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My Gather and Prep Processes For Reclaiming Silks Part 2 of 3 - Cleaning And Storing

My processes for gathering and prepping reclaiming silks for use in silk paintings and other art projects (part 2 of 3)

A pile of lovely silks (shirts, dresses, and PJ's)

In my previous post, I talked about buying used silks...                          so now that I have them, what do I do with them?

4) When I've picked out a group of silk items (like the shirts and dress in the previous post) and I know the silks will work with my preferred art methods.  My next step (other than purchasing the silk!) is to take the silks home and wash them .  I ALWAYS wash my silks. ALWAYS!!!   I can almost hear you shouting - WAIT DID SHE SAY SHE WASHES ALL OF HER USED SILKS?...  WHAT ABOUT "DRY-CLEAN ONLY"??  FYI - There are a few (VERY FEW) silks that don't respond well to washing because of how they were woven... but in general all silks love to be washed...and in nice hot water!  The hot water restores luster and suppleness, and in raw-types of silks - it helps to remove the left-over bits of sericin from the original cocoon (which will cause problems for dye adhesion). 

So why would the manufacturers put "dry-clean only" on their items? Because they probably dyed their items WITHOUT setting the dyes properly (it's cheaper that way don't ya know!).  So when you wash those items, they will bleed..sometimes horribly!  I rarely buy darker-colored items so for me, bleeding is a non-issue.  Also, it can be possible for silk items to shrink slightly or warp - which could be a major problem IF you were going to wear the silk item.  But for my purposes of silk-related artwork, warping and shrinking don't matter (in fact, I'd prefer it happen BEFORE I attempt to paint on it!). 

So back to why I wash silk items...  First - you don't know what kind of sweat, dirt, or yuck is on the used silk (ewww!).  And even more importantly, you don't know how the used-silk item was treated (chemically) when it was made into the item you've purchased.  Most items crafted from silk come pre-treated with stain-preventative chemicals.  What does that mean to an artist?  Well it means that when you attempt to paint on it with silk paints or silk dyes, it is very likely that the silk will repel the dyes or paints, AND it may even prevent the dyes from soaking into (and bonding to) the silk!!  NOT good for a silk painter!!  So to help remove SOME of the chemical treatments from the silk, I wash them.  I usually wash them with baby shampoo.  
Baby shampoo??? YUP, I said baby shampoo.  Why??  Because baby shampoo is for fine, soft hair.  And what is hair?... a natural fiber similar to silk!  Baby shampoo is a wonderful

agent for cleaning silk!  It was recommended to me, that I wash used silks in synthrapol (which is a VERY strong detergent and one which is not recommended to get on your skin!), but I didn't care to use dangerous chemicals. ... so i only use it if i have a piece of silk which persists on repelling
dyes even after repeated washings in baby shampoo. 

Now for my word of caution - PLEASE NOTE - There are silks that I have washed multiple times in synthrapol that STILL are water and dye repellent.  I have even tried the suggested "wash the silk in water and hot vinegar" (supposedly the acids in the vinegar will help remove the chemical stain treatments).. but that has not really worked!  Once in a while, I will still have pieces of silk that have random spots where dyes won't adhere... this is one of the main reasons silk painters don't like working with used silks!! 

5) Once my silk items are clean, I usually end up storing them ..which means I wrap them in acid-free paper and put them in a plastic storage bin until I decide to use them. *It is important that you keep your silks safe from the environment!! They are very susceptible to acids, and insects LOVE them!!!!  So I recommend acid free paper and an air-tight storage container.

6)  Because I do tend to hoard silks, I have started sorting my silks based on how I use them.  I have a bin for beige silks that I know I can easily use to paint on.  I have a bin for silks that are beige (and light-colored) that I know the silks will present major challenges either for painting or for mounting (or both). I have a bin for strongly-colored silks.  And I have a storage unit for special silks.  I also have several small bins and bags of pieces which I keep at the ready.  They include: a bag of scraps that will be used to soak up left-over dyes, a bag of small pieces used for demo's or for practicing on, a small bin of silk pieces that are big enough to use for larger art pieces, and a bin of tiny scraps that I will be passing onto artist friends whom will use the pieces in their felt-work.  In other words, I have a LOT of bins!  

My next post will be on my last steps for prepping silks for use in my artwork. 


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