cleaning blankets from Sapa, Vietnam
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Author:  kendra [ Tue Jan 17, 2006 6:15 am ]
Post subject:  cleaning blankets from Sapa, Vietnam

I fell in love with the textiles in Sapa and bought as much as I could cram into my already-stuffed backpack.
I've read the posts on how to clean some materials, such as dusting off excess dye. That is helpful for the fabrics I bought that I will hang on the wall.
But the two blankets I bought and would like to use have a VERY strong odor of smoke and cooked meat. I've tried airing them out to no avail. One blanket is mostly green and orange and the other was made w/indigo dye. I would love to use these blankets w/out ending up smelly and blue all over. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
Great site!

Author:  Pamela [ Tue Jan 17, 2006 1:31 pm ]
Post subject: 

There is a school of thought which would say that both could be dry-cleaned. I know that some dealers routinely put all their tribal textiles though dry cleaning.

I would say that both could probably be washed, especially the indigo textile. Some points to remember:

1. use cool water (aside from the science remember that stream/river water is cold and that is how the textile would traditionally have been cleaned if airing it was not enough.)

2. remember that a wet textile is heavy and more damage can be done to the textile by the weight when it is wet.

3. for soap use something simple like Dreft. Rinse thoroughly.

4. dry flat on towelling out of direct sunlight

5. I suggest that the first attempt should be in the bath in cold water and keep the textile moving. See what comes out of it. The indigo will not run.

6. some people might say put the textile in the washing machine on a delicates wash; only a gentle spin; do not tumble dry. This is a risk and I would try a hand wash first.

7. the organge dye might run (part of the red family which are often fugitive). So definitely cold/cool water and be careful to keep the fabric moving so that the dye does not flow out and into the neighbouring fabric.

If the reason that you bought the textiles was to use them and you cannot use them without washing them you should go right ahead and do so but do it carefully and gently!

Good luck!

Author:  Sandra Shamis [ Fri Jan 20, 2006 11:56 pm ]
Post subject:  using textiles

Hi Kendra,

Pamela is the real authority on cleaning textiles, But let me add a few different cleaning methods used by commercial dealers. Some friends simply put the cloth (alone) in a soapless, washing machine, delicate cycle, air dry I have purchased a number of old textiles from them, and none seeemed damaged by this process. Never use this process on silk.

Another textile collector, also in Thailand, swears by commercial dry cleaning, but keeps a close watch on the dry cleaners; her textiles also seem no worse for using that method. Silk can be dry cleaned.

I have been using DRYEL, dry cleaning in a home dryer, with no problems for a while. Follow the directions, and first dry clean something with none or little value.

However, please don't use your textiles as blankets; I'm always wary of using old textiles; they may never be really clean enough, or their original uses may never be known. I don't mean to be ghoulish, but SEAsian cultures have a long tradition of burial textiles.

I hope these comments are helpful; I wonder what our other members think about this use of older textiles.

I just had an idea: after cleaning these textiles, find a reputable tailor, and have those blankets sewed onto some very thick cotton, so the textiles won't be in direct contact with your skin.


Author:  Sandra Shamis [ Mon Mar 27, 2006 2:52 am ]
Post subject:  more on dryel

Hi Kendra,

An update on the use of Dryel:

I just used Dryel on some very old textiles: Dong, Miao, and my antique Hmong jacket (made for me at Prayer Textiles, and designed by my dear friend Khun Nim).

I didn't bother covering the old coin buttons, and I didn't use the spot remover. Those very old cotton textiles which have become stiff and discolored, will not become super white, but I have noticed that some surface grim will disapper, and the cloths will soften.

Also, my husband thinks I'm nuts re: sleeping under old textiles, which have been cleaned. On the other hand, I think he spent too much time under the SEAsian sun I hope my comments will be helpful to others. But remember, please, to try it on something cheap first.


