Jun 122011
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How to crush silk permanently
(aka crashing silk, Fortuny pleating, permanent pleating or crashing / crushing)

This article was written by me some years ago for the Alleycatscratch.com LOTR website. I thought, however, that I should include it in my tutorials on this website as well. Also, I’ve made quite a few additions to the process which proved to be useful over the years.

One thing in advance;Kids, don’t try this at home without asking for your parents permission first *AND* of course for their help!

Everyone please follow all safety instructions carefully and completely.

This crushing technique is permanent…. at least semi-permanent and can be refreshed after washing.

There are two types of crushing:

  • down the length of the dress, sometimes know as broomstick pleating (one way)
  • wild/random pleating, like we see in Arwen’s Arch dress (multiple directions)

Material List:

  • Silk (of course);
  • lots of silk!
    • if you do a length crush then you will need three times the material as for a normal dress. It should already be dyed in the color desired.
  • Any silk or wool can be crushed;as long as it is thin enough. This also works on silk velvet (aka silk/rayon velvet).
  • It DOES NOT WORK on any acrylic-, poly- or whatever fabric;you NEED silk or wool, as these materials are protein fibers (just as hair).
  • DON’T try this on non-natural fibers – they might burn in the microwave!!!
    Also, it won’t work on them. Period.
  • DON’T even THINK of trying this on silk that has metallic content (aka metallic organza, silk that was beaded with silver-lined beads or silk that was embroidered with metallic threads)!
    That’s just because ‘metal’and ‘microwaves’don’t exactly go well together. If you have no idea what I mean, google it – I’m NOT advising you to TEST it if you have no idea what I’m talking about! *lol*
  • Hair perm fluid:
    • No foam or what is in Germany called a “sour”perm (meaning alcalic perm), but just a basic perm with two little bottles of fluid for a strong perm.
    • For each four yards of 8mm Habotai silk I use one packet of perm.
    • This means for the orange Mist of Avalon gown I made I used three packets.
    • For Arwen’s Arch dress I used two and a half perm packets.
  • a bathroom with a bathtub or a shower;well aired;
  • a microwave oven,
    • You can substitute the microwave with hanging the twisted fabric over boiling water (in a non metal net or something;just as steam fixing is done with silk coloring.)
  • large microwave safe bowl
  • microwave safe cover or plastic
  • two long handled spoons/sticks (something that will not be used as eating utensils again;these are need to move the fabric around when it is scorching hot)
  • gentle silk washing detergent
    • Substitute:Hair shampoo for ‘damaged’or ‘permed’hair also works pretty well, because that’s precisely what you’re dealing with here.
  • a baking oven
  • a hot radiator – steam, not electric
      • substitutes:
      • old fashion hair dryer (the bonnet kind)
      • a clothing line and a Sunny day or two


Length-Wise Fabric Crush

  1. Wash the silk, even if you intend to crush (0r pleat) undyed (white) silk. And yes, that can usually be done in the washing machine.
  2. Form a long, twisted “sausage”that will twist up in itself when picked up. That basically means that you’ll need two people (one at each end of the fabric;though I’ve also done it alone by tying one end of the fabric to a doorknob…) who will hold the fabric between them, bunch it up width-wise, then start twisting into opposite directions.
    The stronger the twisting, the better;but keep in mind that the twisted fabric must still be able to take some fluid;so it must not be too strong. You can tie the ends with a thread so that the twisting will not open.
    In case you want very even pleating or small pleats on stiffer silk, like taffeta (aka Fortuny pleating), you should really take the step of pleating the fabric manually. That basically means that you’ll have to pull threads through the width of the fabric with a running stitch – up, down, up, down – the length of each stitch should be as long as you want your pleats to be wide. This also should be done several times along the length of the fabric, I’d say with a distance of no more than 4-8 inches. After having all threads in place, you just pull them, so the fabric will basically pleat itself. When finished, form the ‘sausage’by twisting the pleated length of fabric. The threads can stay in place until you’re finished with the pleating. And by the way, I DO recommend using silk- or cotton thread for this task, NOT polyester threads!
  3. Read the instruction of the hair perm fluid!
  4. Lay the sausage down in the bathtub (or the shower) and use the first fluid of the perm on it. Soak the fabric (still twisted!) with it.
  5. While working with the microwave and baking oven, the windows should be OPENED WIDE! You will need to keep the air circulating in this room to get fresh air!
  6. Put this twisted “sausage”in a big plastic bowl that is suitable for microwave ovens;cover it with plastic foil (also suitable for microwaves) (NO ALUMINUM FOIL!) and put it into the microwave. At about 400-500 Watts, it should stay there for the time that was given in the instruction for the perm for the fluid one (usually, 30-40 minutes). After half of the time, you might turn over the twisted fabric carefully (be really careful, it is HOT! Use two spoons or something like that to do this).
  7. Note that the result will NOT be better if you use a higher Watt setting. That will just burn your fabric. And no, it does also NOT help to shorten the timeIf I write ’400-500 Watts, 30-40 minutes’I mean just that, NOT ’800-1000 Watts for 15-20 minutes’!
  8. After the time is up, take the bowl out (HOT!) and remove the cover (beware of HOT steam!). Let the fabric cool down for a bit. Then, wash the first fluid out;still leaving the fabric twisted. Instructions of the hair perm will tell you how.
  9. Apply about 3/4 of the amount of fluid of bottle no. 2 (instructions should tell you this;at least on my hair perm that I am always using for the fabrics). Fabric has to remain twisted.
  10. Put it back in the bowl, re-cover it with the lid/wrap, put it back to the microwave for the time that fluid 2 needs, at the same Watt setting that fluid 1 used.
  11. Remember the open windows, doors etc. whatever you have to get air in the room! I mean it. This stuff doesn’t just ‘stink’, it’s toxic.
  12. put the fabric (keep in mind that is is very hot!) back into the bathtub/shower, let it cool for a while. Open the twisting gently, but don’t pull the fabric apart. Just loose the twisting so that you have the fabric twisted about 4 times per yard!
  13. Apply the rest of fluid 2.
  14. Carefully move the fabric back to the bowl. Cover it. Microwave for about 10 minutes.
  15. Let the fabric cool. Wash it out without pulling it apart. Use a gentle silk washing detergent. Hair shampoo also works;if you can, use shampoo for ‘damaged’or ‘permed’hair, because let’s face it, that’s EXACTLY what you’re dealing with here!
  16. twist the silk again (about 10 times per yard;depending on the fabric;tight enough that it will twist again when picked up;but not as tight that it will not be able to dry).
  17. put it into the baking oven for about 2 hours at 50-75°C – note how I use ‘DEGREES CELSIUS’(°C) instead of ‘DEGREES FAHRENHEIT’(°F). In Fahrenheit, that would be 122 – 167°F. Did I remind you to CLEAN the oven before putting the silk in? If it cannot be cleaned to your satisfaction, you can always use a CLEAN heatproof glass vessel into which you can put the silk, THEN put it into the baking oven.
  18. take it out, leave it twisted and dry it on the radiator (takes 1-2 days;depending on the amount, the twisting and the type of fabric).
    The Radiator needs to be Gas, not electric radiator else it will burn. What I mean is that it should NOT have any open flame OR glowing hot strips (like a toaster).
    An old fashion bonnet style hair dryer
    try to hang the twisted fabric outside (no direct sun;but a well aired place) to let it dry. It needs to be a warm place, where the moisture can escape from (and it cannot escape from a baking oven).

