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Dry Clean Only

The Care and Feeding of Silk, Dry Clean Only

How exactly did the dry clean only label come about?  Let’s condense history in to a brief paragraph.  Silk has been around for anywhere from 8500 to 5500 years.  Silk cocoons have been found in a tomb in Henan province China dated to 6500 BCE with a full bolt of cloth located, also in Henan province, dated to 3500 BCE.  Dry cleaning wasn’t invented until 1855 by Jean Baptiste Jolly.  So, from 6500 BCE to 1855 CE, water was used to clean silk.  Water was still used to clean silk until the advent of the washing machine.  How’s that? you ask.  A brief story in merchandising.

Major retailers of fine clothing would sell a silk blouse to a lady.  Or a silk tie to a gentleman.  Then when doing laundry, the silk item would get thrown in with the blue jeans…probably on accident, sorting clothes has been standard process since forever.  Whether accidental or on purpose, the result was the same.  During spin cycle, the zipper on the blue jeans would catch on the silk, tearing it.  This resulted in the blouse or tie being returned to the retailer.  Who would accept the return because, <expletive deleted> you Nordstrom and your “Customer is always right” policy.

The retailers were losing scads of money on damaged returns because people weren’t paying attention.  So they slapped a dry clean only label on it and made damaged goods the problem of the dry cleaning industry.  Fast forward 100 years and everyone is scared to buy or work with silk because it is a dry clean only fabric.

Now let me explain to you why, exactly, except for in rare instances, I would NOT recommend dry cleaning silk fabric.  Chemicals.  Now, I am not someone to whom the word chemical is a scary thing.  I believe dry cleaning is perfectly safe and use the dry cleaner for my wool cloak, and my down comforter, winter jacket.  I do not use the dry cleaner for silk because along with any stains, the chemicals will strip the natural luster from silk, resulting in a decided dullness.

“Silk tends to look dull and dingy after several trips to the cleaners.  In fact, many silks actually look better and last longer when washed by hand. (Parker, p. 61).  How can that be?  The Cleaners are supposed to make sure your garments look the best.  Except for those chemicals which are actually very harsh solvents which strip fibers of any residual moisture. And as we know…silk loves moisture.

Initially, dry cleaning used petroleum based solvent.  Yes…petrol.  As in gasoline.  However, due to the inability to obtain insurance coverage, what with the combination of highly flammable chemicals stored next to highly flammable fabric which had subsequently been soaked in those chemicals, the Dry Cleaning business does what commerce does best.  It innovated.  And by the 1930’s, the industry had shifted entirely to tetrachloroethylene, aka perchloroethylene or perc, as it is commonly known.

This was a wholly good thing, as perc is non-flammable, can be used with most fiber types, and is very stable, which means it can be recycled and is better for the environment.  And while it’s chemical composition won’t hurt silk, it will dull that luster we all love so much.  But for the low low price of $15.99 for Dr. Bronner’s and another $12.49 for the white vinegar to rinse your silk in, you can hand wash all your silk at home.  That $28.48 will last FOREVER…well, not literally.  But I bought my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s well over a year ago and still have half a bottle left.  And white vinegar has other uses than as a silk rinse…it’s an all purpose cleaner!

So save yourself the cost of a dry cleaner and at the same time you will save your silks.  Hand wash them at home.  You can even machine wash them!  Just make sure to separate out the blue jeans first.

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That’s a Moire

That's a Moire

Watered silk.  Moire.  And all it’s variations (moire antique, moire francaise, moire ineraillable, etc….)  According to Wikipedia, Moire was available as early as the Middle Ages. This is certainly possible, as the earliest mangle found has been dated 1444, and was located in Bergen Norway.  Now Norway is pretty far removed from China.  Which logically says that the first moire was probably linen or wool.

This is just supposition.  The Chinese invented everything else so it is not impossible that they invented watered silk, and I just haven’t uncovered the term they use for it.  I was wrong about crepe, I could be wrong about this.  But if China did not invent this technique, and the earliest mangle was located in Norway, than most likely moire was first linen, possibly wool, with silk being discovered by a foolhardy chamber maid who was probably beaten for putting the very expensive silk through a mangle.  Yeah the effect was cool, but what the hell!

