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Mongolian Clothing

Mognolian Clothing

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.

Traditional Mongolian Headdress
Traditional Mongolian Headdress
Queen Amidala
Queen Amidala…from Star Wars Episode I

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.

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Silk in Warfare

The Great Kahn used Silk in Warfare

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.

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My other Love

My Other Love

So, if you open your mind beyond Facebooklandia, it turns out you really can learn something new every day.  While I have been All Things Silk for about two years now, my other love is Raqs Sharqi.  And since I like to blend my passions to cut down on confusion, I thought I’d see when silk first hit Egypt.

Now, there are references to it in travel literature, that dancers wore Silks, mostly plain woven, but with accent pieces of satin or crepe (Fraser, 197…a most excellent read).  So definitely by the 19th century, silk was in Egypt.  But silk was EVERYWHERE by the 19th century, so that really isn’t much of a leap.  China has had silk for 8500 years.

The Silk Road has been around for 2200 years and was a major trade route across all of Asia, and certainly had contact with Persia and Rome.  But Egypt ALSO has a long and storied civilization behind it.  Egyptians were active traders and conquerors.  Surely they must have had some notion of China and the wonders of silk.  So I Googled it.

And had two rather surprising hits.  The first was a letter from 1993, response it seems, to an inquiry about some fibers located in a mummy.  It references Cleopatra and it would not be surprising to find she had access to silk, given her contact with the Romans and we know the Romans certainly had silk by the time Cleopatra reigned.  However, the letter reveals that scanning determined the fibers were in fact silk filaments, from China…and they had been found on a mummy dated to 1000 BCE.  This puts silk, in Egypt, 1000 years earlier than initially believed.

The second was a New York Times article, also dated from 1993.  This article begins by commenting on the letter about silk filaments found on very old mummies, but also includes references to silk being excavated from 7th century BC graves in Germany and 5th century BC graves in Greece.  So we know silk was a tightly controlled commodity by the Chinese prior to the Byzantines stealing it.  But even tightly controlled commodities can get out to the general market…if the price is right.

The NYT article concludes by guessing that border guards bribed nomads with silk.  I contend it could just as easily have gone the other way.  Maybe the border guards were offered incredible sums of money for silk.  Either way it happened, silk was likely in Egypt 3000 years ago.  And certainly available for Raqs Sharqi costuming when that dance hit the stage.

And so this happy little book worm is delighted at the successful marriage of my two passions…Silk and Dance.

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Doupioni–friend or foe?


Doupioni.  Dupioni, Douppioni, Douppione, Doppione.  All the variations of spelling mean the same thing–Double.  Doupioni Silk threads are spun from silk cocoons that were spun too close together.  This filament is usually from cultivated silk due to overcrowding.  In the wild, silk worms have lots of room to spread out, so double cocoons rarely happen.  When the filaments are un-spun from the cocoons, there are thicker slubs where the cocoons crossed over.  That’s the technical portion of the filaments.  On to the technical portion of the fabric.

The slubs are structurally weaker than the other silk filaments.  For this reason, the warp threads are never doupioni–they can’t take the stress of being strung on a loom.  So the warp threads are pure silk filament.  The weft threads are of the doupioni threads.  And as stated, they are considerably weaker.  Which means this fabric, while really easy to work with, is prone to seam slippage, pilling, and abrasion.

And yet, probably because of how easily available it is, Doupioni remains the preferred silk of costumers and home couturiers.  It is structurally inferior in virtually every way.  It is texturally interesting, with the slubbiness adding visual contrast to the smoothness of silk.  Additionally, the texture makes it very easy to work with.  It dyes well and is frequently found as a shot silk.  All of this makes it very appealing.  Which is fantastic for cosplay and modern couture.  Not so much for historical costuming.

But, silk is silk, even structurally inferior silk that is readily available.  And if you have to choose between sweltering in a polyester Elizabethan or being stylish in silk, go for the silk.  Even the Doupioni.  And when you can afford it, go for the Damask.  Or the Taffeta.  Or even the Habotai.  Or use the Doupioni.  It is a great fabric, widely available, in a gorgeous variety of colors.

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Crepe de Chine

crepe de chine

We already discussed Crepe, but how is Crepe de Chine difference from Crepe?  Obviously there is a difference, words matter, and they each carry a unique name.  Surprisingly, Julie Parker was not as helpful as usual, listing the major difference between the two as Crepe de Chine is French for Crepe from China.  But good old Fairchild was supremely helpful (p. 157):

“A fine, lightweight, plain weave silk fabric woven with a silk warp and a crepe-twist silk filling alternating 2s-2z…more ends than picks per inch.”

Translation:  There are more warp threads, which hold the tension on the loom, than there are weft threads.  The warp threads are silk filament.  The weft threads alternate two rows of s-twist filament and two rows of z-twist filament.  This creates a very smooth smooth face, a firm hand, and a lustrous, slippery surface.  Crepe de Chine has a smoother surface than Crepe.

Like all silks, Crepe de Chine is easily dye-able and when a solid color is fully reversible; however, given that it has a considerably smoother surface than Crepe, it can also be printed on with a fair amount of ease.  In that case, watch for whichever side is brighter, that’s your primary.

