The Blog of The Bride of Sesshomaru


Welcome to my sewing, historical reenactment, and CosPlay blog! Here on this blog you will find all of my random thoughts about sewing, the SCA, manga, anime, CosPlay, costume making, embroidery, sewing historically accurate Japanese costumes, and my fandom of Lord Sesshomaru whom I CrossPlay as.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Antique Silk: To Wash or Not To Wash? What Would You Do?


Okay, so if you've been reading my blogs or websites for a while, than you've probably heard me talking about my costume and how I'm gone nuts over historical accuracy with it. Part of my historical accuracy obsession, was to seek out antique 15" wide Japanese silk to use to make Lord Sesshomaru's kimono and hakama.

I started my search in March 2008 and after several weeks I finally found what I was looking for. I bought it from a dealer in Japan, and it just arrived in the mail yesterday. It is the most beautiful fabric I have ever owned, however, now that I have it here in my hands, I'm looking at it and I'm thinking, what have I gotten myself into? This amazing little piece of cloth has now opened up a whole world of questions, most of which I should be able to deal with on my own, but one, is just nagging at me, and I don't know what I should do, so I thought I'd come here and ask you guys, and see what you say.

Normally I buy a new fabric and throw it in the washing machine to pre-wash it and pre-shrink it, before I even consider cutting it out and sewing it into anything. Wither or not it goes in the dryer depends on what type of fabric it is.

Here's my dilemma:

  • This fabric is 100% pure silk, and a very lightweight one too.
  • This fabric is handwoven.
  • This fabric is antique.

So... each of those types of fabric would require special care, but this fabric is all three in one!

As you know, this fabric is going to be used to make the 4 kimonos worn by Lord Sesshomaru through the series, (The red one, the purple one, the blue one, and the pink one.) and the white hakama. The white on each of these kimono, is of course the color of the fabric, while the colored sections on the kimonos, I am going to add via hand embroidery. It's going to take me 3 or 4 months to do the embroidery on each kimono, so an awful lot of time and work is going into these. The embroidery once finished, will not be able to be washed, by either machine or hand, and can only be "spot cleaned" with a sponge. So, that said, once these kimonos are finished, I will never be able to wash them.

Now, that brings us to my question and why I am writing this post:

I know that silk can shrink like crazy when washed, so pre-washing is recommended. On the other hand the finished garment is not likely to ever be washed, ever. The fact that this silk is an antique, means that it should be handled with more care too.

So, should I pre-wash this fabric or not? What would you do? Would YOU wash it? If so, would you wash it by hand or by machine? Hot water or cold? With soap or just plain water? If with soap, what type should I use?

Normally when I wash delicates, I use one of these to wash them in instead of detergent:

  • Blueing
  • Irish Spring Body Wash
  • SoftSoap Body Wash
  • Woolite

Would you wash this silk using any one of these? Why or why not?

Should I use a liquid fabric softener on this?

Here are the details of the fabric, if that helps:

The fabric in question I am told was originally made to be used to create a lightweight summer kimono.

It has a woven pattern on it, (clouds, chrysanthemums, and cherry blossoms). The pattern being of a matte raised texture, while the background is a smooth glossy texture. The picture looks snow white, but it's actually a natural undyed silk and is a creamy off-white color. The dealer I bought it from called it "Rinzu Silk", and said it was handwoven and from approx cira 1940. It is very lightweight and airy, and when draped over your arm, feels like it is not even there. I have approx. 35 yards of it.

Though it is antique, it has never been used, and it still on it's bolts (there are 5 bolts of it), and is in mint condition, whoever owned it stored it well, it looks like any new fabric you'd buy at the store.

On the ends of the cloth, where it was cut from the loom, are stamped some Japanese symbols (words?), (stamped with that red stuff that they stamp on art scrolls and such), and the dealer told me that these markings are the weaver's signature, that they are stamped on just like an artist signing a work of art.

