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There are many brides and grads who are wearing vintage gowns. Some of these are family heirlooms which have been updated and some are funky finds from the internet. This is such a great way to have an affordable and unique gown as well as adding a charming theme for the day in question. There are a great many fabrics used in the making of gowns and the popularity of different fibres has changed with the decades… so how can you tell what the gown you love is made of and more importantly how to care for it… without further ado here is my overdue silk testing tutorial…

For me there is no mistaking of silk… the feel of the smoothness, the particular sheen that it has, the smell… however… there are some pretty amazing imposters… usually polyester but sometimes rayon and acetate can be convincing as well. Polyester is easy to rule out with a simple burn test. It will leave a hard bead and smell like burning plastic. Acetate is often found in vintage dresses from the fifties and sixties… this was revolutionary textiles back in the day. The easiest way to test is to dissolve it in acetone (some nail polish removers are still made from this). Acetate can not be cleaned any other way than drycleaning, water will stain it. Polyester is completely machine washable, in fact I have turned many gowns inside out and thrown them in the large industrial coin machines and had a spanky gown emerge unharmed. *This is only my experience and goes contrary to the care tags in the gowns… so be forewarned… you are on your own with this project ;)*

Silk is a protein like your hair or wool. It burns while the flame is touching but tends to extinguish quickly when the flame has been removed. It smells like burning hair, not as much as wool does but it’s definitely still present.

The other way to test for silk is to soak it in bleach. It will dissolve. This is why silk only comes in a creamy shade of white instead of the blue tones that synthetics can achieve. As a side note, it is this warmth of colour that makes it so flattering on almost every skin tone. Snow whites and blue based whites tend to be very unflattering on most people.

Silk will dye vibrantly and easily. This same property will allow the colour to fade easily from silk garments if they are not cared for properly. Keep it out of the sun, it fades the colours and weakens the fibres. Silk can be hand washed but there will be shrinking and possible fading… always test first. Always have gowns laundered as soon as possible after wearing them as stains can emerge over time as the sugars discolour the fabric. Luckily silk does not attract grease and therefore most stains do lift easily and permanently.

Light weight and breathable. The ultimate luxury fibre… it’s made by moths… how much lovelier can one thing be…

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I think it’s time for a little tutorial… so here we go.

smalltownfrocks is all about the reLove. I have always loved vintage and thrift store finds… and more often than not the labels are not attached or readable any more so it can be difficult to know what type of fibre something is made out of… there are a few simple ways to test.

Let’s start with something basic and handy… wool. Itchy is not always a good way to test, other than deciding if something is too itchy… there can often be blends. However, as we all know too well if you just chuck a wool sweater into the wash you will be left with a lovely piece of felted wool instead. Friction and temperature change is what makes wool felt. Acrylic or even some blends can be safely washed however… so how to tell the difference.

The burn test. Take a small snippet from the seam allowance or the end of yarn from a colour change. Hold it with a pair of tweezers (NOT your fingers!). Put a flame to the end and then pull it away. If it continues to burn after the flame is removed it is a synthetic.

Wool is self extinguishing, it will burn exposed to flame but will not continue to burn once the source is removed. This is why I stuff all of the toys that I make with wool. Naturally antimicrobial and flame resistant. The second clue is the smell of burning hair. Wool is a protein similar to your own hair and will smell as such when burnt. Synthetics will smell like burning plastic. A blend can smell like a combination of burning hair and plastic… yick.

The third and final clue that something is pure wool is that the bead that forms from the ash will crumble. Synthetics make a hard bead, think plastic. Wool will crumble like ash. Do not try to crumble the bead until you are sure that it is cool… it can stick and burn your skin if you grab it to soon.

So before you throw your latest treasure into the washing machine… check to see if it’s wool or not. If you end up with a felted mini sweater… send me an email… I could probably use it for a snuggly creation ;-)

Next week is testing for silk.

xoL

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