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Silk Crepe


To understand Crepe and how it is made, we have to dig a little bit in to spinning techniques.  Only a little bit. I’ll try and keep it brief.

Fibers, or in the case of silk filaments, are spun in to threads before weaving.  Fibers/filaments are spun with either a z-twist or an s-twist.  A Z-Twist means that when the fibers are spun, the spirals formed from spinning conform to the central portion of the letter z.  S-Twist means that the fibers when spun conform to the central portion of the letter s (Fairchild, p. 184).

With that bit of technicality out of the way, we can jump in to crepe.  From All About Silk, crepe has finer warp threads with heavier filling threads, with threads alternating between z and s twists.  These irregularities give crepe a crinkly, pebbly texture, and an elegant drape and flow.  However, the irregularity of the texture makes it hard to hold a crease.  Among the easier fabrics to work with BECAUSE of it’s texture, crepe truly is a dream drape to work with.

One additional word of caution before buying or working with crepe: due to how very tightly twisted the filaments are, crepe is VERY prone to shrinking when washed.  100% silk will dye to any color you want, and despite belief to the contrary, silk CAN be washed with water, it can even be machine washed.  But, crepe will definitely shrink, so make sure to purchase extra to allow for that shrinkage.

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Joseph Marie Jacquard

Joseph Marie Jacquard

Ah the Internet.  What’s not to love about all the world’s knowledge being readily available at your fingertips?  And all this availability started just 200 years ago, with the silk weavers in Lyons.  Don’t believe me?  Allow me to elaborate.

Joseph Marie Jacquard was born on July 7, 1752 in Lyon, France.  Jacquard’s mother died when he was 10 and his father died just 10 years later, leaving Jacquard with property, a house, vineyard, looms and workshops.

While his work history is largely unknown, Jacquard, having decided that weaving was not for him, was trained as a book binder and eventually with a printer.  Jacquard married when he was 26 Jacquard married, and promptly entered in to debt, requiring him to sell his property and to utilize his wife’s dowry to pay off bills.  Luckily, Jacquard’s wife retained property from her former husband, who had left her a wealthy widow prior to her marriage to Jacquard.  This allowed Jacquard to keep a roof over his head.

As he was not nobility, and relatively poor at the time, Jacquard weathered the French Revolution, and by 1800 began inventing things.  Having shown no apparent facility for weaving and no desire to carry on in his father’s footsteps, Jacquard didn’t make it through childhood in a master weaver’s house without learning anything.  Which led to his most famous invention: The Jacquard Loom.

Utilizing punch cards as a system of tracking the warp and weft threads, the Jacquard loom began the automation process for the silk weaving industry, netting Jacquard a comfortable pension of 3,000 francs for life and patent rights, amounting to 50 francs per loom that was bought and used from 1805 to 1811.  Since estimates have this estimate at 11,000 looms in use by 1812, that left Jacquard a VERY wealthy man at the time of his death on August 7, 1834.

Now, what does all this have to do with the Information Age?  When IBM began creating computers and computer programs, the first programs were created using a punch card system.  Which was based off of Charles Babbage’s calculator. Which can be and has been directly credited to Joseph Marie Jacquard’s punch card looms.

Most people in fashion and sewing refer to all weaves made on a Jacquard loom as Jacquards.  Which is sort of accurate, but not the whole story.  The Jacquard loom allowed for the fast and mass production of Damask, Brocade, and Matelasse weaves.  While all are woven on Jacquard looms, each is a distinct weave.  And advances in textile manufacture which led to the global trade and manufacture, computers, Internet, online shopping…all were made possible by one Joseph Marie Jacquard.

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Patterning...The Tome

The easy part of pattern making is knowing that I can’t draw a straight line.  Seriously.  Even with a ruler, my lines tend to veer off page.  Which means patterning for me is finding a good program that won’t break the bank.  Not actually as easy as one might think.  There are A LOT of good programs out there.  All offer excellent packages, with excellent options.  Most are over $1,000.  Which breaks the bank for me.

Burda University did offer an excellent class on pattern drafting using Adobe Illustrator.  Which was my introduction to Adobe Illustrator.  And it’s a lesson I’m sure I will revisit as I work my way through patterning and decide to offer digital downloads.  But first I want to know how to make and print actual patterns.  And for that, I need books.

Fortunately, as a long established bibliophile, I actually had a ready collection of books on Patterning in my collection (I also have books on beekeeping, horseback riding, trance dancing, and Mongolian history…I am eclectic in my tastes…).  So for my deep dive in to the world of pattern making, I will be pulling on Pattern Making for Fashion Design, Make Your Own Dress Patterns, The Pattern Making Primer, and Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear.  As an added bonus, I have actually read three of the four before deciding to start this venture.  Pattern Making for Fashion Design is an epic, text book, looking tome which reminded me freakishly of math class, so that one is new knowledge.

And since I REALLY want to have at least one pattern available by the time I hit Hot Raqs, I have some motivation to hit the books…college style.  And I just have to remember that while practice makes perfect, perfect is the enemy of the good.  My first pattern doesn’t have to be the height of couture, it just has to be good enough for people to follow directions and for all the pieces to fit together without extra inches.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, but practice makes perfect.  I’ll get there.  With practice.

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Busy busy busy

busy busy busy

No, not another cloth weave.  While I will continue with my descriptions and details of different silk weaves, that is just one of my projects.  And to give my brain a break from this is that, I thought I would outline some of my plans and upcoming events.  Busy, Busy, Busy.


