Fabric maintenance is an essential part of ethnic fashion. The glorious textile heritage of India, combined with popularity of many different exquisite embroidery and embellishment techniques, ensures that Indian clothing requires a level of care that is above that of clothing in all other cultures. Since many of the most beautiful fabrics and designs are actually hand-crafted, they need to be meticulously maintained to ensure that they can be worn on more than one occasion. Of course, there are no blanket rules for ‘fabric maintenance’; depending on the raw material, the way it is spun and woven and the manner in which it is stitched, as well as the kind of work on it, there would be different instructions to follow.
Types of High Maintenance Fabrics
Most of the traditional textiles found in India are extremely high maintenance. The instructions are not hard to follow but they have to be meticulously adhered to in order to ensure that the beauty and elegance of the fabric is preserved and the colors stay fresh.
Embroidered Fabrics: With embroidered fabrics, there is delicate threadwork that covers the surface of the fabric. Mishandling can cause the threads to fray or come loose, and the colors to bleed. For these reasons, the preferred way to maintain these fabrics is dry clean them. However, one can also decide the course of maintenance by washing a small corner of the garment first. They should ideally be hand washed in lukewarm water with gentle hand movements. If the embroidery or the color starts to either fray or leak, or if the base fabric is a delicate one such as silk or satin, then the better option is to dry clean the garment.
Woven Silks: These are woven on handlooms using special techniques and methods which allow the weavers an immense amount of control over the process. There are many different types of woven silks in India, from the exquisite Banarasi silk to the fine Tussar and Jacquard silks. The temperature of the water, the movements for washing and the chemicals used should be carefully monitored. The drying and storing process is also very important with woven silks. Maintaining woven silks is easy as they are amenable to cold-water washes (coupled with a mild detergent). However, the ideal option is to get them dry cleaned after every use.
Modern/Contemporary Textiles: These include modern inventions such as georgette, chiffon and crepe, as well as traditional western fabrics that have only recently made their way to Indian fashion such as velvet, net and tissue. The maintenance varies widely and depends largely on how expensive the fabric is.
Maintenance of Each fabric
Each type of fabric or textile requires a different type of maintenance. This is a short guide to understand each of them:
Cotton is very low maintenance. It can be machine washed as well as hand washed and it does not have any special drying or ironing instructions. However, if the fabric is a hand block printed one, it is better to opt for hand washes rather than machine washes. The latter can cause the color to run. Soft movements should be used when washing and the fabrics should be protected from too much exposure to direct sunlight, which causes colors to fade.
Linen is also a generally low-maintenance fabric; however, to increase the life of the fabric, it is best to hand-wash it. Certain varieties can be machine washed if so required, with cool water. It should only be ironed at low heat.
Many people believe that silk dresses can never be hand-washed, but this actually only applies to pure and the most intricately decorated varieties such Banarasi, Kanchivaram and Chanderi silks. Other varieties such as Jacquard silks, art silks and Uppada silks can actually be washed at home from the second time onwards, though there are many important rules to follow.
1) Machine washing is completely forbidden.
2) Silk fabrics should not be exposed to perfumes, direct sunlight or harmful chemicals like bleach.
3) They should be hand washed with lukewarm water and a chemical-free detergent or soap, without any wringing or rough handling.
4) The ironing should be done only on the reverse side.
5) Preferably, it should be dried naturally by wrapping it in a dry cloth and leaving it in a warm, sheltered area.
6) In case of serious stains, it should simply be sent to the dry cleaners. They will be able to get the stain out without damaging the delicate fabric.
7) Silk retains its sheen and beauty longest if it is wrapped in a muslin cloth and hung inside a cool, dry area. Though it should be taken out from time to time for airing, it should not be exposed to sunlight for too long.
Wool, especially the woven and spun varieties from India, should only be dry-cleaned. If you do wash at home, only use lukewarm water. Avoid any detergents and rough hand movements. They don’t really require any ironing but if creases have to be removed, the garment can be pressed with a damp cloth and steam ironed.
