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

The Hand of Fabric

The half-finished red crepe jacket

When I first began sewing as a young girl, I sewed mostly woven cotton fabric and made pretty basic clothes. So I never really had to be concerned about the “hand” of fabric. What is the hand of fabric? It’s how a fabric feels when you touch it – soft, stiff, flowing, crisp, and so on.

But over the past few years, I have delved into making clothes from fabric I had never used before – stretch knits, wool crepe, silk, herringbone tweed, dupioni, and home dec textiles. And now I’ve discovered that hand is really important – especially if I decide to deviate from what a pattern suggests.

Patterns typically list fabrics to use and let you know whether obvious diagonals are OK. They also take into consideration the hand and how it would work with the design. For example, when I made The Trench from Christine Haynes’s book Chic & Simple Sewing, I used a wool fabric that didn’t quite work. I needed something with a stiffer hand so the top part wouldn’t flop. When I made it a second time using a more heavyweight fabric, I didn’t have that problem (see Sewing Another Trench Coat).

I bought a remnant of some beautiful red imported Italian wool crepe from Britex Fabrics a couple years ago. It was one of the more expensive remnants I’d ever purchased (even at 30 percent off the remnant price it was still more than $50 – I’ve conveniently forgotten how much it was).

At the time, I had an Anne Klein jacket pattern in mind but soon realized that I didn’t have enough yardage – luckily I figured that out before I cut it. But I wanted to make a jacket so I flipped through a Vogue pattern book and found a cute cropped jacket. The pattern didn’t list wool crepe but it did say “crepe” so I thought, why not?

Well, after I began sewed the main body pieces, I realized that the hand of my wool crepe and the silk lining was too soft for this pattern. I really don’t like the way the front horizontal seam looks. The fabric just isn’t very forgiving. Maybe if I’d chosen a lining with a stiffer hand, it would look better. But what I should have done is really considered my fabric’s hand and the pattern – and how they would work together.

So it’s been hanging in my closet for months as I try to figure out what to do. I really don’t want to take it apart because it’s pretty hard to pick out the thread. I bought a red silk thread that matches really well. Plus I clipped the seams in some areas in the hopes that that would help.

Now I ponder placing some ribbon or lace over that darn seam but it’s hard to decide what will look best – a black grosgrain ribbon? some grey lace? a red moiré satin ribbon? In the meantime, it hangs in my closet waiting for my decision and for me to attach its cropped sleeves….