You think you have the idea for your next post. Just a quick blurb about the thing. Then you start to do some light research on the thing. And realize, like Jon Snow, you know nothing. Now, this is not inherently a bad thing. It can be a VERY bad thing if you proceed to write on what you know nothing about. If you’re smart, you’ll slow your roll, figure out how to pivot the idea. I’m trying to be smart.
I’m already certain I will be re-visiting several of the blog posts I’ve written during this trek. Updating them with more current or accurate information. Among the things I actually DID know, is that fashion in Asia changed as dramatically and rapidly as fashion in Europe did. Why wouldn’t it? Now to prove it. And there in lies the bulk of what I don’t know.
While I want very much to learn about the various dynasties, a simple Google search revealed just how challenging this could be. Being all about silk is fantastic, if you’re of European descent and you want to know all about Italian Silk, or French Silk, or Spitalfields Silk. But when you are truly obsessive, when you want to track it back to the source, and the source is something you know nothing about…like, say fore example, China…out comes the old college research ability. Skills I thought I didn’t need anymore. Like the humbling time I confessed to my dad that yes, I did in fact need algebra. And he laughed at me. Because he’s my dad.
So I return again to the Google cave, having randomly selected the Song Dynasty to start with. And immediately hit upon a Fantastic Blog. Which happily is a jumping off point. Oh, and so is this $99 book. Which I found through bookfinder.com for the bargain basement price of $78. But, when one quests for knowledge, one hits the books.
And hopefully comes out the other side having learned something useful.
When people think of knits, they think of wool sweater, or cotton knit athletic wear. But much like any fiber can be woven, any fiber can be knit, including silk. Silk knits range from very fine, single filament knits, to four or more ply strands available for home knitting. Well, technically I guess you COULD knit at home with filament thread. But even a rank novice knitter like myself knows that it would take a devilish amount of thread to knit a sweater from filament.
Silk knit fabric is usually listed as Silk Jersey, so if you want to buy a silk knit, jersey is the best Google search term. For Silk Yarn for knitting at home, many yarn shops will have this in stock. Again, rank novice knitter here, but make sure the yard you purchase will work for the pattern you intend to knit.
As for sewing with silk knits…it can be devilishly hard. Silk is already a very slippery fiber in general. Knits are ALSO very slippery by nature. But, this fabric is particularly luscious, clinging to curves, gathers beautifully, and the drape is pure sophistication. On the flip side, knits in general are prone to shrinking. A lot. So either buy extra and make sure you pre-shrink before cutting, or determine ahead to dry-clean only the finished product.
Now, as for styles, like any knit, Silk Jersey is excellent for clinging styles and close fitting garments. Also like any knit, Silk Jersey is not good for structured garments.
What is a True Damask weave? The original luxury weave for silk, Damask is “a rich silk fabric with woven floral designs made in China and introduced into Europe through Damascus, from which it derived it’s name (Fairchild, p. 170). The introduction to Europe was by way of Crusader’s returning from the crusades by way of Damascus, Syria. More commonly known as Jacquard due to modern damask is woven on a Jacquard loom, damask is a combination of satin and twill, or satin and plain weaves, to form a pattern.
So that is the simple explanation, But simplicity often needs more explanation. In an earlier post I explained what is satin, plain, and twill weave. When they are combined in to a single piece of weaving, they create damask. Like this:
So in the above picture, the plain weave is predominant, with the satin weave creating the design. But the beauty of a true damask is that it is one hundred percent reversible. So that the flip side of THIS design, looks like this:
So here, the satin weave is predominant with the design being in plain weave. Both images come from the same bolt of fabric…Acanthus Scroll Silk Damask.
Silk Damask is fairly easy to work with, will crease beautifully when ironed, gathers well, pleats well, is soft and draping and simply elegant. And while it can be woven in one color, it can also be two-toned. For two-tone damask, the warp threads are one color and the weft threads are a second color. Two-tone damasks are thread died first. This means the warp threads are dyed the first color, and the weft threads dyed the second color, prior to weaving. The effect is less subtle than monotone damask but can be very dramatic.
Over the years, Damask has come to be synonymous with any scroll design with a vaguely eastern flavor. Which is plainly inaccurate. True damasks create this tone on tone design in the weaving for subtle elegance or dramatic effect.
I think I mention cosplay as an option for silk in every product description. And I’ll admit to a bit of bias there. I mean…I SELL silk. Of course I think it’s perfect for cosplay. But seriously, lycra gets all the love in the Cos-community, probably because of the eye popping, hip hugging, curve loving choices available to cosplay as. And Lycra is outstanding for curve hugging. But it doesn’t breathe well, and after hours on a convention floor, you sweat. And even the strongest deodorant will leave you with body stank after being trapped in non-breathable lycra all day.