Alternatively, the meaning has changed over the years.  According to Fairchild, Moire was “formerly applied to various fabrics of great value and luster.  Gold, silver, and silk fabrics are called moire in 15th and 16th century French documents (p. 393).”

Now, what does all this mean?  Well it means that language is a living thing and meaning changes over time.

Conversely, Calendering is when a piece of fabric is passed through a calender, a machine with two or more cylinders which touch.  As the fabric passes through, heat and/or water is added, creating stretch and pull along the grain line of the fabric.  This creates a rippling, embossed, effect on the fabric surface.  This effect is not permanent unless specifically set using heat or chemicals.

Which is why this is one of the few fabrics I recommend for dry clean only.  If you don’t want to dry clean (because, hey…who does?) then make very sure you wash a test piece first.  Verify that the calendering effect is permanent.  If it’s not, then your options are to dry clean. Or make very sure it’s not going to rain the day you wear your dress.

 

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Subscribe Now!

Subscribe Now

When I post a blog, I always go to my blog page and see how it looks.  And when I posted on Thursday, I noticed something I had not previously seen.  Namely, that I did not have a subscribe button on my blog.  I sat in stunned disbelief, blinking at my screen, trying to figure out how long I’d been missing the subscribe button.  And when I went back through my site statistics, I found that I had had 11,000 visitors to my blog…yet only five subscribers.  And only four of those actually count, since one of them was me, checking to make sure my blogs posted!

Based on those numbers, I can draw two possible conclusions.  First, it’s entirely possible that I am a lousy writer.  While I fully admit to this possibility, since I know at least one of my posts has been linked to another blog, even if my writing is boring, it is generally useful information.  Which leads me to conclusion two:  sometime during construction of my site, I forgot to put a subscribe button in an easily visible location!

And since I made my site myself, I have no one to blame but myself.  But that also means I can fix it myself.  Which I did.  So now, prominently displayed on the right sidebar, is a subscribe button.  If you have been educated, entertained, or even frustrated over something I’ve gotten wrong, please subscribe!  And TELL me what I got right or wrong.  Information flows both ways, and I don’t know everything.  Clearly I don’t know everything…or I wouldn’t have forgotten the subscribe button at the very beginning!

Now that I am done admitting my error and correcting it as best I could (two years later, but hey!  Who’s counting?) Next week we’ll return to our regular silk weave and history posts.

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5,000 Years

5000 Years

Time is so accelerated today.  Technology advances practically at the speed of light.  Micro-chips double in capacity year over year.  The camera on your phone is as good as if not better than the camera’s you buy as separate items.  With the information of the world literally at your fingertips, it’s hard to put in perspective just how advanced silk weaving was for it’s day.  Silk has been found in Henan province dating to 8500 years ago.  And we know clothing for the elite in China has been made of silk for at least 5000 years.

Several weeks ago, I mentioned the impulse buy of 5000 Years of Chinese Costumes.  Which book came in while I was at Hot Raqs.  Then I had to prep to vend at Miss Fisher Con.  So I didn’t really get to sit down and look at until last night.  Now, I am a fairly quick reader, but I have not yet had a chance to actually read the book.  However, I quick glance through shows a wealth of pictures.  Photographs of extant garments.  Line drawings of what garments are believed to look like, based on bronze statues found in tombs or left as relics or family artifacts.

And it is fascinating!  The line drawings almost always have a picture of the statue it was based off of.  And from that one can see the Chinese were exceptionally skilled weavers.  We may have been introduced to Damask by way of Syria, but there is little doubt the Chinese did it first.  They were brocading silks, as early as the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-618 CE).  Satin is known as such because this weaving technique originated in Quanzhou, and was introduced to the West by way of the Silk Road, and Arab traders who called Quanzhou by the Arabic word, Zayton.