Author:  susan stem [ Wed Mar 29, 2006 4:04 am ]
Post subject: 

Hai Kendra-
Pamela and Sandie have covered most of the details, and I agree with them: indigo blankets can successfully be washed either in a tub or by machine on delicate and with minimal spinning- DO NOT DRY IN A DRYER; the orange and green one could be problematic and I would recommend testing the colorfastness with a wet/damp kleenex or hankie to see if any dye comes off and colors the test cloth- it's not foolproof, but can provide some indication, tho I think I would send that one to the drycleaners first.

I find that often the border/backing material is the most soiled and that the woven panels benefit greatly from new backing and borders. I like to use a natural handwoven hemp cloth that is available here in Thailand, but a natural linen would be just as nice. If that is not available or too expensive, try a nice cotton. The sewing part can be problematic, but if you do the long side seams first, forming a tube of the whole, and then turn over the short ends and bevel the corners (like a picture frame), you can topstitch these and it looks OK. Hope that makes sense...

Chok dee/good luck!

Author:  john [ Thu Aug 20, 2009 4:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Pamela - thanks for pointing me to this set of comments.

I had asked a drycleaner about cleaning some of my iban textiles. I had heard that this cleaner (or cleanser as some around Boston like to be caller) had experience in drycleaning collector's textiles.

They declined saying that they were afraid of the results on native dyes. So I am wondering if the comments on experiences washing textiles that I read pertained to aniline or other commercial dyes. I did not get the idea that the textiles were dyed with native dyes.

Any experience with cleaning native dyes other than using cold distilled water?

I guess I am searching for some way to get much of the dirt out after vacuuming and "brightening" them up a bit through some sort of washing.

Thanks for any information from anyone.

Author:  Pamela [ Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:34 pm ]
Post subject: 

I have been looking on the internet about textile conservation/cleaning. There is quite an interesting article at I realise it relates to quilts not pua but, I think, at least as many if not more of the problems are present in washing a quilt as a pua. I was going to paste some of the key parts of the web article here but, reading the copyright notice on the website, decided not to! However, I thought that it was a useful article. Again a washing machine is suggested as putting less stress on the heavy when wet fibres. Also a strong negative about dry cleaning!

Author:  Ikat [ Fri Sep 04, 2009 3:38 am ]
Post subject:  Real Life Experiences With Dry Cleaning

I had to clean 50 textiles after 9/11 because my apartment was filled with fine white dust from the collapse of the towers. A conservator would have cost more than $10,000 dollars and, the textiles weren't worth it. So I dry cleaned them and hoped for the best.

I asked the dry cleaner to use clean fluid, which he did, and generally, things came out fine. There was a bit of bleed on an Iban woven jacket and some embroidered stitches were roughed up a bit. (I ultimately learned that there was asbestos in the dust so anything used horizontally or heavily dusted was tossed).

I also dry cleaned everything in a closet that was hit by moths, which seem to LOVE goat hair. There wasn't much in that closet, fortunately, but cleaning worked fine. The things that I was reluctant to clean went into the freezer.

These days, I clean most things I buy in the field and, when I buy on eBay, I ask the dealers to clean especially large pieces before shipping, because it is SO much cheaper to clean things in, say, Uzbekistan, than in Lower Manhattan. These aren't great pieces, but it works.

For better pieces, I use a conservator on the moderate end of the price scale. Or, if the piece is small, I leave it in the freezer for 3 weeks, in case there are critters. This is NOT a full proof strategy, especially if your freezer is opened frequently and isn't that cold - but it is a technique people use.

None of this is what the experts tell you to do but, for the kinds of things one finds in SaPa, or if you have to do a lot of sturdy pieces in an emergency, it seems to work out OK.