Know what does breathe well? Silk (also linen, cotton, rayon, and hemp),,, but Silk breathes really well. Know what else hugs curves? Bias cut. The couture house most credited with bringing the elegance of bias cut to runways was Madame Madeleine Vionnet. Now, bias cut is not always the most practical or even the best cut for a garment. But not every, single, cosplay, calls for skin tight couture.
And cosplay is for everyone. If you read the linked wiki-site for cosplay, it creates an interesting link to masquerade balls and Carnival. Additionally, I was talking about the SCA with someone, who said it was like cosplay only more frequent. Which made me laugh because it’s true.
So seriously, whatever your costuming pleasure–From Disney Princess, to Marvel Hero, DC Villain to Blizzard Character, Civil War to Carnival–Whatever you love, you can make. Sometimes in Silk, sometimes in lycra, sometimes in polyester, and sometimes in worbla. But whatever you make, out of whatever medium, own it! Wear it with pride, even if it’s your first attempt. You MADE that! And that is AWESOME!
This is an annual event held in Southern California at the end of July. I’ve been twice, once just to go, then last year I taught. And the class was so wonderful and open, I decided to teach again. So, here is what I am teaching at Costume College 2017. All three classes are on Sunday, July 30.
9am to 10am What’s in a Weave. This class is designed to talk about different weaving techniques, specifically silk weaves; however many techniques are universal (plain weave, satin weave, twill). And this class will teach you which weave is which.
11:30am to 1pm From Street to Stage: A History of Oriental Dance Costuming in Egypt. Called by many the oldest dance, Raqs Sharqi has a long performance history. But what did they wear? While the standard costume is well known today, they didn’t always wear Bedlah when performing. Learn the differences between street wear and stage wear used in this lovely art form.
4pm to 5pm Care and Feeding of Silk. This is the class I taught last year and in it, I answer all your questions about working with silk. How delicate is silk? Can it be washed? Can you iron silk, and if so, how? Do you use starch? Bring your questions to Care and Feeding of Silk and I will answer them (if you can’t make it to Costume College, you can always contact me and I am happy to help by email).
So that’s it for what I am teaching. However, on the flip side of teaching is studying. And class schedules are set to mail out this week! And then there are the parties! Each night holds a different event. So traditionally, Thursday night is the pool party. This years theme is Happiest Place on Earth. Now, since the overarching theme is the ‘6o’s, this one is specifically meant for vintage Disney. But wait! There’s more! You don’t have to dress on theme. And this year, I’m going half theme. I am going Disney…just not vintage.
Friday morning is Freshman Orientation, for those new to Costume College. Now, I didn’t go to Freshman Orientation, even when I WAS in college, so I have yet to attend this event. But it looks to be full of excellent information.
Friday night, is the ice cream social. The theme this year is Casino Royale, and all spies are welcome. I am again, interestingly enough, going with a Disney themed character. Not from the Spy angle, more from the Casino angle. Hey, I worked twelve years in a casino…I know a little bit about what customer service is like in that dark den of iniquity.
Saturday before entering the Gala party, you get to walk the red carpet in your finest dress. This years Gala is Dinner at Tiffany’s, a nod to the fabulous Audrey Hepburn’s Little Black Dress. And here is the crux of my problem. Not quite four months out, and I have no idea what Cinderella (me) is wearing to the ball. I have ideas…but nothing set in stone. I know sort of what I’d like to do, but not sure I have time to do it, with my other vending events between now and then. And the day job. So I’m working on it. It may end up being vintage and vaguely couture. Or it could be fully designed, draped and drafted to me. It all depends on how well outside forces work with my schedule to make it all happen. So fingers crossed, I get it all done.
As the saying goes, where Angels fear to tread. This was me the first time I worked with silk. The fool, not the Angel. I wrote in my blog on Working with Silk that fear is what keeps most people from working with silk. For me it wasn’t fear that I would damage the silk. By the time I had silk in my hot little hand to work with, I had researched just how resilient silk is. My fear was that my skill wasn’t up to working with such fantastic fabric. And I’d been sewing for 28 years by that point!
So, having received my first shipment, and knowing that making garments of my product was one of the easiest ways to market my silk, I jumped in, eyes shut, and picked my pattern. Let me say, it was foolish to wait so long. Facebook pages and sewing groups have people still commenting on silk’s delicacy, and how hard silk is to work with. Nope on delicacy. Personally, I don’t find silk hard to work with. Use lots of pins, use micro-serrated scissors…in fact, just follow the advice in the above linked blog post.
