When not in use these embroidered silk shawls should be rolled softly with the fringe to the inside and stored in a cotton bag – a cotton pillowcase is ideal. The cotton bag should be white or natural color. It should not be dyed as any dye color could possibly transfer to the silk shawl.
Do not fold your shawl so you do not make definite crease marks in the silk. It is better to lay your shawl out flat and roll it loosely than fold it. Do not worry about forming wrinkles – just plan to remove your shawl and spread it over a table or bed, or hang it for 24 – 48 hours before you plan to wear it. The wrinkles will hang out by the virtue of the weight of the shawl itself. The silk fringe tends to curl up and tangle and is best smoothed out with patience using your fingers and/ or a wide toothed comb with soft rounded tines. If you hang the shawl in the bathroom with a bit of steam in the room for 24 hours before you intend to wear it the storage wrinkles will hang out on their own with no special effort on your behalf. All the shawls pictured here are in the process of being straightened out on a flat surface before use and of having the fringe straightened out. In the shawl world this process is called dressing a shawl.
If the fringe is still wavy you can carefully spray it with water, then smooth it with your fingers. Be careful to dampen only the fringe, Do not get the silk fabric wet. The weight of the water plus the finger combing will smooth out the fringe. If you have a steamer or steam generator you can also use it to steam out the fringe. However, you should do so very carefully, again, so as not to leave water marks or stains on the silk fabric portion itself. If the fringe is still wavy you can iron it to straighten it - it is very simple to do using a hair straightener! Silk can withstand high heat. The threads forming the fringe have a round shape which, when ironed stay flatter. First untangle fringes with your fingers and a comb if needed, then, if still wrinkled, go through them carefully with a hair straightener and they will be perfect! In stubborn cases If fringe has become very tangled or static you can treat it with a good quality hair conditioner. To do this rub a small amount of the conditioner over your hands, then work it into the fringe with your fingers as you detangle the fringe and finally use a wide tooth comb to comb it through as described above. Do not mix with water and again do not get the silk fabric portion of the shawl wet. Start with a small amount of the conditioner. You will be leaving it on the fringe, not rinsing it out. Very little is needed. If necessary you can iron the silk part of the shawl but always use a cotton pressing cloth - do not touch the surface of the silk or the embroidery directly with an iron as to do so could remove the subtle sheen from the silk and the embroidery threads. It may happen that an occasional fringe string will stand out extending longer than the others. If this is the case you can trim the longer string to a length to match the others using a pair of small sharp embroidery scissors. Do not store the shawls by hanging them on a hanger as the very weight of the shawl itself can stretch both the silk and the fringes, especially in the large heavy shawls, and cause the silk to suffer. Additionally wooden or metal hanger are potentially problematic. Wooden hangers can have splinters that come off and snag the silk. Metal hangers can rust in humid climates and cause rust stains. As for cleaning these shawls - should they ever need to be cleaned - it is strictly dry clean only! I recently showed a very old white silk shawl with multi-colored flowers embroidered on it to my dry cleaner asking him if it was advisable to have it dry cleaned. The shawl is almost 200 years old. It has no actual stains but I was curious about freshening it up. He did not want to dry clean it. He said that such items are known to bleed color during the cleaning process, especially the red, purple and dark blue colors and leave streams of dye running off the flowers down the white silk. He warmed me that the dyes were not colorfast when these shawls were made and, even, modern fabrics with embroidery in modern threads can bleed and stain. Therefore he advises not to dry-clean and risk ruining the antique textile. It is really not recommended to clean these shawls. It is best to take good care of them so they do not acquire any stains. They can be aired out before or after wearing to retain freshness. Do not expose them directly to perfumes or cosmetics as they could also stain the silk.
A dry cleaner can steam out the fringe if you do not want to do it yourself. However, even though it takes time and requires patience, I find it a rather meditative experience that gets me to know my shawl well to do it myself. The process creates a bond with your shawl and I recommend the experience.
Never ever wash these shawls. They should never be immersed or soaked in water. If they acquire any stains take them to a specialized dry cleaner as soon as possible. The dry cleaner I use specializes in vintage textiles and has cleaned many vintage items for me. I have used them for decades and they have never ruined anything. I show them problems I encounter in vintage fabrics and garments and take their advice. They are good and I have learned a lot from them.
