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No Dry Cleaning Needed: Here’s How to Wash Handwoven Cloth
“Is it necessary to dry clean handwoven cloth?” “Is special detergent necessary?” These are very common “care” questions we are asked about our cloth and products. After I wrote my blog on the Indian handwoven and naturally dyed silk fabric, I decided to do a wash test on handwoven, naturally dyed silk fabric from Laos.
This silk has been washed through the many stages of the dye process. But the finished cloth is generally not washed since all the washing has been done at the beginning stages.
Before sewing with any cloth, I wash it whichever way I will eventually wash the finished product. What follows is my recommendation for natural or naturally-dyed cloth that you will be sewing with. You can follow most of the same process for washing your scarf, shawl, runner, etc.
1. Assess the color of the cloth. Is it an allover color like the silk fabrics? Or is it primarily natural with some colored pattern areas? Are the colors deep, saturated colors like cochineal or light shades of color? Keep reading.
2. Test for color stability.Take a small piece (2” x 2”) off the cloth and test it for color bleeding. (If you want to test a solid-colored scarf or shawl, just use an edge—without cutting, of course.) Fill a small basin with lukewarm water and a mild non-scented dishwashing liquid or mild liquid detergent with no bleach (no need to use Woolite) and swish your sample around and let it sit for a few minutes. Does the water drastically change color or does it just leave a slight tinge of color? Both silks I tested left the water with a slight tinge of color.
3. Check for dye residue. Place the swatch on a white paper towel and see if the color bleeds off into the towel. A little? A lot? This light-colored silk fabric didn’t leave any color residue. The deep-colored fabric did leave a residue.
In each of these cases, I wouldn’t worry about washing the cloth because it’s an allover blended color and the washing process wouldn’t discolor any light-colored section. If you’re worried, do the same test but wash and rinse in cold water and see if the same thing occurs. Most of the time, the deeply dyed fabrics will have color runoff for a few washings and then that’s it. ALWAYS wash your fabric and the finished product by itself until you’re confident that residue dye has dispersed entirely.
If there are deeply-saturated colored patterns on a light-colored background, you’ll have a hard time testing for color stability. You can see if there is an area where a thread can be pulled out and you can test the thread (perhaps in the fringe?) If not, fill a spray bottle with the detergent, put a white paper towel under a small section where the color is and just spray this section. Pat this area into the paper towel and see if any bleeds off. If there is any color bleeding beyond just a light tinge, I wouldn’t wash the piece as you’ll risk blotches of color running into the neutral background.
The net result was the light-colored fabrics had insignificant bleeding. The dark-colored fabrics had some bleeding and I’d wash the fabric in the machine on a gentle cycle with lukewarm water and rinse until the dye residue was gone.
4.Test for shrinkage in washing
I cut a few squares about 9” x 11”, zig-zagged the edges on the sewing machine to prevent raveling during washing, and did the following tests:
— One was washed in the machine on the delicate cycle for 28 minutes, mild detergent, warm wash, warm rinse, gentle spin. Dried in dryer on low heat.
— The next one was machine-washed on the handwash cycle for 28 minutes, mild detergent, color wash, cold rinse, gentle spin. Dried flat.
— The last one was handwashed in a basin, mild detergent, warm wash, warm rinse for about 10 minutes. Dried flat.
The good news is that none of these fabrics shrunk. The hand changed ever so slightly. The one dried in the dryer softened up a tad more but had slight wrinkling. I did test ironing on all of the swatches using a silk setting and very low steam.
I’m ready to start sewing. This fabric will make an exquisite jacket or skirt or serve as a base for pillows or quilted into a fabulous bag with inset fabric blocks.