How to restore a silk dress & a wool sweater that have been machine washed and dried?
February 13, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

My lovely boyfriend did me the wonderful favour of doing my laundry for me while i was at work! Unfortunately, that favour included machine washing and drying a 100% silk dress, and a 100% wool sweater. Help! (he also saw the not-so-nice underwear and the spanx, but that's a whole other story.)

The silk dress was a smooth, silky navy blue with coordinating fabric straps that no longer coordinate with the now slightly faded slightly pebbly-textured now sort of purplish fabric. Is there any way to fix this? (I know the fading is probably a non-starter, but i'm hoping to at least fix the texture.) This (was) one of those dresses that was flattering, comfortable, sexy, and could be both dressed up and down - a miracle dress, basically. I really hope it can be fixed!

Wool sweater is highly textured (cabled/lace/bobbles), and has slightly shrunk. Anyway to fix that?

Help me not be mad at my boyfriend for doing something that had really nice intentions behind it!
posted by Kololo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that much about silk, but I think the dress might be done for. You might possibly try a very, very gentle handwash and drip dry to see if that sorts it out. The sweater might be rescuable, if it isn't felted at all - is it? If it is felted, you can't make it bigger, but if it has just shrunk a little, you might try blocking it: a gentle handwash with wool wash in warmish water, squeeze gently, and dry it flat after gently stretching and pulling it out into its old size (without distorting it horribly into some kind of nightmarish Dr Seussian creature). Good luck. I don't have any advice about not being mad, I'd be upset too, but isn't it lovely he wanted to help you? Things are just things, even things we really, really like.
posted by thylacinthine at 6:10 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the shrinking on the sweater was very slight, you may be able to block it back out to size. If it was more than very slight, no, shrinking of wool fibers is pretty much permanent.

To block, get it wet through, blot off as much water as you can with a towel (you can roll in the towel, but don't wring it out) and then pin it to size on a flat surface and let it dry in that shape.

Since you are located in Toronto, if you would like to borrow my blocking kit (blocking wires, t-pins, blocking mats), please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

The dress sounds totally DOA. Sorry.

Seconding thylacinthine about the sweater being rescuable via blocking if it isn't felted.

TBH, if my husband did something like this, I would be cross with him for not bothering to read the garment's "washing instructions" tag (if that's what your boyfriend did in these cases). On the other hand, mistakes are one of the ways we learn what not to do in future, so. After the dust settles for you, reminding him that with women's clothes it's pretty important to check the tags, as their care instructions vary way more than men's clothes, will probably help keep you from worrying about future disasters.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:17 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Perhaps this can be viewed as a great Buddhist lesson on ephemerality, anti-materialism, and detachment?

If the clothes aren't salvagable, can you or a crafty friend make them into something new? Pillows, altered clothing, a purse...lots of options there.
posted by sugarbomb at 6:21 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Regarding your dress - maybe try taking it to a tailor who can rip it apart, get a pattern, and make you a new dress.
posted by spec80 at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

The dress and the sweater are both done. You can't unshrink a sweater, and if the fabric of the dress is ruined, then it's ruined.

You're allowed to be mad, but don't stew indefinitely. I think the key in these situations is to allow yourself to be mad for a specified amount of time, and then just push it out of your mind. You're not out of line to be mad at your boyfriend for ruining your stuff, but this isn't exactly a deal-breaker, either.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:45 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FYI folks: i totally know it was just a mistake and the clothes are just stuff. I think i was just venting a bit at mefi instead of venting at The Boyfriend.

Also i'm a bit dismayed at the lack of solutions for the dress. .... bueller? .... bueller?
posted by Kololo at 6:46 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

There really isn't any way to reblock silk. Reblocking wool is definitely possible depending on the level of shrinkage, but silk that's gone through a dryer is just plain fucked. RIP your awesome dress.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:47 PM on February 13, 2012

Silk fibers relax in acid. Try soaking in a warm, WEAK white vinegar solution. Try the Googles to see how weak is recommended. It's not a high chance, but it's better than none.

Likewise, conditioner can help relax the wool in the sweater, prior to the block, stretch, dry horizontal process method mentioned above. Don't bother washing it out - if it works, likely as not the wool will absorb all of it with little after-effect. If it doesn't, eh. If you wash it out, you may not leave enough to do its job.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:59 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the sweater is only lightly shrunk, do follow jacquilynne advice and borrow her wires to shape and reblock the sweater. I usually soak wool items in warm water with a few drops of shampoo, then rinse and pat dry in a towel before blocking as suggested above. Wires are wonderful for blocking lace items!