As for skill level, that is something for each sew-er to decide for themselves. I probably wouldn’t work with silk if it were my very first project ever, but if you’re confident with cotton and linen, then silk shouldn’t be too far behind. The longer you delay, the more you psyche yourself in to thinking silk is a Rubicon which can never be crossed. Silk is far more accessible than that. Working with silk is fairly straightforward. It does require patience, due to it’s slippery nature. But overall, a little patience and self-confidence will have you also wondering why you waited. Then you too can be a fool rushing in.
So here is a garment that is as old as time. With origins going back to Mesopotmia, this simple garment constructed entirely of squares was originally cotton. When silk found it’s way to the middle east, it quickly became a favorite textile for the Caftan. So how did this humble, ancient garment, survive from antiquity to present? By being eminently practical.
Originally, the Caftan was the outermost garment worn by men throughout the middle east; however, in Morocco it is traditionally a woman’s garment, and even today enjoys a special place in couture of Morocco. While worn throughout North Africa and the Middle East from Mesopotamia to present, the Caftan did not make the leap to Western fashion until the 20th century.
Between November 14 and 26, 1894, Czar Nicholas II married the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, Alexandra Feodorovna. The new Czarina was photographed wearing the traditional, Orthodox dress of Russian nobility…a heavily embroidered caftan.
This photograph sparked continued interest in the exotic east, and a love affair with the simple caftan was born unto the Occident.
Starting in stage productions in the 1910’s, this simple robe appeared in ballets, in movies, plays. And even then, where theater went, fashion followed. By the 1950’s to 1970’s, couture houses from Dior to Yves Saint Laurent to Halston were walking the simple cut garment down the isle as the next big fashion movement. And it remain popular as a housecoat, as outer wear, as re-creationist costuming. Caftan’s, while humble and straightforward, are popular BECAUSE of the simple cut, which allows adornment or even luxurious fabrics, to truly shine. Simplicity is beautiful. And the Caftan is simply elegant.
One ply, two ply, three ply…Technically ply only becomes impractical when the yarns get two thick to weave. Ply has several meanings, depending on the context, i.e. plywood, or as a verb, to work diligently. Within the textile industry, a ply is “the number of single yarns twisted together to form a ply yarn or cord.” (Fairchild, p. 466).
Now with silk, as the yarns are filaments, they don’t technically need more than one ply before being woven. But, additional ply to the filament (meaning more than one spun together before weaving) adds considerable strength to the fabric. It’s by adding ply that we get fabrics like crepe and taffeta and georgette. And with as drape-y and luxurious as silk tends to be, additional ply can make for some very slinky, luxe fabric.
Like four-ply silk. Four-ply silk is woven with four-ply yarns on both the warp and weft. This makes for a very heavy, smooth surfaced, gracefully draping, silk fabric. Because of the four-ply yarns, four-ply silk tends to be heavier than your average silks found in a shop, weighing in at 30MM to 40MM. The surface tends to be very smooth and thus this heavy fabric can be difficult to work with. Additionally, due to the additional ply, four-ply silk won’t crease the way habotai or china silk will. Because this fabric is so heavy, it will also not gather as well, creating a great deal of bulk around gathering stitches. Julie Parker (p. 34) recommends garments that are shaped in the seams, versus gathers, pleats or darts.
Whatever you decide to make, it is silk, it will dye beautifully, and it will drape like a dream.
In joining the SCA, the boyfriend and I were trying to determine persona. This is a fairly common ritual for those who think they may be around for the long haul, and most people have a general idea of where they want to go with their character creation. Vikings are common, as are 14th and 15 century knights, Elizabethan nobles, even Ottoman and Arabian persona are fairly well represented. Less represented, at least in the West Kingdom, are Mongolians. And the boyfriend, wanting to not follow the crowd, decided he wanted to be Mongolian. And the more I learned about the Great Kahn (Genghis), the more on board I became with the idea. To learn why I have nothing but mad respect for the “Barbarian Hoards” led by Genghis Kahn, I highly recommend Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford.
But this blog, this site in general, is more interested in textiles. And in this case, what DID the Mongolians wear? When the average Mongolian rolled out of bed in the morning, how did he or she dress? So I set out to find out. And let me tell you, this was not easy. Mongolia, while not specifically insular, is not as mainstream as say, Samurai, The Black Prince, or even Sulieman. But, in researching Mongolian Fashion, I did find some VERY interesting pop culture references.
So Mongolia, while not traditionally mainstream, clearly has some influence on Hollywood beyond Netflix.
