My Test Results: Pre-washing Silk Chiffon

Silk ChiffonEarlier this month I did a little online research on pre-washing silk (see “Prewashing Silk Fabric“) because I was trying to figure out how I should treat this fabric before sewing it: dry clean, pre-wash by hand or machine, what soap or detergent to use, etc. I decided to limit my tests to hand washing because the fabric is rather delicate and I think a washing machine would be too rough. Here are results of my tests for pre-washing silk chiffon.

I did three tests using 4-inch (10 cm) squares of fabric, hand washing each piece in my bathroom sink using 1/4 teaspoon (~4 ml) of Johnson’s baby shampoo. I picked that amount because I guessimate that you use about a teaspoon or tablespoon to wash your hair. (Note: It takes about 1.5 gallons (5 liters) of water to get my sink 2/3 full.)

Here are the three tests I did:

  1. Wash and rinse in cold water and the iron on silk setting
  2. Wash and rinse in lukewarm water (barely warm) and iron on silk setting
  3. Wash in lukewarm water and rinse with water mixed with 1/8 cup (30 ml) of vinegar. I just picked that amount because it was half the amount Steph mentioned in her post about washing silk in the washing machine (see “This Is how I Care For Silk“). I also ironed this square on the silk setting.

And here’s my documentation of the process:

Two silk chffon squares before washing in cold and lukewarm water.

Two silk chiffon squares before washing in cold and lukewarm water.

The lukewarm water got very bubbly

I soaked the fabric for about 10 minutes for each wash. The lukewarm water was the most bubbly.

I soaked and rinsed each square in the temperature I washed it in.

I rinsed each square in the same wash temperature. I put it under the spigot and then soaked in rinse water for 10 minutes.

Left: after cold water wash and rinse; right: after lukewarm wash and rinse. Note: Cold water barely shrunk but lukewarm had slight shrinkage (I didn't cut these squares as precisely as I would have liked).

Left: Silk chiffon after cold water wash and rinse, then ironing at silk setting, only a little shrinkage 1/16″ (1.6 mm). Right: Silk after lukewarm wash and rinse, and ironing, shrinkage was about twice that of the cold water square – 1/8″ (3.2 mm)

My third test (washing in lukewarm water and rinse in vinegar solution) was with this square of chiffon.

Silk chiffon before lukewarm wash and rinse with 1/4 cup (60 ml) vinegar in water

Silk chiffon before lukewarm wash/rinse with water & 1/8 c. (30 ml) of vinegar. (Note: I was off in cutting this square!)

After lukewarm water wash and rinse with a little vinegar, and ironing the square, you can see that this test had the most shrinkage - about 1/4" (6.4mm) - of all the squares.

After lukewarm water wash and rinsed with water mixed with 1/8 c. (30 ml) vinegar, and ironing the square, you can see that this test had the most shrinkage – about 1/4″ (6.4mm) – of all the test squares.

The hand of this silk chiffon is very soft and has a lovely drape as you can see in the photo below (see “The Hand of Fabric” for more on the hand of fabric). So I really didn’t want to change the hand significantly by washing it. Note: I held each square in the center, with the front edge parallel tome. I didn’t want to hold it on the bias, which would make each square more “drapey” than usual.

See how this square of silk chiffon (no wash) drapes?

See how this square of (unwashed) silk chiffon drapes? It just fall straight down from my fingers.

The hand of silk chiffon washed/rinsed in cold changed the most. It's doesn't drape as much.

The hand of silk chiffon washed/rinsed in cold changed the most. See how it doesn’t drape as much? 

The hand of silk chiffon washed/rinsed in lukewarm also changed but it had slightly more drape than the cold.

The hand of silk chiffon washed/rinsed in lukewarm also changed but it had slightly more drape than the cold test.

Hand of silk washed in lukewarm/rinsed with water mixed with vinegar. This square had a lot more drape than the ones rinsed in plain water.

Hand of silk washed in lukewarm/rinsed with water mixed with vinegar.This square had a lot more drape than the ones rinsed in plain water. However, the texture of the fabric seemed slightly rougher than the unwashed version.

So what will I do? I’m leaning heavily toward prewashing in lukewarm water and rinsing in lukewarm with a little vinegar. Though this version shrank the most, the hand changed the least – and the hand is more important to me than a little shrinkage.

I envision this silk chiffon floating over a lightweight cream wool skirt. My next step is finding or modifying the right pattern or drafting my own skirt pattern.

Test results from prewashing silk chiffon in cold and lukewarm water - CSews.com

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6 Responses to “My Test Results: Pre-washing Silk Chiffon”

  1. April 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I’m glad to see the colours didn’t run 🙂
    For others who will be sewing with silk chiffon this information is wonderful! It is really difficult to find good, clear, well-written tests on this fabric. What happened to the texture and drape of the fabric is much more interesting to me than the shrinkage and like you I wouldn’t be as worried about the shrinkage.
    I’ll be looking forward to seeing the pattern you decide on – if it’s any help, I preferred to use patterns with less seams, to reduce the amount of stitching and to reduce pattern matching 🙂

    • April 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      Fewer seams sounds good to me! Especially because I’m a bit nervous about sewing it. 😉

      I have a silk chiffon skirt I bought a few years ago that has several gores. I love that way it flows but it would be many, many seams so I don’t think I’ll attempt that.

      I’ve also been toying with the idea of using the chiffon purely as an overskirt that I can wear on top of any skirt. It would tie on at the front or side. Maybe a half-circle skirt.

  2. April 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Nice documentation! 🙂 I’d still wash it in the machine, that’s me, I’m sure you’re not surprised!

    I keep thinking that my H-bird skirt (the one with the flounce) would be looovely in a chiffon, maybe with the pockets eliminated.. I made one in a fine crepe wool and it’s nice. Though to be sure, chiffon is lighter still.

    • April 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      Thanks! I may do another test in the machine. I’m really not find of hand washing. 😉

  3. April 27, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    What a decision to make. I don’t know what I’d do. I haven’t worked with much silk- mostly dupioni and I’ve been using it for corsets where it was flatlined with coutil so drape wasn’t a thought. This test you did is really interesting.

    • April 27, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      I still haven’t made a final decision. Dry cleaning is bad for the environment, not to mention expensive, but it won’t change the hand. (sigh)

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