Silk has a long history of being one of the most desirable materials. The queen of textiles is created by taking the cocoon of a silkworm, boiling it, and unraveling it into a single string that can stretch hundreds of yards. Qualities of this material range from being breathable and flexible to lustrous, and durable. But does silk fabric stretch?
Silk fabrics can stretch, although not all of them do. In general, there is potential to stretch up to 20% without damage. The fabric’s elasticity depends on the quality of the material and what style it was woven or knit in. Silk Satin is stretchy, while taffeta and dupioni are not.
In this article, we’ll discuss a few types of stretchy silk fabrics and their uses. Then, we’ll go over a few topics about what can affect these materials such as time, water, and wear. Finally, we’ll discuss two step-by-step guides on how to stretch these fabrics and threads.
Is Silk Fabric Stretchy?
This natural fiber is very elastic, but one single cocoon is not enough to create the textile. When these single strings are put together to form textiles, some of the elasticity decreases. In order to make silk, someone has to unwind the string of the cocoon and then connect it to another string. It takes about five cocoons to create a whole thread of this material. Over 2,000 cocoons are needed to produce a pound of silk.
The elasticity of this material depends on how it was knit or woven together. Most of the material is a lightweight, smooth weave that usually allows for some stretch. However, heavy-weight silk weave fabrics do exist and while they would not typically be stretchy, they could be with water or some steaming. Sometimes the textiles are mixed with stretchier fabrics such as spandex and nylon to provide more elasticity.
These textiles are used in many ways for different reasons. The material is great for summer blouses and dresses because of how breathable it is. It can also be insulating which makes it great for bedsheets and scarves. The textiles’ natural drape and notable shine make for great bridal wear too.
These four types of textiles are very stretchy and often used in silk products today.
- Silk satin, also known as charmeuse, refers to a type of lightweight satin weave with few interlaces. It’s one of the most popular fabrics because of its natural shine. It’s very elastic which makes it great for clothes that hug the body.
- Silk jersey is made from a single jersey knit with very small loops and is very stretchy. It drapes across the body, creating a subtle silhouette that other materials cannot achieve. It’s very flexible, which makes it wrinkle-resistant.
- Habotai is a plain weave material with very fine threads and has a natural stretch to it. This fabric originates from Japan but is also referred to as ‘China silk’ because China produces the majority of this fabric. It can be lightweight or heavyweight and is ideal for blouses, lingerie, and lining.
- Crêpe georgette silk is a tightly S and Z twist weave fabric that has a natural stretch to it. It is uncommon because of its versatility; its many uses make it very desirable. It sustains the natural stretch of silk while being quite durable.
Some silks are mixed fabrics and have more stretch to them. Some of the weaves are tight, and that type of silk can still be stretchy. Another type of textile with a different tight weave can be too stiff to stretch. These textiles are made in a large variety of weaves and knits which is why the fabrics vary in elasticity and weight.
Does Silk Stretch Over Time?Silk is a natural protein fiber, so it can stretch over time. That said, if you have a shirt that shrunk, hanging it in the closet for a few weeks will not cause it to stretch back to its original size.
Form-fitting dresses may lose some of their snug fit over time. But, they will not stretch a size larger over time. To make sure your silk materials won’t wear with age, check the care tags which should contain all information on how to clean and dry the fabric.
Since the material is a natural elastic fiber, it is unlikely to stretch over time if it is properly cared for. Most of these fabrics would need constant stress to misshape the natural fibers. Some of these textiles, such as taffeta, don’t have any natural stretch to them. Taffeta is made with a plain weave but with a special checkerboard twist pattern as it is woven, making it too stiff to stretch. It would be very unlikely for taffeta to stretch with nothing but time wearing it down.
Does Silk Stretch When Wet?
Some people argue that a great way to stretch silk is by soaking it in water. If you soak this material in water, it can be stretched out. If you choose to do this, be aware that not all will react well to this. This can ruin some of these materials if they are soaked and stretched.
An argument can be made that dresses or shirts can be soaked in water then thrown on a mannequin or dress form. This will cause the mannequin to absorb the moisture while maintaining constant stress in certain parts of the silk fabric. Hopefully, this causes a long-lasting stretch that will remain after the material is dry and removed from the dress form.
Some silk textiles may stretch when wet only to dry and return to their original form. Some will bleed when wet and this may cause color distortion. Sometimes these materials may bleed and it is completely normal. By the time they dry, the fabric may not have changed color at all.