But that still leaves the question of Mongolian Clothing. Generally speaking, men and women wore much the same thing. There were differences in Armor and decor, but the style and cut of Mongolian clothing is uniquely suited to the harsh life on the Mongolian plateaus, which makes unisex style garments eminently practical.
So for starters, both wore pants. Both men and women were accomplished equestrians, and side saddle was literally unheard of in Genghis Kahn’s Mongolia. And while women could ride in carts, generally, transport by cart was for the sick and elderly. Everyone else rode or walked. And since Mongolian winters are brutally cold, with temperatures routinely reaching to -4 to -45 Fahrenheit (-20 to -45 Celsius), pants were a necessity to keep from freezing your lower extremities.
Mongolian warriors would wear a silk undershirt because it was believed to assist in removing arrows that might successfully penetrate armor. Women would not have necessarily needed such an undershirt, in that there is no evidence they actually went to war with the men. Not to say they didn’t, but there is no evidence to that effect. Also not to say they didn’t wear undershirts. Mongolia, as shown above, is COLD. Layers would be the order of the say, even in Summer. So while no extant garments have been found, it is not unreasonable to assume undershirts were worn.
The Deel is the garment worn by both men and women for which Mongolia is known. Originally made of hemp, as Mongolian culture progressed it came to be made of wool, cotton, and eventually silk. Of course the reason for this is that Genghis Kahn basically hi-jacked the Silk Road and all tithes and taxes thereof, usually in the form of silk, spices, and livestock, made it’s way back to the heart of the Mongolian Empire, resulting in vast wealth for the Mongolians. And Silk became a staple of their wardrobe, useful not just in deflecting arrows, but for high fashion in Mongolia. If the Deel was insufficient for warmth, more layers in the form of vests or additional coats might be added. But generally speaking, the Deel, carefully woven and lined, provided all the protection Mongolians needed from the rapidly changing climate in Mongolia.
Over the Deel is a long sash, wrapped several times around the waist. The sash wrapped allows for a pocket to form in the Deel, in which anything from small items to small livestock can be kept, depending on the needs of the moment.
Boots are stiff, heavy leather, turned up at the toe. Several explanations have been given for the design. My favorite ties back to the Shamanic tradition of Mongolia. Tradition says that if the toe is not turned up, it might gouge mother earth, so that the turned up toe is respectful to her, to avoid injury.
And finally, the hats. Discover Mongolia says there are 400 styles of hat worn in Mongolia, and lists some of the reasons and styles found. But my favorite example of Mongolian style bleeding over to the west was from Contemporary (to Genghis Kahn) fashion, when women in Europe adopted the Boqta in to the Hennin.
One of the many myths I am consistently confronted with is that silk is fragile and requires special care. Part of the history of silk is the history of mankind…which means its a blood soaked history of brutal warfare. Not just because the Chinese Emperors made the smuggling of silk worms and mulberry trees a crime punishable by death. But literal warfare. The Romans were first introduced to silk through warfare when they saw the silk banners of the Parthians in 53 BC. And to this day, silk painting is a beautiful art form, with silk being a wonderful medium for Medieval recreationsits.
But while the Parthians banners were a peripheral use of Silk in Warfare, there were far more direct uses. Like Genghis Kahn insisting his troops have shirts made of silk. This wasn’t vanity or ego on the part of the great Kahn. Silk, when densely woven, is surprisingly resistant to damage. In the case of the Mongolian army, it acted in conjunction with the lamellar armour. If an arrow managed to pierce the plate of the lamellar, the silk undershirt could halt penetration before it got to far, allowing for easy extraction after battle. Silk is just not that fragile and damn useful overall.
Moving east, the Japanese also utilized silk in warfare. Not just useful for the Kimono, the Japanese also used silk for Horo. Essentially, this was a large framework over which was placed silk, which was worn by messengers. The reason was not just to mark the messenger as a person of importance, because wearing such an ostentatious item surely marked one as a target. The Horo was designed to deflect arrows shot at the messenger. The linked video is about 11 minutes long, but if you fast forward to about 9 minutes, you get to see a reproduction Horo in action…it is glorious. If you watch the whole video, you learn that the translation of Horo…is arrow catcher.
In addition to the east, the west also found a use for silk in warfare. Namely, parachutes. Up until the Japanese placed an embargo on the US during World War II, parachutes were made out of silk. After the embargo, the US still needed parachutes, and fortunately for us, technology had advanced enough that Nylon was able to step in and take the strain. Once on the ground, there was no expectation of recovering the silk for another jump, but many GI’s would pack it up anyway and ship it home.
Silk has a long history globally. Not just in fashion, but as life saving measures for military throughout history, and in to medicine. So when someone says silk is delicate–tell it to the Mongols.