Silk clothing can be described as many things: delicate, lightweight, sophisticated, etc. Is silk comfortable? Of course, it is! The perfect silk garment should fit you like a glove, allowing you to embrace the wonders of the fabric truly. However, as with any other piece of clothing you own, one thing could disrupt that optimal fit: shrinkage. Unfortunately, silk is not immune to this event. A shrunken silk shirt or pair of pants could be enough to ruin your whole day. So, we’ll discuss what may cause shrinkage in this material, as well as ways you can prevent it from happening altogether.
What is the Composition of Silk?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of silk’s shrinking abilities, let’s break down what it is composed of. Think of silk as similar to a strand of human hair, a material made up of proteins. Rather than containing keratin, however, a silk fiber is 75% made of a protein called fibroin. Fibroin is a natural protein, produced by moth larvae. In many cases, it is derived from an insect known as the mulberry silkworm. The silkworm uses silk fibers to build its cocoon, which silk farmers harvest and transfer to manufacturers.
Fibroin is responsible for silk’s shiny appearance, primarily due to how it is structured in the fiber. The protein is built in sheets that form a prism-like triangular shape. Due to the flat and smooth surface of the prism, the silk fiber is very sufficient at reflecting light. This results in a beautiful sheen.
Of course, silk is also widely known for its smooth and soft texture. This texture is due to another protein found in its fibers called sericin. Sericin is a gummy substance produced by silkworms to hold their cocoons together. In the process of silk harvesting, the sericin is typically removed, smoothing out the silk strands. If you’ve ever wondered which silk is softest, the answer is pure mulberry silk. Silk from other varying types of larvae also presents a very smooth texture, and the same goes for silks of differing weaves, such as satin or chiffon; however, there is nothing softer than silk straight from the mulberry silkworm.
What Causes Silk to Shrink?
Now that we understand a little more about what silk is made of, we can get into answering the main question at hand: Will silk shrink?
In short, yes, silk can shrink. Shrink rates can range anywhere from 5-15%, given certain circumstances. There are a few factors that can influence the shrinkage of this material, and we will discuss exactly why they pose the effects they do.
Type of Silk
As you know, there are multiple different types of silk fabrics on the market. These variations all contain differing thicknesses and weaves. In general, the looser the weave, the more room there is for the fabric to shrink. Fabrics such as silk chiffon, dupion, and organza are all loose weaves, allowing for higher shrinkage.
Furthermore, the amount of residual sericin in silk fibers can impact the fabric’s shrink rate as well. Depending on the type of larvae the silk has derived from, the material may not have been "degummed," or had all its sericin removed. For example, silk from the Tussah silkworm does not have any sericin washed off in the process of manufacturing. Higher amounts of sericin can lead to more shrinkage, mainly when coming into contact with water. Sericin is water intolerant, causing it to soften when wet. Its grip on the silk fibers will loosen, allowing the fibers to move and the fabric to shrink.
The variations in silk types are widespread. You may come into contact with a fabric that possesses a tight weave but a high sericin content. At the same time, you could purchase an article of clothing with a loose weave but a low concentration of sericin. Make sure to research these traits before deciding on the right silk for you.
Exposure to Heat
Exposing silk to any type of heat, whether it be hot water, humidity, or even the sun’s rays, will most likely generate shrinkage. High temperatures cause silk fibers to move closer to one another, resulting in a garment becoming smaller in size. As previously stated, a loose weave invites more shrinkage as the fibers have more room to move when introduced to heat. A tight weave offers less space to move but is not exempt from shrinking.
Therefore, washing your silk clothing in hot water is never a good idea, and forget about throwing it in the dryer. Hand washing or dry cleaning is typically recommended for such delicate fabric.
How To Properly Care for Silk
No one enjoys the event of their beloved silk attire being negatively altered. Luckily, there are many ways to preserve the size and quality of your clothing. With just a bit of TLC, silk can maintain its beauty for years to come.
When storing silk, it is important to keep it in a consistent environment. You always want to put your silk pieces in a place that is both dimly lit and maintained at cool to warm temperatures. Avoid keeping your garments in areas that may attract moisture or mold, such as a basement or attic. The option to fold or hang your silk is completely up to you, as neither alternative is inherently better. The most important thing is that you treat the silk with a delicate hand.
Pay Attention to Care Instructions
Cleaning silk can be a bit tricky, as we just discussed how washing it can lead to damage. However, every article of clothing comes with care instructions right on the tag, and silk is no exception. Every type of silk comes with a specific set of directions on how to best preserve it. Pay close attention to these instructions, as they will guide you through caring for your silk in the least harmful way.
Avoid Direct Sun Exposure
As said before, the sun can contribute to silk shrinkage. It causes much more damage than in the long run. Over time, the sun weakens silk fibers and causes fading in dyed colors. As a result, the silk may lose its shine or feel more rough to the touch. It is best to keep sunlight exposure to a minimum so the silk can maintain its special quality.
Clearly, one must understand the nature of silk before deciding to purchase it. Its fragile anatomy and distinct physical properties make it susceptible to many elements. However, with proper knowledge and care, silk can last for numerous years.
We hope that this guide has helped answer some of the questions that may have been running through your mind! As always, don’t be afraid to browse House Twenty Two’s collection of authentic silk garments and accessories to find your next statement piece.