There are many different varieties of chiffon. Pure chiffon is the most delicate and beautiful and should be sent to the dry cleaners for washing. Crepe chiffon can be hand-washed, but only with the gentlest of hand movements. It should be dried immediately as dampness can make the garment lose its shape. Poly chiffon or faux chiffon can be machine washed but only with a gentle, cold water setting.
Georgette is less delicate than chiffon and hence does not have to be sent to the dry cleaners every time. Again, the purest varieties made of silk have to be maintained with the greatest amount of care, and the best way to do so is to dry clean these garments. On the other hand, faux varieties can be machine washed with cold water. It is advisable to use only mild detergent and lukewarm water even when hand-washing faux georgette. It should be air-dried as sunlight is harmful for this fabric.
Net is one of the more delicate sheer fabrics in the market. As such, it is also generally embellished using sequins, stones, beads and patchwork. Therefore, maintaining it can be a tricky thing if one does not know what to look out for. Faux and blended varieties of net can be hand-washed using a mild detergent. Alternatively, they can also be washed in the machine using a gentle rinse cycle. However, the perfect way to maintain pure net garments are to dry clean them, thus minimizing the risks of tearing the delicate fabric or damaging the work done on it.
Crepe is actually very low maintenance and this is one of its biggest appeals. The faux varieties can be machine washed with cool water and should be dried quickly to prevent the garment from loosing shape. Pure varieties should only be dry cleaned as the fabric is too tender for even a gentle wash cycle. Crepe is extremely crease resistant and hence does not need to be ironed at all.
Luxurious and expensive, velvet dresses needs special care. Many varieties are ‘dry clean’ only, though a select few can be washed at home. The garment should be turned inside out and dipped into a vat of cold water, gently patted and then dried on a padded hanger. It wrinkles easily so it should be ironed on a flat surface with padding, using a low-heat iron, only on the back side.
Another extremely delicate fabric, it is typically dry-cleaned. It is possible to wash and iron at home, depending on the type. Since the faux varieties are more durable, they can be washed with cold water and a mild detergent and then air-dried. Steam ironing is a complete no-no and a press cloth should always be used.
Nylon and polyester are pretty strong and as such can be machine washed at a gentle setting; however, rayon should preferably be hand washed and line dried. Ironing should only be done on the reverse side or with the help of a press cloth.
DIY Tips and Tricks
These are some useful tips and tricks for D.I.Y. fabric care:
1) In general, it is a good idea to pay close attention to the labels on garments. Nowadays, most fine and high-maintenance fabrics come with instructions about how to wash, dry and iron in the right way. This advice is invaluable if you intend to undertake caring for various fine fabrics at home.
2) Silk, in general, should be folded with a soft, muslin cloth to retain the sheen and colors of the fabric.
3) Heavily embroidered and embellished fabrics, such as brocades, should not be folded but hung up carefully. They should be kept at a distance of a few inches from any other surface to prevent snagging and tearing.
4) Linens become softer with each wash and so they are excellent every day wear items. However, they should ideally not be machine washed too frequently.
5) With fine silk fabrics, it is essential to dry clean the first time around. This helps to lock in the color and bind the weave together. From the second time onwards, the less delicate varieties can be hand washed with mild to cold water, using an extremely gentle detergent and soft hand movements.
6) Certain fabrics cannot or should not be ironed. In that case, they can be hung up in the bathroom during a hot shower. The steam helps to smooth out the wrinkles. However, one should make sure the fabric in question is not adversely affected by moisture. This includes fabrics like satin, net and crepe.
7) If ironing of delicate fabrics is absolutely required, a cloth can be placed between the fabric and the iron. This cloth is called the ‘press cloth’. The iron should not be heated but kept cool or lukewarm.
8) Silk which has lost its sheen can be restored by submerging it in a mixture of lukewarm water and vinegar (ratio: 1/4th cup of vinegar to a gallon of water). It should be dipped several times and then carefully rinsed in cold water. Without wringing, one should shake the water loose and air-dry the fabric, after which it should be ironed using low heat on the reverse side.