A few crepe silk fabrics can stretch out with the use of a steaming wand. Caution must be used as too much moisture may ruin the delicate textile but too little will not assist in stretching it. Materials that are not meant to be steamed may be ruined if this technique is tried on them.
Before attempting to stretch any silk with water or steaming it is important to do research on what type of material you have. Many textiles do not do great with direct heat, so discretion and caution are necessary if you want to stretch your fabrics.
Does Silk Stretch With Wear?If you have a favorite blouse and you wear it often, parts of it may stretch over time. Areas under constant stress would be near the elbow or near the bosom, and these areas may lose their form and flexibility.
If you have a dress that is tight in the wrong areas, then wearing the dress more often may help it fit your body better. Silk is often a great fabric for hugging the body. It maintains comfort while providing a beautiful drape. Sometimes textiles can be like new shoes; they need to be broken in. Then they will be perfect for you.
However, if you have a skirt that is a size too small, and even if it is more elastic silk, it will likely not be able to stretch a whole size larger. It would be better to give the skirt away and buy one that’s the right size.
All this varies by the type of fabric and what the quality of it is. Some will take much more wear to stretch than others. With excessive wear also comes some loss of color or shine. Wearing the same dress to make it fit in the right places could also cause the dress to lose some of its lusters.
Can You Stretch 100% Silk?Many fabrics that are 100% silk still have different qualities than others that are also 100% silk. These textiles come in many different weights, weaves, and knits. The stretch of them depends on their weave or knit pattern.
Shantung, for example, is plain weave material. It can be 100% silk but still cannot stretch as its weave is too delicate. Stretching fabrics that are not meant to be stretched may cause damage.
Jersey silk is a type of knit and because of the fabrics knit, it is very flexible and elastic. It is one of the softest of all types of this material and can be 100% silk and very stretchy.
All silks only have a certain amount of flexibility. The flexibility of the fabric will depend on the quality as well as the weave or knit. Bad-quality jersey silk will likely have some stretch but may ruin if stretched beyond a certain point. Even the highest quality 100% silk jersey may be torn or ruined if stretched past its potential.
How to Stretch Silk Fabric
There are a few methods to stretch silk textiles. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to stretch the fabric using baby shampoo and water. If you do not have a spare bottle of baby shampoo waiting to be used, gentle conditioner works as well.
Depending on the quality of the material and the type of weave or knit, doing this may ruin the fabric. It may also stretch under water only to shrink back to the original size after it has hung and dried. Be aware, however, if you try either of these methods, even if they are successful for you, some textiles will have a shorter lifespan after they are stretched out.
To stretch this material, mild products must be used to relax the fiber strands. In this method, water and shampoo (or conditioner) can successfully stretch the materials. Follow the steps below to stretch your own silk fabric.
- Fill a bucket or sink with lukewarm water.
- For every gallon of water add 1 tablespoon baby shampoo and/or gentle conditioner.
- Mix the water and shampoo and/or conditioner until it looks like everything has completely dissolved and the water is soapy.
- Soak your silk for anywhere from thirty minutes to one hour.
- After at least thirty minutes, you may begin to stretch the fabric while it remains underwater.
- Once you are satisfied or once the hour is up, remove the material and rinse it off with cool water, then hang it to dry.
If you are looking to stretch single silk threads there is another method for that. You will need your thread, hard wax, and a towel. A ruler is not necessary, but it would aid in making sure you do not overstretch the thread. The steps below are a general outline for how to stretch silk threads.
- Take a single silk thread and some hard wax, draw the thread across the wax until a groove appears.
- After the groove appears, rub the silk thread two to three more times through the wax.
- Take the towel and gently run the thread through the towel to rub off the wax.
- Carefully pull the thread and do not stretch it more than one foot at a time.
Depending on the quality of the threads, they may not be able to stretch one foot. Caution should be used when trying this. If the thread breaks, you are either stretching it too much or a different brand may be a better option.
Many silk fabrics are stretchy, and some can be stretched using the methods mentioned. Some will naturally stretch more simply because of the weave or knit. Some will not be able to stretch because of poor quality.
When stretching these textiles, caution, and discretion are important. Every fabric should have a warning label and it should contain information on how elastic it is. Take care of your more delicate materials and perhaps if something is too small to stretch out, gift it to someone else and buy yourself some other clothes.