Author:  Above the Fray [ Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:25 am ]
Post subject:  Regarding indigo-dyed textiles

Regarding indigo-dyed textiles, we have had many blankets from Lao Cai Province (Sapa, Bac Ha, etc.). If the entire blanket is entirely blue-toned, it has been overdyed with indigo. To wash we hand-wash in cool water with a little mild detergent (Dawn works best with dyes). Often much of the overdye will bleed but that is the dye that has not bonded with the material and is no problem. Let it bleed, but don't leave the blanket to soak for a long time. Wear gloves unless you like blue hands! Do not dry in the sun as we have had blankets severely fade even after a single hour of sun-drying.

If the entire blanket is not overdyed, but has indigo-dyed components, you have to be more careful. A single bath may bleed the indigo into the other embroidered panels. If the blanket is made from older clothing that has been unstitched and then pieced, the indigo probably won't bleed as the material was washed several times when it was worn. If the blanket is of newly created panels, I would dry clean to avoid doing an accidental overdye process in your own tub. Again, avoid drying in the sun.

[If your textile is vintage and especially rare or valuable, always dry-clean with a professional who has experience with quality, valuable textiles. The washing advice above is for the modern village market-purchased Hmong blanket, as one would find in Sapa or Bac Ha in the $30-$70 range.]

Other Hmong blankets may have acrylic/polyester embroidery (bright yellow and reds and greens) - these wash easily in mild detergent but we always handwash because the stitching may or may not be of high quality.

Author:  CarterArdell [ Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:43 am ]
Post subject: 

Pamela you are great, I love reading all the information given by you. I like all other information and tips also. I also do the same but whenever I plan to wash blanket I put it cold water before few hours so that all the dirt can be clean out. Then I make it wash not using brush on it. Dry it outside that really works great.

Author:  Anonymous [ Wed Jul 27, 2011 10:34 am ]
Post subject: 

CarterArdell wrote:
I also do the same but whenever I plan to wash blanket I put it cold water before few hours so that all the dirt can be clean out. Then I make it wash not using brush on it. Dry it outside that really works great.

is ti really better to put a blanket into cold water intead of warm water?

Author:  Pamela [ Wed Jul 27, 2011 12:20 pm ]
Post subject: 

warm or hot water is more likely to cause the dyes to run.

Author:  MAC [ Fri Jul 29, 2011 4:07 am ]
Post subject: 

Pamela and others covered the main points very well. I have washed many of my cotton, Indonesian textiles, especially from Timor as they always seem to be very dirty. I never use any kind of soap. The main thing as mentioned above is to use as large a volume of cool water as possible. That way any dye that might come out will be diluted and not get into other parts of the textile.

A river, the ocean (be sure to rince in fresh water to remove the salt), a backyard kiddy pool (no chlorine or chemicals), a horse tank or a bath tub are possible ideas. A clean river is a great place as the moving water carries away any dirt and dye that might come out. Do take care not to lose the textile or be swept away yourself.

I have found that natural dyes are usually quite fast and seldom bleed or run. Especially in older textiles that were produced only for local use no effort was spared in dyeing and weaving. The dye recipes were usually quite complicated and beyond the desire to produce deep, rich colors many ingredients were added to protect the textile from insects and to fix the dyes.

Chemical colors are another matter. While recent chemical colors may be of high quality and fast, early chemical dyes that were sold in the weekly markets of Indonesia, to people who had little cash to pay for them, were cheap and of low quality. They tend to run and fade in the sun. Susan's idea of testing chemical dyes with a damp towel is a good one.

I have only washed cotton textiles as silk textiles are usually ceremonial, highly valued, seldom used and well cared for. They usually don't need cleaning.

Picking up a stained, dirty, cheap textile to experiment on may be a good idea.

I have one question that I hope someone can help with. I have some silk malong textiles from Mindanao that have what seem to be tar stains. Does anyone have any ideas on how to dissolve and remove a petroleum stain without damaging the colors of the textile?

Many cotton textiles from Timor also have tar stains from the people sitting on the asphalt road. Does anyone have any experience removing tar stains? What about betel nut stains? Thanks, MAC

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