But the most exciting picture I found was on page 120, where there was a photograph of an extant garment.  Labeled as being from Huang Shen’s tomb of Southern Song in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, the garment is an Over-dress made from crepe fabric.  Now, in my post on Crepe de Chine, I had said the earliest reference I was able to find to Crepe de Chine was from the 19th century in France.

I should have waited to write the Crepe de Chine post.  The Song Dynasty was from 960 to 1279 CE.  So my guess was off by an alarming 600 years.  Which is good news for anyone who likes Song Dynasty costuming.  Not so good news for the egg on my face…

I have not yet had time to fully read this book, at this point I am giving it enthusiastic endorsement.  5000 Years of Chinese Costume is an excellent reference and I am excited to see what else I can learn from this beautiful book.

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In Search of Duchess Satin

I felt the need to write about Duchess Satin, alternatively known as Duchesse Satin, or just Duchesse.  I felt this calling for several reasons.  First, if one Googles Duchess Satin, you will be led to several websites offering Duchess Satin for $4.98/yard. Or for $6.95/yard.  These are polyester satins.  Nothing wrong with polyester, but it shows the corruption of the language.  Duchess, in English, is high nobility, usually of royal blood.  How often do you think Royals wear poly satin?

Even more alarming, was when Vogue Fabrics provided that “Duchess Satin is a soft, full bodied, polyester satin used in evening wear and special occasion garments.”  Or NY Fashion Center provided a silk/nylon blend for $111.99.  One Hundred Eleven Dollars!  It’s not even 100% silk!  And yet I know that 100% silk duchess satin exists because it was among the samples sent to me from my manufacturers.  Burn tests confirm, 100%silk.  In my searches, I saw one well known website (not cited here for discretion) that said duchess satin was silk satin, with no further disclaimer.

While it is certainly true that duchess satin can and is silk satin, that definition falls woefully short. We sell silk satin, and while it is certainly luxurious, it does not have the heavy hand of true duchess satin.  So, how do the two differ?  Back to Fairchild, “A highly lustrous, smooth silk or rayon fabric with a large number of ends per inch, made with an 8- to 12-end warp satin weave (p. 199).”  As we learned in my post on Crepe de Chine, a large number of ends per inch means there are more threads on the warp than on the weft.  8- to 12-end warp satin is HIGHLY technical, but for a good breakdown of what that means, I refer you to this blog.

In layman terms, it simply means that this is a very thick satin weave, with a very lustrous face and a firmer hand than typical satin.  So yes, duchess satin is silk satin, but not all silk satin is duchess satin.  Duchess Satin is very suited for heavy beading in wedding gowns and other formal wear.  This is because of the density of the weave and the firm hand it imparts.

How to tell the difference between duchess satin and regular satin (both in silk):  It’s all in the hand. Duchess Satin simply FEELS thicker and more luxurious.

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After the event…

After the Event

After the event comes project planning.  After the tear down and the load out, you review what worked and what didn’t about the event so you know what to do better next time.  Not just next time for this particular event, but at your next vending event.  And project planning. Where do you go next with your business to keep moving you forward on your path to success?

For me, it is pattern design.  While it’s a long shot that I will have a working  pattern by the time I pack for Cairo Shimmy Quake, it’s not impossible.  I know what I want to make and I have the sewing skill.  And since my self imposed blog challenge is over, I have more time to devote to my next project–pattern making.

Which will be interspersed with costuming for costume college.  And prepping my classes for costume college.  Oh crap, I forgot about costume college!  Which leads us back to choices.  I MUST go to costume college.  I signed up to teach three classes, it’s an agreement I made, so this is a must do.  Costuming for costume college can be fudged slightly.  I don’t HAVE to go all out and create new gowns for each event.  Many do, and I have in the past, but it is not a requirement.

So with that knowledge, I will make patterns.  I will create my class content for Costume College.  And if I have to limit my new costumes, then I will do that too.  Choices move us forward in life.  If A than B, but not X.  It’s ok to give yourself a break to save your sanity.  Pick your battles and fight those battles well, and in the end, you will win at life.

