Are artificial/silk flowers washable?

I’ve been using artificial flowers to dress my wee fairy folk for decades and gently cleaning them was simple. But a while back, I thought of using them on clothing for human bodies, and that’s when I needed to know, are artificial/silk flowers washable? Here’s what I learned and how I tested it:

Since the 1970s, most fabric fake flowers have been made of polyester rather than silk. Although the materials I work with are all second-hand, it’s still pretty safe to assume that the fabric flowers in my stash are all polyester. The older flowers tend to be paper, cellulose, or heavily glued velvet – not at all washable but also not suitable for sewing on clothing.

A disassembled artificial flower showing the plastic pieces and the different "petal circles."
Disassembled cornflower showing its plastic parts and the variety of petal circles.

Fabric flowers are assembled from a stack of petal “circles” stacked on top of each other with some smaller plastic “discs” between some of the layers to shape the flower. A stem and plug lock them together. I removed all the plastic parts and set them aside for the fairies. It was just the fabric petal circles and leaves that I hoped to use on clothing. (Any flowers that frayed or fell apart at this stage were discarded.)

I selected a variety of flowers and leaves for testing, making sure that I covered all the bases:

  • long thin petals vs wide round petals
  • small circle size vs large circle size
  • plain fabric vs fabric that feels like it has a coating on it
  • thin fabric vs thick fabric
  • crisp (almost melted) edges vs soft, smooth edges, vs slightly frayed edges
  • ultra-fine weave vs slightly coarser weave
  • like new vs definitely older

I then pulled a few pieces out of my fabric scrap bin looking for variety there too: t-shirt, velour, broadcloth, organza, and a printed denim.

The next step was to consider the different ways I might want to attach flowers to clothes and test them too. It would not be an exhaustive list but I would at least find out if the attachment method had much effect on how well the flowers withstood laundry. Here’s what I used to attach the handful of flowers to the fabric scraps:

  • handstitching with beads
  • handstitching through buttons
  • handstitching alone
  • machine stitching alone

I also varied the stitching patterns and the number of layers in each stack.

Artificial flowers attached to fabric scraps are shown before they are washed
Flowers before washing

After taking some photos to document the “before” look (that’s the part I usually forget to do), I tossed all my test pieces into the washing machine along with my next load of laundry. Real silk often leaks dye when it gets wet but polyester doesn’t so I wasn’t concerned about discolouration. I wanted to see if they fell apart.

Everything looked fine after a regular cycle cold water wash so I tried the dryer. They survived that too. There was a little fraying around the edges of some of the pieces, but nothing disintegrated. I took some more photos and then set up a tally sheet. How many trips through washer and dryer could these flowers handle? It’s no good calling something washable if it falls apart after three washes.

Artificial flowers shown after washing and drying by machine
Flowers after once through washer and dryer

I kept the test pieces beside the laundry detergent. Every time I was going to do a load that used both washer and dryer, I would toss the pieces in and mark another tick on my tally sheet. There was no noticeable difference between the first and second washes so I didn’t bother to take more pictures. After ten washes, there was still not enough difference to bother with photos.

Artificial flowers after machine washing and drying
Flowers after 40 trips through washer and dryer. Even the tiny one held together.

After forty trips through both washer and dryer the flowers were noticeably frayed but they still looked like flowers. The leaves held up remarkably well, especially the ones that started with a glossy coating on them. There were some snarls of loose threads and long hair in the petals and around some of the buttons and beads. Those had to be carefully removed so the stitching wasn’t damaged. (When I pulled too hard on one of them, a thread broke and I lost some beads.)

Artificial flowers with thread tangled in them after washing and drying by machine
Threads tangled between layers of this flower.

I had expected the thin daisy-like petals to come apart right away. Most of them didn’t, but the big round petals that taper to almost nothing where they join in the center, looked like those big petals might get tugged off if they caught on something. So now, when I use them, I sew through the petals instead of only stitching in the middle of the flowers.

Artificial flowers after being washed many times
Blue flowers after 40 trips through washer and dryer. (Leaf is virtually unchanged.)

Are artificial/silk flowers washable? Absolutely yes! I still dress my fairy dolls in flowers but now I use them for people clothes too. To see some samples, click here.

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