Emperor’s teenage wife.
She was drinking tea under a mulberry tree in her garden in 2640BC when a cocoon fell into the cup. The cocoon became a translucent, long-lasting thread as she pulled it out. The teenage empress experimented with the thread and eventually created a reel and loom to teach her court ladies how to weave long strands of fabric. The practice of sericulture has evolved over thousands of years and is now widely accepted.
Experts were consulted to provide advice on how to best care for this precious fabric.
Keep silk’s unique properties in your mind
Georgia McCorkill, a fashion lecturer at RMIT University is saying that silk filaments can be woven into lightweight, sheer fabrics. These fabrics make lovely evening wear such as georgette, crepe, and taffeta. These fabrics can catch and snag on jewellery and rough surfaces so be mindful of your accessories when you are wearing silk.
Look for a dry cleaner who is trustworthy
Many silk garments will have a care label that states “dry clean only”. McCorkill states that although silk can be hand washed, dry cleaning is the best way to preserve the fabric’s natural lustre.
Dry cleaning is the best way to clean silk garments that have linings or interfacings, such as jackets or structured gowns. It prevents uneven shrinkage which can lead to linings that are unevenly shaped or shoulders that are misshaped. McCorkill also recommends that garments embellished with beads be cleaned by a dry cleaner who is a specialist in occasion wear, as standard dry-cleaning chemicals can cause damage to the beads and sequins.
Silk Laundry’s Creative Director and Founder Katie Kolodinski agrees that dry cleaning is essential for delicate silk fabrics like georgette or chiffon, which are susceptible to shrinkage. She says, “Finding an honest dry cleaner is essential for garments with structure and tailoring such as silk blazers or pieces with shoulder pads and detailing.”
Simpler pieces can be hand washed in the shade
McCorkill suggests that you hand wash delicate garments such as blouses and lingerie if dry cleaning is too expensive or inconvenient. Handwashing can cause fabric to lose its lustre, shrink, or colours to run.
Handwashing is a good idea. You should read the instructions and assess the complexity of the garment. Avoid handwashing finer or patterned silks that may not be colourfast.
Kolodinski recommends starting with silk pieces if you are brave enough to attempt handwashing. Fill a bucket with cold water, and use the least amount of delicate washing detergent like this one from The Laundress. To absorb excess moisture, she recommends washing each piece one at a time. Lay it flat to dry, or hang it in direct sunlight.
Iron over steam
Silk is a delicate fiber that responds well to ironing and steaming. Kolodinski suggests that you invest in a personal steamer, which doesn’t take up too much space and won’t cost too much. She recommends ironing on the reverse side, and using the silk setting.
McCorkill warns that “silk doesn’t need heat to smooth out wrinkles.”
Kolodinski also offers a tip for removing wrinkles without an iron or steamer: steam from a boiled kettle. Open the lid and place your garment on top. This works great if you are at work and ready to go.
Silk and sweat have a complicated relationship
Because sweat and deodorant can leave marks on silk fabrics, pay attention to how often you sweat. McCorkill states that they may not be obvious at first because silk doesn’t retain smells like synthetic fabrics. “But the oils and deodorant in sweat can damage the fabric over time. It’s not unusual to find garments that seem fine only to discover they have terrible sweat rings.” McCorkill recommends drying or washing silk items immediately to prevent staining.
Kolodinski believes that this can partly be solved by choosing the right deodorant and fitting. Kolodinski advises not to wear silk too close to your underarms and recommends choosing the right deodorant. She uses Dr. Organic.