Silk has a long and exotic history. The Silk Road—the extensive trade routes that spanned from Europe to Asia— was steeped in mystery and allure. Silk itself is fantastical: thread spun from moth larvae. From it’s earliest evidence 2,500 years ago to our modern love of this luxury textile, silk reigns supreme by lovers of beauty, fashion and collectors of scarves and ties.
Remember the novel, Silk, by Alessandro Baricco? Set in 1861, French merchant of silkworms, Hervé Joncour, journeys to Japan (the “end of the world”) and is captivated by the beauty of the place and entranced by a mysterious woman whose gaze haunts him for a lifetime. The quest for silk is the backdrop to this spare tale (90 pages) of love, longing, and the human condition. I’ve read the book, which was translated from Italian, but have not seen the movie from it.
As a fabric, there is nothing quite like silk. As well as being exquisite to wear and touch, it is also a veritable scientific marvel—silk is produced from the larvae of insects undergoing a complete metamorphosis! And although silk is produced from a number of insects—the most famous being the mulberry silkworm which is raised in captivity—only the silk of moth caterpillars has been used for textile manufacturing. There are both wild silks and cultivated silks, which are wonderfully varied in colour and texture.
Silk originated from ancient China. Legend credits Empress Leizu (Hsi-Ling-Shih, Lei-Tzu) with its development. Initially reserved for the Chinese Emperors, it eventually became a highly desirable and lucrative trade commodity. The world has never looked back—there has never been a time in which silk has never fallen out of favour.
So, how do you care for silk? Although silk is delicate, it can be washed. Unless the tag on your silk fabric recommends dry cleaning, it should be avoided as dry cleaning will shrink certain types of silk. Be careful, be gentle, use your good judgement before you begin and if in doubt, leave it to the professionals.
How To Clean & Care for Silk:
- Hand wash
- Use very cold water
- Use a small amount of mild soap for delicates such as Woolite or Dr. Bronner’s Baby Soap (this liquid soap will help preserve the garment’s natural oils)
- Do not use bleach or stain remover (be forewarned: once silk has been turned yellow by exposure to bleach, it can not be whitened. It will always be yellow. It is a chemical reaction that can not be undone)
- To avoid yellowing, add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse water
- Add a few drops of hair conditioner to the rinse water to keep the silk soft and flexible
- Press out water by gently rolling in a clean, white towel. Do not wring as this will damage the fabric
- Air dry. Never hang silk in the sun or near a heat source
- Hang wet item to dry or lay flat
- Iron only when absolutely necessary. Use a cool iron with a press cloth between the iron and the fabric
The photo at the top of the page is my bolt of patterned ivory silk (8 metres!!) and a vintage Vogue dress pattern. This fabric has been in my stash for a few years now (!!) but I am determined to make it for Spring. We shall see what transformation can be wrought in the magic of my sewing room.