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

Prewashing Silk Fabric

Silk Chiffon

I have nearly three yards of this lovely silk chiffon – a beautiful remnant I got at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. I’m thinking of using it for a skirt and pair it with a solid silk underskirt (cream or some other color). But before I start sewing it I need to prewash it or take it to the dry cleaners. Prewashing silk fabric in the washing machine may seem wrong but it’s not something you should automatically rule out. I’m trying to decide what I should do.

I’ve done a little research and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

StephC of Sewing Cake patterns washes silk in the washing machine. Here’s what she says in “This Is How I Care for Silks” on her blog 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World:

This is how I care for silk fabrics:

  • Serge/overlock the raw edges of the length of silk fabric to be turned into a garment
  • Put into washing machine.  If desired, add a few other garments of similar weight and color.  Make sure to zip up any zippers.
  • Wash on a cool setting with a small amount of mild detergent.  I make my own.  DO NOT USE POWDER.  In a pinch, use a capful of shampoo.
  • I like to add a little bit of vinegar to the rinse water.  Try 1/4 cup.  It freshens the silk and removes any soap residue.
  • If desired, use fabric softener.  I think of it the same way as using conditioner on my hair.
  • Remove from the washing machine immediately.

Be sure to read the rest of her post for more of her experiences on washing silk.

I also tweeted (@csewsalot) for advice and StephC (@SewingCake) advised: “when in doubt, just wash a 10cm sq of fabric to see what happens. don’t use hot or cold water. Gentle cycle. Should be ok.” [Note: For the metrically challenged (like myself) 10cm is about 4 inches.]

I found this blog, How to Clean Stuff, which had this helpful post “How to Wash Silk.” Be sure to read the comments for more advice. This site has many, many posts on cleaning a variety of clothing and fabric, from “How to Clean Antique Lace” to “How to Whiten Yellowed Wool.”

I also called a local fabric store to see if they carried anything that you could use to wash silk. The woman I spoke to seemed a bit appalled that I would consider putting silk in the washing machine, suggesting that I dry clean it because washing it could really change the fabric. BUT she said if I really wanted to do that, I should use baby shampoo.

So I’ll definitely prewash a test swatch and see what happens to the fabric and then I’ll decide if I want to prewash all the yardage or just take it to the dry cleaners. I’ll be sure to post my results!