Experiments with washing silk

Friday, February 26, 2016

As part of my wedding dress project, I've been obsessing over what kind of fabric to use and how to treat it. Which reminds me, I haven't yet shared what pattern I'm using! I'm planning to base my dress off of Vogue 2842:

The pattern I'm going to start with for my wedding dress
It's probably going to end up heavily modified; to start with, it'll be somewhere around knee length. But I'm not a confident enough sewer to do something like this from scratch.

I ordered a set of sample silks from Dharma Trading Co. Even though their selection is a bit limited, particularly for the thicker fabrics needed for such a structured design, I like a few things about them:
  • Their silks are all undyed - I have a thing for natural colours, and it'll be theoretically easier to colour match
  • They have detailed descriptions of all their fabrics, including estimated shrinkage
  • They shipped my samples across the border very quickly
  • Their prices are ridiculously good
In any case, I've decided I will probably use dupioni as the fashion fabric, organza for underlining, and a heavier habotai (or habutai?) for the lining. Which brings me to title of this post... how will these fabrics hold up to a wash?

I'm not planning to wear my wedding dress on a weekly basis or anything, but I may well end up bringing it all over the house/car/my office while I work on fiddly hand sewing bits. It'll probably be exposed to food, water, and curious kitties before it ever makes it to October, and there's a non-zero chance of a wedding group hug from sweaty topless men. Apparently silk stains if it even touches water, unless you've washed it first, so I really want to wash it first!

The internet is full of various opinions... don't wash dupioni because it'll lose its sheen and stiffness, toss it in the washing machine because silk is tough, dry clean it before and after working with it, don't let it get wet and don't feed it after midnight, etc. I ended up posting on Pattern Review to solicit opinions, and the one that I liked the best was to wash it like a baby: in warm but not hot water, and with gentle shampoo. So, that's what I did. After each wash I squeezed the water a little and laid them flat to mostly dry, then ironed while the swatches were still a bit damp.

Washing fabric with shampoo? Why not!
On to the pictures! I didn't do a great job keeping the camera (aka my phone) at exactly the same distance or angle, but the grid in the background gives a pretty good reference.

First up, the organza. This washed much better than I expected, and actually went from being somewhat wonky to more square. Shrinkage is a bit hard to tell because of the original wonkiness but it looks like I lost a bit in the length.
Unwashed Organza
Organza after 1 wash
Organza after 2 washes
Next, the habotai. Again, it washed a lot better than I expected. This one had a strong crease from the sample sticker, but it completely disappeared after a wash then iron. It shrank a fair chunk in the length, but there isn't a huge difference between wash 1 and wash 2.
Unwashed Habotai
Habotai after 1 wash
Habotai after 2 washes
Finally, the dupioni. This is the one that worried me the most, because it's on the outside of the dress, it's the most expensive, and the internet tends to say never to wash it. However, again I was impressed with how it held up! I lost almost a full half inch in the first wash and there is obvious shrinkage between wash 1 and 2, so I probably need to do a few more to figure out where it stabilizes. In addition, the texture got more bubbly after two washes, but it didn't lose its sheen as much as I expected.
Unwashed Dupioni
Dupioni after 1 wash
Dupioni after 2 washes
Finally, the last thing to worry about is the drape. This is really hard to determine on a 4" swatch, but when I pinched the dupioni and organza together to see how the underlined fabric would behave, there was a definite change after washing. You can sort of see how in the pre-wash picture the fabric is very stiff (almost too stiff, but again, hard to tell in a 4" sample), while in the post-wash picture it drapes around my thumb. However, I think it'll still do a good job at maintaining the structure of the dress.
Underlined fabric pre-wash
Underlined fabric post-wash
My next test will be to wash a full yard of the dupioni, and maybe (gasp) toss it in the machine. I have a feeling that a trip through the dryer will help to smooth out some of the bubbliness, and if it holds up to a machine wash and dry, that'd be a whole lot easier when I start working with 6+ yards of the stuff.

All in all I'm pleasantly surprised with how well my silks held up to water. This project will go much better if I'm not afraid of the fabric!

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