Have you tried ironing the dress yet? I had a similar accident with a red silk shirt once, and ironing plus a trip to the dry cleaner fixed somewhat, but not completely. I feel your pain, but your boyfriend good intentions and kindness make it all up and then some.
posted by francesca too at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2012

I am afraid the dress is a goner, silk is not the most forgiving of fabrics. However, if you can tell us the brand and post a photo, maybe we can help you find it lurking somewhere in the vast recesses of the internet.
posted by lydhre at 7:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have gad luck hand washing slightly shrunk wool in conditioner to get back a little bit of the size.
posted by HMSSM at 7:18 PM on February 13, 2012

I have never heard of anyone being able to fix a silk dress like that after it's been through the dryer. I'm sorry. If it makes you feel any better, my very intelligent husband of eight years still occasionally screws up doing laundry and ruins my clothes. It's an occupational hazard of living with people who don't commonly wear wool sweaters or silk, I'm afraid.

I agree with others that the wool sweater might be salvageable if you can wet it and reblock it. And I've successfully used hair conditioner to re-soften wool hats that have been through the dryer (see: husband, above).
posted by BlueJae at 7:41 PM on February 13, 2012

you might want to bring the dress to a dry cleaner and ask them if they can fix the colour. Dry cleaners offer other services (mine does!!) they can mend, re-tint, re-iron clothes that would have otherwise gone to the Dumpster.

I would suggest asking whether the dress can be recoloured. Sure it will be different from the blue dress that you loved so much, but now it might become a dress of another colour (a deep purple or indigo maybe?) with a story. Good luck !!
posted by seawallrunner at 7:46 PM on February 13, 2012

I was also going to suggest dying the the dress. At this point I don't see how it could hurt. (I'm not clear on how the texture changed?)
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:53 PM on February 13, 2012

Is the body of the dress OK? I was thinking you might be able to salvage some material from the underpart of the hem to make new straps.... or maybe replace them with some pretty wide grosgrain ribbon.

If the texture doesn't bother you, you could also get the dress dyed.
posted by elizeh at 7:53 PM on February 13, 2012

This is why ladies need a small "touch this and die" hamper for extra-special clothes. I favor a skull-and-crossbones sticker on the top, because I'm a pirate.
posted by cyndigo at 8:08 PM on February 13, 2012 [24 favorites]

It is a pivotal point in relationship development for boyfriend to ruin a favorite garment of girlfriend through laundering.

It is sort of like dogs that use those electric fences...
posted by k8t at 8:18 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they're branded items and you have style or item number information for either one, you could try searching ebay or just the general interwebs for them and maybe they can be replaced...
posted by gubenuj at 8:23 PM on February 13, 2012

I suspect the silk dress is done for. Copy its tag/manufacturer information carefully and try searching for an identical one on eBay or the manufacturer site; I've duplicated several pieces I really liked that way.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:12 PM on February 13, 2012

Agree that it sounds like you may be able to salvage the sweater by blocking it.

The dress? Well, since it's probably ruined, you've got nothing to lose. Try to fix the texture first. The vinegar solution sounds like it might help and it certainly won't harm -- soak it and then try tumbling it for about 20-30 min on fluff, (NO heat! Not low!), then hang, then iron.

If you get something wearable, replace the straps with something intentionally different or material salvaged from the hem, if possible.
posted by desuetude at 9:22 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone please correct me if I'm horrible off the mark, but I seem to remember a silk shirt I had that could be lightly steamed to relax the fabric. A quick search seems to indicate both pro and anti steam for silk viewpoints. Perhaps consult a dry cleaner about this as well.
posted by Yorrick at 9:25 PM on February 13, 2012

Oh, and don't be afraid to padlock the clothes hamper. I have had to do this before.
posted by Yorrick at 9:29 PM on February 13, 2012

If you really loved the dress, another idea could be to pick it apart and use it as a pattern for a new dress (made by you or a dress maker ).
posted by Lesium at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2012

I would try handwashing the dress, hang it until it is mostly dry, and then iron it. it won't be the same dress, but it might be ok. re-dying it is a good idea too.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:28 PM on February 13, 2012

I come from a dry cleaning family. There is no hope.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:34 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Silk is a lot more resistant than people give it credit for – we're talking about a fabric that's been worn for millenia. In traditional washing, it gets pounded with wood, laid out in streams, and it can be worn for decades (check out silk kimono). Proper dyeing of silk often involves boiling dyebaths. This is resistant stuff. (Off-topic, but I suspect silk gets a bad rap because polyester and rayon manufacturers would rather people buy clothing made from that, which rarely lasts more than a year or two, whereas silk can actually last for decades when well-dyed and cared for.)