Wild/Random Pleating

To do a “random”crush (as on Arwen’s Arch dress) instead of a length crush just crumple the wet fabric in step 1 together into a lump (*not* a ball;otherwise the perm fluid has no chance to work on the middle of this fabric ball!). This is easiest if you put the wet fabric in the bathtub and carefully push the borders (aka selvage edges) towards the middle;in the end, you should have an about letter sized, crumpled fabric “square”that you can roll up to put it in the bowl.

If, after washing, the crushing should become less obvious, just twist the garment (or crumple it again) and dry it on a radiator (see above). After that, iron from the lining side (yes, these garments should have linings!), not from the crushed outside.

That’s all. After you’re done, clean the microwave carefully. Perming silk (or wool) in it will NOT make the microwave unusable;it is just water steam that came out of the fabric;but it smells strange due to the usage of the perm fluids.

By the way, fabric can’t “just”be crashed length-wise or random. There are quite a few methods. Like, for example, to use tiny rubber rings to bind spots on the fabric up to little ‘nubs’;that can look EXTREMELY interesting. Also, you can crash the fabric with star-shaped or zigzagged motifs. The possibilities are basically endless, just google ‘Shibori”- that’s basically a tie dye technique, but can also be used for crushing silk 😉

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  6 Responses to “Crashing / Pleating Silk”

Comments (6)
  1. I am SO happy to have found this! I’ve been wanting to try a fortuny pleat reproduction gown but the fabric is just out of my reach. I have a bolt of Habotai I am going to dip dye an ombre purple to tiffany blue and then pleat! Exciyted to take a stab at this, thank you so much for your efforts!!

  2. Wow … I have suspected that Fortuny was using something like the permanent wave process.

    I want to try this for a short tunic.

    Have you tried the Olaplex hair conditioner in this? It actually re-builds bonds in the keratin and might make the pleats last longer.

  3. How does one water-clean a silk-pleated garment made following the above instructions? I’m quite keen on having one such garment myself, but not so much at the prospect of repleating said garment every 2 months.

  4. I don’t normally comment on blog posts, but I just had to say thank you for a very well written and informative tutorial. It is just what I have been looking for.

  5. It can be deadly to microwave perming fluid, even with windows open. NO ONE SHOULD EVER MICROWAVE PERMING FLUID. If you were in the US and someone tried this and died, you’d be legally liable. You should not be suggesting to people to microwave chemicals not meant to go in the microwave.

    • I do agree that it would be lethal for a person to be inside the microwave WHILE the silk is being microwaved at 400-500 watts (mind you, that is a very LOW setting).
      Then again, that would also be lethal WITHOUT the perm fluid being present.
      However, if you’re not inside that microwave…. not so.

      I’ve been using that method for exactly a decade now, and I’m still alive. Thank you for pointing out that I should have died ten years ago when trying this first 😉
      Also, I have not heard of even just ONE case in which the *exact* usage of this tutorial lead to even just one (human or other lifeform’s) life to be lost; but I know of a TON of people who used it successfully (without being harmed the slightest bit).
      Since you’re so adamant about it being deadly, maybe you can enlighten the readers with your (certainly vast) knowledge concerning such lethal incidents involving a microwave, silk, and perming fluid?

      Now, seriously – whether you like (or approve of) this method or not; if you follow the safety instructions (which are repeatedly given in this tutorial!), it’s not deadly to microwave the perm fluid.
      However, if you don’t follow the safety instructions… well in that case I wouldn’t be legally liable either.

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