Thursday, January 28, 2010

To dryclean or not to dryclean, that is the question

On the weekend I wore this to a wedding reception...
(sorry, didn't get a picture with my hair up and my make-up all done, this is the old photo from when I blogged about it previously and I did look more glamourous on the night!)
and my husband and I danced up a storm on the dance-floor afterwards.  When I got home I laid the dress aside in the laundry, thinking without thinking (if that makes any sense at all) I would drop it in at the dry-cleaners the next day.
But then I recalled a conversation I had a few months ago with a friend who, along with her husband, used to run a dry-cleaning business.  She was telling me how dry-cleaners charged a fortune for evening dresses because of the difficulty involved and the high risk of ruining them, how the chemical process was actually damaging to delicates such as silk and actually shortened their life, and how you are far better off washing them yourselves at home.   Hmmm.  Food for thought.
After all, garments have survived for centuries without dry-cleaning, the magnificent silken and bejewelled gowns of Elizabethan times were, yes, tended and handwashed without the use of chemicals, just good old-fashioned soap, water, air-drying and a hot iron...  That's when they were washed at all, possibly once or twice in their lifetime! or so I've read!  Even so... centuries later why have we complicated our laundering process, and is it really necessary?
The cleaning instructions provided with most clothing, and how manufacturers often put "Dry Clean Only" on their care labels, are (I think) a kind of fall-back, fail-safe, laundry-guide-for-dummies, kind of attitude.  Some labels are quite mystifying.  I have a skirt, bought in quite an expensive boutique many years ago, which has on its label, hilariously, "Do Not Wash" and "Not Suitable for Dry Cleaning"!  What the.....?!  (For interest, I have always just tossed it in the washing machine on a cold cycle, with no dire outcomes)
So, I looked at my evening dress, and decided to wash it myself.  This was easy; light swirling in a laundry bucket, thorough rinsing, blah blah, hung out to dry on its hanger with pegs on the straps so I wouldn't come out later and see it adorning a neighbour's tree... The difficult part, obviously, was going to be in the ironing of it.  I didn't include a picture of it before ironing, you're just going to have to take my work for it that it was veeeeery crinkled....  I consider myself a reasonable iron-ess (whatever), but this dress has a multitude of  swirly bits, and an awkward gathered/folded bodice on a formfitting underlining...tricky stuff in the ironing department.  However, I recently bought a ham from Spotlight for the purpose of making my life much easier in shirtmaking for my husband.  And should come in handy pressing my own jackets and my trenchcoat (if it ever cools down enough for me to wear it); the pressing of the sleeves once set in is always a hideous challenge when you're working with a standard garden variety ironing board...  On a side note I just love its cheery tartan cover!

Although it took some time I was pretty happy at how easy it was to iron the bodice of this dress using my new ham, I simply couldn't have done it without it.
And after, good as new, and ready for that next glamourous soiree...

Would I hesitate to wash garments myself next time?  No!!
What do others do with their evening wear?


  1. A perfect party dress and it looks like you did a perfectly fine job of laundering it yourself. I stopped dry cleaning years ago. One the cost was killing me and two I figured if I ruined it...well, I never have ruined anything yet.

  2. hahahaha all of my clothes are made out of silk. If I dry cleaned everything it would cost me about $200/week! The reason they put dry clean only on everything is because silk isn't colour fast (although it's better now than it was in the past). So every time you wash it it will fade a little. So basically, if something is white or a pale colour, hand wash it all the time! If something is a really vibrant colour, try not to wash it too often.

    I love that dress. I didn't know you could buy hams from spotlight! I am getting one immediately! I've wanted one for YEARS but I thought they were a specialty item that would be impossible to find!

    (I'm so sad... I have no time for sewing now... all my sewing stuff is at my mum's house coz my boyfriend won't let me bring it in our house... so I have no idea when I'm going to find the time to make anything!)

  3. That is a beautiful dress, a perfect little summer party dress.
    I very rarely - if ever dry clean anything.
    I always hand wash my special fabrics, and hang it to dry before using it and I can see before hand how it will behave. I've always been able to hand wash what I've made and even my RTW.

    I also love using a ham and I'm looking for a larger one. Unfortunately they are very hard to find.

    Ironing outside in a garden setting must be so relaxing :)

  4. Great dress! I just got a ham myself for the first time... it's quite the little helper.