A Russian shawl is traditionally seen as a valuable asset. Even now they are quite expensive; in my view, a one hundred dollar shawl is not cheap, and I have several of them, and some people own several dozens. Besides, when we are speaking about vintage shawls, they can be rare or even unique, and not just expensive, but very dear to our hearts and virtually irreplaceable. And even if your Russian scarves or shawls are not too costly, they still deserve good care and maintenance, as I am sure you do not want them wasted. And it is not difficult to take a good care of them, anyway.
(a very rare and collectable shawl - "8th of March" by Zlata Olshevskaya)
The authentic Russian shawls of high artistic value and quality are produced by the Pavlovo Posad Manufacture in Moscow, Russia. I am not looking at the numerous Chinese or East European fakes; they can be made of anything and I am not interested in them. They can have any type of fibre content, including acrylic or viscose (rayon), and probably sustain a very rough treatment, or not sustain anything at all. But a real Russian shawl is made from pure wool (unless we talk about silk or cotton shawls which are different breeds), with a colourful print, and needs to be treated with care.
Upon receiving your shawl, it is always a very good idea to put it on quarantine for a while, even if it is new and bought from the authorised dealer. Who knows - there could be some moth in the warehouse, and the nasty larvae could be hiding somewhere in the threads of your shawl, ready to proliferate and destroy all your shawls, throws, and even your cashmere sweaters! The best quarantine facility for a wool shawl is an ordinary freezer; put the shawl there for a couple of days, and all bugs, if any, will be dead. If the freezer is not empty, make sure you put the shawl into a plastic bag so that it does not touch the food.
(this stunning huge Russian shawl has been frozen and ironed and is now offered for sale.
it is rare and highly sought after)
It is useful to iron your new shawl with a warm iron (put it on "wool", naturally) for the same purpose and to remove any wrinkles. Please be careful and do not damage the fabric,
I do not expect that you will need to clean your shawl often, unless you plan on spraying it with various perfumes and smudging it with your makeup. Just make sure you do not do this, just like you do not do this to fine jewellery, and the shawl will only need cleaning once in several years. A high quality dry clean is the best solution. In the meantime, you can air it on the line now and then to free it from any odours it might have accumulated.
Russian shawls benefit greatly from airing on cold frosty days; they even seem to become brighter and fresher. You can also put them on the snow in your yard, if the snow is fresh, clean and dry, and if you know that your dog will not play with them. So, snow is good but make sure they are safe. You can sometimes put them into the clean and empty freezer without a plastic bag for the same purpose.
You should never machine wash your Russian shawl, unless you are researching into the easiest ways to ruin it, let alone soaking or tumble drying it. Although modern dyes are of a better quality than before, sometimes they can still run or lose their brilliance, and the print will look faded.
If you bought a used shawl and you feel that it is really dirty so that dry clean will not be enough for you to feel comfortable with it -sometimes we just long for water and detergent to remove the odours and signs of another human being, do not we? - you can take the risk and wash it. We have washed Russian scarves and shawls many times and so far there has been no tragedies, but we still do not recommend this to a novice owner, and especially if this is a valuable shawl.
(this infinity wool scarf is made from a vintage Russian shawl which we had to wash as we did not know where it came from and how clean or dirty it was. as you can see, it looks bright and fresh, and free from any odours! you can buy it in our Etsy shop called Mulberry Whisper here)
Still, if you have to wash it, use lukewarm water and a mild detergent; hair shampoo will do. You can use some vinegar to the water to protect the dyes, like 3-4 spoonfuls of table vinegar to several litres of water. Do not soak; wash it gently like cashmere or lace, and rinse in lukewarm water. For the last rinse, you can use some hair conditioner. Remove water by very gently squeezing the shawl. You can wrap it into a towel and squeeze. Then line dry or flat dry - as you wish - only make sure there are no folds, or there is a chance that it will put dye on itself, producing stains.
This is about all I wanted to say on caring for Russian shawls. If you follow these simple rules, your beautiful Pavlovo Posad shawl will retain its beauty for many years. I could also write about storing and repairing them, but those are big separate topics. Thank you, and take a look at our Russian shawls and scarves, if you are interested!