Saturday, August 2, 2008

Musings On Caring For Silk Scarves And Yes They Can Be Washed

One of my favorite sayings regarding silk scarves came from one of the most experienced collectors that I can think of. She likes to say when discussing the durability of the silk, "They make parachutes out of it after all..." And she is right! The silk that scarves are made out of is very resilient. Silk is a natural fiber, and although it is highly recommended by manufactures most of the time to have the scarf dry cleaned. I have always cringed at the thought of what happens while at the cleaners. Dry cleaning fluid is a solvent, a lot of people do not know this, we take our beloved priceless dearly treasured items to have them coated in solvent. I am the daughter of an artist, I know what solvent does to things as I saw my father have to clean many things with it as a child in the course of his work.

I remember the first time I took one of my very first Hermes a "Les Insects" to the cleaners, I cringed to leave something so precious to me (as it was a gift) in the hands of the cleaner person. The scarf made it home not damaged but with pressed hems, I was so distraught.

Now imagine my apprehensive delight when sisters in silk within the forums came forward and admitted that they wash their beauties. Yes, I said wash! In fact they stated often times that they too were very put off with the thought of harsh chemicals coming next to their skin or their silk. I read, listened and learned. And then one day I acquired a very coveted piece that others had actually returned to a seller because it was "dingy, and stained".

When the scarf arrived to me, (and yes it was an Hermes) I was delighted to have received it, but now what was I going to do to bring the life back to it and restore it to it's original state of beauty. I had no choice, I had to enter the world of the scarf washers.

Now I have some chemistry experience, and my grandmother was famous for removing stains from things. So I decided to take the plunge. To my pleasant surprise, the scarf became pristine. So pristine that I once wore it to go shopping and when I entered the Hermes boutique, my scarf was immediately recognized as a rare piece by the first sales assistant to greet me, who then had to call others over to view my prize. They complimented me on it's beauty and rarity, I simply said thank you and smiled.

Over time I developed my own tried and true method for the activity of scarf washing and I have never looked back. Here is the formula I use:

I wash the darkly colored ones in my bathtub, as it is quite large and I can lay the scarf across the water to work with it. Other light colors I use a plastic wash tub that I put into the sink. I run cold water, and place a "dye catcher" (the market sells a Shout brand for this, it is a little white piece of like interfacing material that helps prevent dye coloring the water and therefore unwanted areas of the scarf) Mind you I have not felt that the newer scarves really need this step, but that is just me. The older scarves however do not have the newly fabricated dyes, that the newer ones do. So the older the scarf the more careful you have to be. I have even used a little salt half teaspoon diluted in warm water first,then added to the wash water for the older scarves. But I have not done this often as salt is not truly good for the silk. But on the first wash it helps to extra set old dyes it seems.

I wash in Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Laundry Soap Geranium or Lavender scent, but I have used Woolite, Dawn dish-washing soap, and the brand Tocca Delicate scented wash. Dawn dish-washing soap is good for scarves that have some sort of greasy stain or residue. I do not use it as a general wash only on a very soiled scarf.

During the wash I keep the scarf moving at all times. I rinse well,and I never squeeze only swish. I hang the scarf over a towel covered shower bar for a few minutes while the iron heats up on a prepared board.

To prepare the iron board I put a white towel down on the iron board, this helps to plump the hems as you press down next to them. I use a up down pressing motion starting in the center and working out toward the hems. I have the iron set on silk, and no water in the iron. I have a Rowenta Iront hat I use only for my scarves, but I do not think this is necessary, I do however think it is very important to have a very clean iron, no carry over residue that water or steam can sometimes leave.

Before I take the wet scarf to the iron board I gently roll it in a very large white towel. Then I take it to the board to press it dry.

I spot treat stains with items such as Dryell spot treatment that comes with their home dry cleaning kit. This removes lipstick very well.

For other stains Zout stain spray is very good.

But the best stain treatment of all is Woolite Oxydeep Carpet Cleaner sprayed directly all over the scarf, wait a few minutes then wash as usual. I know this sounds very involved but it really is not. I just tried to include all of the information off the top of my head so you could have an idea, and know that it is entirely possible to wash scarves successfully, and never dryclean them again.

Oh and when pressing I press down next to the hem as I kind of massage and roll the hem to plump it as I press, never pressing on top of the hem.

I need to make something crystal clear, regarding stain treatment, and scarf washing. Do not use any other "Oxy" product on the scarves other than "Woolite Oxydeep Carpet Cleaner", this is not the same product as "Oxyclean". Oxyclean is a product that will damage the silk. No two Oxy products are a like. And to my knowledge the only safe Oxy product is theWoolite Oxydeep Carpet Cleaner which comes in a blue spray bottle.

As collectors we value the plump forward rolled hems of the Hermes scarf, once a hem has been flattened by a dry cleaner the only way to replump it is to wash and massage the hems back to their plump state, or to have the scarf hem re-rolled through Hermes or a professional hemmer.

I am fortunate in that I have rather an abundance of scarves so there are scarves that I wear more often than others, and there are those that I wear but mostly for the very special occasion, those special ones are not worn often, and I am extremely careful when I do wear them so that the possibility of them needing a washing is minimalized, but should the event happen that one should become spotted, I would rather tackle the issue myself, than place it in the hands of someone else.

There is another benefit to scarf washing, it is extremely relaxing, and seems to take the cares away, it can be very self soothing when the world is hectic.

So if you truly care about your beloved silk beauties, take the plunge in washing, you will not look back. Otherwise you will be sitting on the sidelines watching your hems get flatter and flatter.

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