And here are some pics of it:

The costume is for a fictional character (cira 1558) from a book series, and it gives a very detailed info about his cloths, plus there loads of pictures of him, (points to the dozen or so picture of him that are floating all over this blog -----> ) so I know pretty well, every detail of the costume, it's pretty accurate with real Japanese history and stuff that ain't accurate I'm changing so that it will be... the author really did her research. I'm making it a period style kosode not modern style cause there is such a big difference in what they look like. Anyways, the embroidered silks kimonos are an upper or outer layer, so yea, there's going to be under layers as well, I'm thinking of using cotton for the under layers.

I see people making this costume all the time for CosPlay, but never sticking with the historically accurate details the author put into the book. I don't CosPlay, I do historical reenactment stuff, so I'm making this a bit different from the way a CosPlayer would be making it. I took it on, more as a "art project" than anything else, to challenge myself, because the whole costume is pretty advanced on it's own. It's more a display item, I don't think I'll wear more than once or twice. I just got sick of seeing people making a very modern looking costume, and wanted to see what the real outfit would have looked like, so that's my goal. I actually wanted older silk, but I didn't think that'd be possible to work with even if I did find it.

I asked someone else what would have been done "historically" and they told me that historical the cloth would have been laid out in a brook to let the water "rinse it" and than it would have been hung in the shade on a tree to dry. They said not to use any type of soap on this at all, and just use cold water. The brook in my yard comes through the swamp, and my trees are pine: I can just see it getting muddy in a brook and than spotted with tree sap, so that's out. LOL!

I might not wash it at all. But I'm worried about it shrinking too, so I'm thinking a soak in the tub, is the best road, so I'll probably do that.

I've asked a cleaner about dry cleaning my type of embroidery work before (I do a lot of really big embroidery projects, wall hangings and such) and was told that most dry cleaners wouldn't risk it. They told me that unless something spilt on it and it got really soiled, that the best way to clean large embroidery was to spot clean it, but pressing a damp sponge on the cloth and letting it soak out the dirt. They told me that washing or cleaning would likely pull out the threads and cause massive damage to the embroidery work.

This is actually started out as an embroidery project, for me, because I loved the amazing embroidery I've seen on Noh kimono's from the 1500's, and I wanted to recreate one. I picked a fictional character, rather than a real character, because it would allow me more creative freedom. My plan just got bigger as I did more research into the character and now I'm doing the entire outfit (which includes Samaria battle armor as well...but that a whole other story!) Anyways, my goal it not so much to wear this, as it is, just to make it.

Lord Sesshomaru wears 6 different kimonos, 4 of which a white based, and are the 4 I'm using this fabric to make. Here are my drawings of what the finished kimonos will look like:

Has anyone ever dealt with a fabric like this one before? If so, could you tell me what you did? How you did it, and what the end results were? Do you have any special tips or advice of washing and handling silks or antique fabrics?

Thanks millions!


Thanks to a response on a thread I started on a forum, I think this question has been answered! WOW! And so quickly too! OMG< I never expected an answer to come back right after I posted the question! YAY! (I'll still take more advice though if anyone else has anything else to say on this!)

I just looked up the info given me found this site: about how Orvus is used to clean needlwork projects. WOW! I think this might be what to do with my silk too. It sounds like it'll work out better than anything else.

I didn't know that Woolite distresses fabric! ACK! Good to know. I'll have to rethink how I use it.


well, I unrolled the bolt, and I'm not seeing any markings on it at all. I don't think it was ever even unrolled before. It's really nice and clean, and there's no "smells" or anything either.

I was looking at the fabric and I started thinking about the washing machine and thought "ACK! The agitator will ruin this!", and than I was thinking about the tub and thought: "No way is the tub clean enough to get near white fabric!"

I think I'm leaning more and more to not washing it at all, cause it might do more damage than good, plus I really can't see it ever being washed once it's finished.

What's your take on this? I'd love to hear what you have to say about this post. Leave a comment and share your views!


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