Do not expose your shawl to strong sunlight or UV rays. For example, do not display a shawl on a grand piano near a window where it will be exposed to direct or indirect sunlight. The dyes used on these silks – the silk fabrics, the embroidery thread and the silk yarn used to make the fringe – were not color fast in the era when the shawls were made. The shawls can fade or bleach when exposed to sunlight or UV light from other sources. I have seen it happen. Like water color paintings, if used for interior decor, they should be displayed or stored away from direct or indirect UV light.
They must never be washed in water or immersed in water as the embroidery thread is likely to bleed and run and stain the silk ground – thus ruining the shawl! I have seen a white shawl embroidered in flowers of many colors that was immersed in water and completely destroyed. I have also seen a shawl that was hung on a wall in a sunny room that was destroyed by indirect exposure to the UV light.
Always remember – these are exquisite shawls are delicate antique textiles. At the same time you can wear them and enjoy them if you take care of then properly. Silk is a sturdy fabric for wearing as a shawl if it is not abused – enjoy it by wearing is as intended and caring for it properly.
Do not wrap a shawl in colored tissue paper or any tissue paper. The dyes in colored paper can transfer to the silk even when dry. Tissue paper can disintegrate or partially disintegrate and adhere to the silk also damaging it.
Lastly – do not store a silk shawl or any fine textile in a cardboard box or a decorated wooden box. I saw one of these silk shawls that was stored in “a lovely wooden Chinese box ” that was lacquered on the outside and varnished on the inside. The shawl had been stored in this “pretty box” for a long time and had absorbed varnish and lacquer from the non-stable chemicals used to decorate the box. Consequently, the delicate silk shawl was completely irreparably damaged.
Some cardboard boxes contain naphtha which is a nasty substance that will leach out of the cardboard into a silk shawl or other textile if it is stored in such a box. Recycled cardboard boxes are some of the worst types to use for storing textiles. Unfortunately some shops, even high end ones, are now using such containers to package goods they sell. You should be aware that they aren’t archival quality, can damage your valuable antique textiles and can also cause dangerous allergic respiratory and skin reactions.
Such materials often come from foreign countries where they manufacture such things as decorative boxes, painted wooden chests, dressers and other storage containers with inexpensive materials. Glues, paints, cardboards, varnishes, wood stains, finishes, pastes, wrapping paper, and packing materials as well as other materials can be potentially hazardous to your health and your textiles.
It is common to run into such substances when working with imports and exports – such as clothing, decorative goods and furniture manufactured in third world countries.
Professional archival storage materials such as boxes and paper used to preserve valuable antiques in museums and serious galleries are much more expensive than generic packing materials from India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and Africa.
If you are going to collect precious textiles and antiques it is best to learn about these things, educate yourself on caring for them and proper storage and use the safest and best materials available.
In the case of an antique textile, such as embroidered silk pajamas, kimonos and antique silk shawls a simple clean soft white cotton pillowcase is the best storage container you can get! I keep mine in a cotton pillow case, in a cedar chest lined with several layers of cotton sheets. The precious textile should only touch the cotton casing, never the wood directly.
When I have an antique shawls on display for interior decor I keep the curtains closed during daylight hours. I also have installed UV blocking window shades to block sunlight because I have original water colors and pastels on my walls. And I use UV Safe lightbulbs in my lamps.
I do not live in the dark! Everything looks normal to visitors. I’m simply aware of doing these things to preserve my treasures. Also, these things are very easy to do once you understand the steps to take.
Dancers who use these silk shawls in performances are careful to avoid getting sweat on the shawls. They wear body stockings, or leotards against their skin and carefully position the shawls over this under layer to avoid getting makeup or perspiration on the silk. I will write another post on how to use these shawls in dance performances and as costumes and explain how to protect them while doing so.
Rare and beautiful historic clothing and accessories are for sale in my online shops. If you see something on this blog that you are interested in buying, but do not find it for sale in my shops message me on Etsy or Ebay and I will get back to you about availability. I check messages daily and can always prepare a special listing for you if you do not find it already listed in the shops.
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