That bit of pithy philosophy was brought to you by post-event exhaustion.  Talk at you all next week 🙂

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What it’s like to vend

Vending 2017, to vend

I started my life in customer service.  First in a pizza parlor, next in a buffet, then a car parts store, finally at a hotel.  I am actually really good at customer service.  I genuinely like people, in small, one on one doses; the introverts dilemma.  So vending events was not a leap for me.

I started vending for Janie Midgley, running her booth at her Wiggles of the West Competition (a fantastic event, sorely missed).  And I quite enjoyed it, not just because she paid me with sick amounts of merchandise.  It let me play to my strengths, talking one on one with customers about what they were looking for.  So when I started Damask Raven, and before I even had stock it was suggested to me that a solid way to get my name out there was to vend, I immediately started planning what a vending space would look like.

So what is it like to vend?  I pick the events I am likely to attend early and start contacting vending coordinators.  If my application to vend is accepted, I locate a hotel that’s nearby, or ensure there is camping space if it’s a camp event (SCA, Ren Faire…).  I try and locate helping hands.  I have really good friends who have stepped up to help on weekend events (you know who you are) and wrangle the boyfriend in  to helping on the week long camping events (thanks baby).  Ideally, I have the hobomobile packed the night before.  On a really good day, I have also gassed the hobomobile the night before.  I leave as early as possible so that I can get checked in at either my hotel or my vending location early.

Once the vending space is open for set up, it becomes a mad dash to unload the hobomobile and move it before setting up the finished vending space.  This and tear down are the primary reason I need helping hands.  Truly, once set up is done one person can more or less run the space alone.  But that set up and tear down are a bitch when done solo.

Once set up done, it becomes a waiting game.  You wait for someone to approach you and engage them in conversation.  But there is an art to doing this, a way to impart knowledge without going for a hard sell.  Most people hate the hard sell, and if they feel you are pushing them to buy, they will leave.  So really, just talk to people.  The ability to engage complete strangers in random conversation is the most important part of vending.  You don’t even have to talk about what you are selling.  Just connect with someone.  You may sell something.  You may not.  But if you make a good connection, that person will remember you.  And maybe recommend you next time they know someone who is looking to buy.

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Tussah…Tussar…Tassar…

Bug of Tussah Silk

There are, generally speaking, two major types of silk.  Up til now, all the weaves I’ve been discussing, have been from cultivated silk.  Cultivated silk is is spun from the cocoons of the Bombyx Mori silk worm.  Tussah silk is spun from the cocoons of undomesticated moths, specifically of the Antheraea family, usually A. paphia, A. mylitta, and A. pernyi, but any moth of the Antheraea family can spin Tussah.

Some key differences between the two genus.  Bombyx mori are bred in captivity and represent thousands of years of animal husbandry.  Bombyx mori are raised on a diet exclusively of mulberry plants.  Berries, leaves, twigs.  This is why raw silk has a naturally white color.  Mulberry is so linked with the raising of silk worms, that prior to Byzantium stealing the secrets of silk, the smuggling or trade of mulberry was also punishable by death, as it was known that silk worms only ate mulberry.

Antheraea genus, however, feed primarily on oak trees, fig, plum, or juniper.  The tannins this produces results in a soft yellow colors, ranging the color spectrum from very dark, to pastel yellows when the cocoons are spun.  Additionally, tussah silk is of inferior quality, very rough texture.  The filaments are coarser and more irregular, and don’t accept dyes as readily as cultivated silk does.  As a result of the inferior quality of the filaments and yarns, tussah silk is coarse, very prone to seam slippage, and does not drape or gather well.

While generally I believe most silks can be washed at home, hand washed or even using a gentle cycle on the machine, the overall rough texture of tussah silk makes it likely to dissolve under rough handling.  And no matter how cautious you are, you really can’t handle it as gently as dry cleaners would.  So Tussah silk ideally is dry clean only.  On the flip side, the texturing of it makes this one of the easier silks to work with.