Crushing Silk
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How to Crush Silk Permanently

 by Sabine

(Sabine's native language is German but she has written this in English.  As editor, I'll correct a bit of the words for usage, but this is her article. -Cat-)

One thing in advance; Kids, don't try this at home without asking for your parents permission first *AND* of course for their help!

Everyone please follow all safety instructions carefully and completely.

Also see the bottom of the page for other techniques.

This crushing technique is permanent....  at least half permanent and can be refreshed after washing.

There are two types of crushing

  • down the length of the dress,  sometimes know as broomstick pleating (one way)
  • wild/random pleating, like we see in Arwen's Arch dress (multiple directions)

Material's List:

  • Silk (of course);
    • lots of silk
    • if you do a length crush then you will need three times the material as for a normal dress. It should already be dyed in the color desired.
    • Any silk or wool can be crushed; as long as it is thin enough. This also works on silk velvet.
    • It DOES NOT WORK on any acrylic-, poly- or whatever fabric; you NEED silk or wool, as these materials are protein fibers (just as hair).
    • DON'T try this on non-natural fibers - they might burn in the microwave!!!
  • Hair perm fluid:
    • No foam or what is in Germany called a "sour" perm (meaning alcalic perm), but just a basic perm with two little bottles of fluid for a strong perm.
    • For each four yards of 8mm Habotai silk I use one packet of perm.
      • This means for the orange Mist of Avalon gown I made I used three packets. 
      • For Arwen's Arch dress I used two and a half perm packets.
  • a bathroom with a bathtub or a shower; well aired;
  • a microwave oven,
    • You can substitute the microwave with hanging the twisted fabric over boiling water (in a non metal net or something; just as steam fixing is done with silk coloring.)
  • large microwave safe bowl
    • microwave safe cover or plastic
  • two long handled spoons/sticks
    • something that will not be used as eating utensils again
    • these are need to move the fabric around when it is scorching hot
  • gentle silk washing detergent
  • a baking oven
  • a hot radiator - steam, not electric
    • substitution...
      • old fashion hair dryer (the bonnet kind)
      • a clothing line and a Sunny day or two

Length Fabric Crush

1) wash the silk.

2) Form a long, twisted "sausage" that will twist up in itself when picked up. The stronger the twisting, the better; but keep in mind that the twisted fabric must still be able to take some fluid; so it must not be too strong. You can tie the ends with a thread so that the twisting will not open.

3) Read the instruction of the hair perm fluid!

4) Lay the sausage down in the bathtub (or the shower) and use the first fluid of the perm on it. Soak the fabric (still twisted!) with it.

5) While working with the microwave and baking oven, the windows should be OPENED WIDE! You will need to keep the air circulating in this room to get fresh air!

Put this twisted "sausage" in a big plastic bowl that is suitable for microwave ovens; cover it with plastic foil (also suitable for microwaves) (NO ALUMINUM FOIL!) and put it into the microwave. At about 400-500 Watts, it should stay there for the time that was given in the instruction for the perm for the fluid one (usually, 30-40 minutes). After half of the time, you might turn over the twisted fabric carefully (be really careful, it is HOT! Use two spoons or something like that to do this).

6) wash the fluid one out; still leaving the fabric twisted. Instructions of the hair perm will tell you how.

7) Apply about 3/4 of the amount of fluid of bottle no. 2 (instructions should tell you this; at least on my hair perm that I am always using for the fabrics). Fabric has to remain twisted.

8) Put it back in the bowl, re-cover it with the lid/wrap, put it back to the microwave for the time that fluid 2 needs, at the same heat that fluid 1 used.

Remember the open windows, doors etc. whatever you have to get air in the room!

9) put the fabric (remembering that is is very hot) back into the bathtub/shower, let it cool for a while.  Open the twisting gently, but don't pull the fabric apart.   Just loose the twisting so that you have the fabric winded about 4 times per yard! 

Apply the rest of fluid 2.

10) Carefully move the fabric back to the bowl.  Cover it.  Microwave for about 10 minutes.

11) Let the fabric cool.  Wash it out without pulling it apart. Use a gentle silk washing detergent.

12) twist the silk again (about 10 times per yard; depending on the fabric; tight enough that it will twist again when picked up; but not as tight that it will not be able to dry).

13) put it into the baking oven for about 2 hours at 50-75C.

14) take it out, leave it twisted and dry it on the radiator (takes 1-2 days; depending on the amount, the twisting and the type of fabric).

  • The Radiator needs to be a Gas, not electric radiator else it will burn.
  • Substitution
    • An old fashion bonnet style hair dryer
    • try to hang the twisted fabric outside (no direct sun; but a well aired place) to let it dry. It needs to be a warm place, where the moisture can escape from (and it cannot escape from a baking oven).
    • Note: we're looking for another substitution... and would recommend suggestions from the folks that have done this.
      • There is a question, for which we don't have an answer yet that this final drying step might be done the same way that the "broomstick" skirts are done.... that is keeping the fabric twisted and jamming the twists into a stocking then putting them in the dryer at low heat for an hour... might do the same to let it dry.  However, that may be too much stress right after the the "perm".  Anyone have experience here?

Wild/Random Pleating

To do a "random" crush (as on Arwen's Arch dress) instead of a length crush just crumple the wet fabric in step 1 together into a lump (*not* a ball; otherwise the perm fluid has no chance to work on the middle of this fabric ball!). This is easiest if you put the wet fabric in the bathtub and carefully push the borders towards the middle; finally you should have an about letter sized, crumpled fabric "square" that you can roll up to put it in the bowl.

If, after washing, the crushing should become less, just twist the garment (or crumple it again) and dry it on a radiator (see above). After that, iron from the lining side (yes, these garments should have linings!), not from the crushed outside.

That's all. Clean the microwave carefully. It will not make the microwave unusable; it is just water steam that came out; but it smells strange due to the usage of the perm fluids.

See Sabine's work <here>.

Temporary methods for getting the pleating

Actually, these stay in pretty well.. but they will gradually relax.

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This page was last updated 04/22/08