But machine dryers aren't good for any fabric... Try the weak acid (vinegar) wash suggested, and don't let it air-dry completely. While it's still damp, iron it on a setting just below for cotton. Not at the too-cold "silk" setting. Silk is a natural fiber, it will not melt even at higher-than-cotton settings. (I've tested this personally.) Ironing it while still damp will keep it supple and soft; letting it air-dry completely causes silk to get harsh and pebbly-feeling, though it doesn't actually hurt it (rewashing in cold water and ironing while damp will bring back suppleness). A machine dryer is a different story. Don't know if you'll be able to recover it entirely.

I dare say the sweater is a lost cause. You might be able to stretch it back out a bit by blocking, but I doubt it will ever get back to its original size. You could always make something else from it though? Oven gloves? Hot pads?
posted by fraula at 12:23 AM on February 14, 2012

Dress styles essentially fall into a few basic shapes. If I were you, I'd mosey over to eShakti and look for a dress as close to your miracle dress as possible, then take advantage of their customizing service to have the dress tailored to your specifications.

An even better option, as mentioned above, would be to take the dress to a skilled local dressmaker or seamstress and have it duplicated. (Or failing that, a costumer designer -- believe it or not. Years ago I took advanced sewing lessons from a woman who made the costumes for our local ballet company and she was unbelievably adept in her dressmaking skills.) If you get it done by someone locally, you'll have the advantage of being able to have it fitted in person.

Let your boyfriend pay for your replacements; that'll ease your anger and teach him a lesson at the same time. ;) (He seriously should have looked at the labels first.)
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:34 AM on February 14, 2012

As a knitter, I'd say that both garments are done for. You probably won't be able to bring it back to its original glory. Even if your sweater has felted and shrunk just the tiniest bit, it will not behave the same way. Each time you go to handwash it, it will felt a little bit more. Like others have said, you can try blocking, but the fibers have already started to mesh on the sweater, and that simply cannot be undone or stretched out enough to be comfortable again. The more you pull on it to bring it back to shape, the weaker the wool becomes. It cannot be salvaged. Sorry! Make some potholders!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:07 AM on February 14, 2012

if you decide to iron the silk dress, do not apply the iron to it directly - make sure to use a pressing cloth between the fabric and the iron.

I do have to agree things don't look good for the dress. Machine washing was survivable, but the dryer?
posted by needled at 5:20 AM on February 14, 2012

I think ironing should sort out the dress if it is pure silk, but you can't do anything about the fading short of re-dyeing it.

When I was a teenager it was often my job to iron my Mum's silk blouses. She had me use a large piece of gauze fabric, soaked and wrung, then placed over the blouse before ironing at the hottest setting. This provided steam but protected the fabric from direct contact with the iron. Alternatively, I ironed the blouse still wet from being washed, with a dry piece of gauze over it.

Williams Sonoma has these great flour sack dish cloths that are very similar to the kind of fabric I used for ironing.

This is handy to have when you need to iron woollens as well.
posted by Dragonness at 6:28 AM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for all of the suggestions and commiserations! I'm going to the vinegar solution then ironing thing with the dress, and if that fails i may just get it copied. (I also suspect i'll be the only person wearing a 100% silk dress to things like the beach or helping people move, since as it stands it's wearable but looks like an old worn out haggy dress.)

I'm going to try the conditioner and blocking the sweater, but as a knitter i also suspected that it might be a lost cause. (Also, as a knitter, i think this might be the push i need to buy my own blocking wires?)

And finally: i am adding 'look at the labels of clothes before washing them' to the list of things i vehemently believe should be a mandatory part of high school but that currently are not, such as 'personal investing' , 'basic accounting', and 'don't use that paring knife for everything.'
posted by Kololo at 9:03 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

"It looks like an old worn out haggy dress": Halloween costume? Add some fake cobwebs, etc....

Seriously, my wife and I have each done something like that to the other's laundry from time to time, through lack of attention. We either repurpose it as rags, if possible, or just write it off. Hot air dryers are convenient but they are hell on a lot of fabrics. I'm seriously considering getting a condensing dryer when I'm back in the States; they take longer to run but they're a lot nicer for the material.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2012

« Older If I were clever there would be a punny nickname...   |   Where should I go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.