So far this year, Damask Raven is confirmed vending at Hot Raqs, Miss Fisher Con, and Cairo Shimmy Quake.  Also plan to be vending at West-AnTir War and Great Western War.  Additionally, am teaching three classes at Costume College.  So this is shaping up to be a very busy year.


And on top of vending plans, I am learning to make patterns, hopefully soon to be on sale everywhere Damask Raven vends, and learning to digitize embroidery, for that perfectly matched trim.  And because I feel I’ve been neglecting my blogging here at Damask Raven, I set myself the task of writing one blog post a day from two days ago until Hot Raqs.  Now, that isn’t entirely selfless.  One of the classes at Costume College is a class on different silk weaves.  By writing the posts, I’m prepping myself for that class.  And hopefully sharing some knowledge along the way.


So I am juggling.  A lot.  And learning a lot.  Pattern making is new to me, and once I get the hang of it, I’m looking forward to a series of blog posts highlighting my progress.  With the thirty seven posts in thirty seven days I set myself, I will probably start that soon, as it is a learning process and curve.  And continuing to show off the Baby Lock, although I’ve decided to speed up the lessons a bit with that.  Also have to keep up with stain removal and the Folly of Dry Cleaning Everything.  So more posts to come, and  I will try to mix it up, so as not to bore everyone with this is that blog posts.


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China Silk

Processing China Silk, painted on silk

Ahhh China Silk.  How it all began.  5500 years ago, the secrets of silk were discovered in China and once the cocoon unraveled, China began weaving it.  The result was the original, plain weave, one over one under, China Silk.  Soft and lightweight, easy to work with, pleats like a dream, with a fine hand, this alluringly flowing fabric is usually found in 5mm to 10mm, but can be woven in any weight.

The ever fabulous Fairchild (p. 119) provides the following definitions for China Silk:
1. A plain weave, lustrous, lightweight, very soft silk fabric produced in China and Japan from irregular yarn


2. A raw, white silk yarn of superior quality from northern China.

The Original Weave is graceful and elegant, used commonly for slips, lining, lingerie, and blouses.  Because of how very lightweight it is, China Silk is frequently semi-sheer; however once you get in to 12mm or higher, the silk becomes more opaque and can be used for dresses.

Another frequent use for this fabulous fabric is veiling for Raqs Sharqui, with 8mm being the preferred weight.  And because it is 100% silk, China Silk soaks up and holds a dye in any color or combination that one can dream of.  Truly a versatile weave with wide applications, China Silk is reversible, and easy to work with.

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Softly Chiffon

Pink chiffon top layers this dress worn by Audrey Hepburn

Nothing is as softly elegant as chiffon.  Typically sheer, and very filmy and lightweight, Julie Parker in All About Silk says that Chiffon is French for rag. Which is hard to believe given that this is easily one of the most elegant fabrics available.  When I hear the word rag, I think of the dictionary definition, and chiffon is not worthless.  Typically used as a top layer in prom or wedding dresses, chiffon adds fabulous sway and drape to any gown.

Now, on a technical level, chiffon is “A very lightweight sheer silk…made in a plain weave with fine, hard spun yarns of approximately the same size in warp and filling and the same number of ends and picks per inch.” Fairchilds p. 117.  Now, what the hell does all that mean.  Hard Spun means that the fibers, or in this case filaments, are spun very tightly so that they are squeezed together to allow for a very tight, fine weave.

Same size in warp and filling means that the hard spun is not just on the warp, but also the weft threads.  Everything is woven using the same number of threads on the warp and west to provide a very even, all over, plain woven fabric.  All of this creates the lovely, elegant fabric that we all know and love as chiffon.  But for the bad news.  Chiffon is VERY difficult to work with.  There is not a lot of give in this fabric and because of the sheerness of the fabric, you want to use this as a top layer, a la the cover image for this post, the inimitable Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

If you are determined to work with this very drape-y fabric, try starching with gelatin before cutting and sewing. While I have not yet tried this myself, I’m eager to give it a shot when Damask Raven starts carrying Silk Chiffon….and Silk Charmeuse.

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Let’s talk Broadcloth

Broadcloth...not satin

According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, Broadcloth was “a fabric made on a wide loom, specifically one wider than 27 inches.”  Since the narrowest weave found commercially is typically 45 inches wide, it seems odd that 27 was once considered broad!  But, width was not the only consideration.  Specific to weaving on the broader loom, the fill or weft threads are heavier and have less twist, creating a heavier hand than the lighter habotai or china silks.

In addition to the dictionary definition of broadcloth, Julie Parker provides that silk broadcloth is typically woven of spun silk, versus filament silk.  So what is the difference between spun silk and filament silk?  From Fairchild, filament is “a fiber of indefinite or extreme length, for example, silk filament, which runs from 300 to 1400 yards and more.”  This unadulterated length allows for the filaments to be woven as is, with no additional twist.  This is not to say they are NEVER twisted, because that would be grossly inaccurate.  But in the case of broadcloth, twisting would be unnecessary.  And this is because of the spun silk threads used in the weft.

Again from Fairchild’s, spun silk is made of the short lengths of silk waste.  When silk cocoons are harvested, they are typically unraveled to obtain the unbroken filament.  But they can also be harvested after the silk moths have broken out of the cocoon.  This will create many slubs.  One way to work with the slubs to card the silk, like wool is carded, then spin it in to threads for weaving.  And in this way is broadcloth made…a plain weave silk, but with a very different hand and texture than habotai.

Because broadcloth has a bit more texture, it is very easy to work with, and holds a crease.  While we don’t sell Silk Broadcloth (yet) it is relatively easy to come by commercially and is sometimes known as shirting silk.