As for when Crepe and Crepe de Chine made it’s appearance, the earliest references to date are 19th century France.  This is not to say these weaves did not exist prior to this point in history.  But so far, no references to them have been found, so use caution with historical sewing and crepe.  But as usual, if you are a cosplayer, go for broke.  Crepe de Chine is lovely, and elegant, lightweight, and sleek.

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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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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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Batiste de Soie

Going alphabetically, batiste de soie is the way to start with silk weaves.  The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles lists Batiste de Soie as “a sheer silk fabric, plain or figured, resembling silk mull (p. 48).”

Batiste is itself a weaving technique, named after the 13th century linen weaver Jean Baptiste.  Batiste pulls directly from his name, with this particular fabric translating as “batiste of silk.”  Batiste was originally a very fine, diaphanous fabric, most commonly these days woven in cotton or poly/cotton blends. But it can be found in silk!  In All About Silk, author Julie Parker says “it is similar in weight and hand to china silk, but authentic batiste is more tightly woven, more lustrous, and of better quality (p. 14).

Here, I disagree with Ms. Parker.  My disagreement is a wholly practical matter, having to do with history.  Fragments of plain woven silk have been found in Henan Province, China, dating to 3500 BCE.  Frankly speaking, China had a jump start on European silk weaving of nearly 4000 years.  It was another 800 years after that (the 13th Century) before Jean Baptiste even invented his light weaving technique.  To say that the French weave silk better than the Chinese simply because they are French is, to me, illogical.  Simply put, the Chinese do their cultural heritage (silk weaving) better than the French do.

Now, this is not to say the French don’t weave some gorgeous silks (hello….Lyons? The 18th Century?)  But for a plain weave silk, I do prefer China Silk (and not just because we sell it.)  It’s that the differences listed in Parker’s book are superficial.  She lists that China silk is “available in a wide range of colors, while Batiste de Soie is bleached white or dyed pastel shades.”  Truly, if handed a piece of 8MM Batiste de Soie and 8MM China Silk, both in white, you would not be able to tell the difference…well, possibly with a microscope.  Both are light weight, plain woven, and reversible.  And ultimately, there is that 4000 year head start on the rest of the world when it comes to silk weaving that leaves China as the true king of this craft.  And quality is so often a matter of opinion.

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Working with Silk Fabric

Working with Silk Fabric

One of the things that keeps people from buying and working with silk fabric is fear.  Fear that it’s delicate and they don’t want to damage it, fear that they’ll mess it up.  So here is a crash course primer on how to work with this lustrous fabric.

First off, pre-wash the fabric using your preferred method.  The Caveat is that Silk Velvet and Watered Silk should always be dry cleaned.  Otherwise, either hand wash or machine wash the fabric in preparation of working with it.

Once you have washed and dried the fabric, iron it.  Just like with cotton, linen, or synthetic blends, you don’t want to cut wrinkles in to your silk.  Use a pressing cloth to protect your fabric from scorching.  If you have a very good iron, you might be able to get away without a pressing cloth, but if you are at all uncertain, far better and scorching that happens occurs on the pressing cloth, NOT your fashion fabric.  While you can remove many stains from silk, scorching is basically fire damage.  There’s no coming back from that.

If you don’t want to buy a cotton press cloth, you can make one from a scrap of silk organza.  Simply cut the scrap approximately one yard by one half yard, surge the cut ends to prevent fraying, and you’re good to go.  Make sure it’s SILK organza.  Polyesters can melt under high heat, and again, if it melts in to your silk, there’s no coming back from that damage.

After you have ironed the fabric, lay it out like you would any other fabric for patterning.  Make sure the entire piece is fully supported on your cutting surface.  Silk is SLIPPERY!  That zero friction is one of the difficulties of working with it.  If the full weight of the fabric isn’t supported, then when you start cutting out the pieces, the fabric can slip right off the cut surface, which will pull the fabric and pinned pattern pieces out of alignment, pretty much wrecking the project.  You can recover from this, but why cause yourself unnecessary agony?

For pinning and cutting–If you are comfortable with pattern weights, then by all means use them.  If you prefer pins, then I use Dritz Ultra Fine Pins.  Be cautious about jamming the pins into the cut surface underneath.  Because they are ultra fine, the point can dull very quickly.  As long as the pin shaft has not bent, you can always sharpen them using the emery pad on an old fashioned Tomato Pin Cushion.

When you’re satisfied with your pinning, it is time to cut.  Now, I have not used rotary cutters on silk, but that is mostly due to my inability to use rotary cutters without slicing my hands to ribbons.  I use Gingher Dress Shears with a micro-serrated edge.  The micro-serrated edge will hold any slippery or slinky fabric in place for a clean cut.  If you use a standard knife edge set of scissors, it becomes an exercise in frustration as the silk slides off the blade while cutting.

Once you’ve cut out, transfer any markings using either Tailor’s Tacks or Pin Marking, or a smooth tracing wheel and wax paper.  I do not recommend a serrated tracing wheel for any fabric due to the serration pokes tiny holes in whatever fabric you’re marking, which MIGHT close back up, but again, why risk the mayhem when alternatives are readily available?

Sew as usual, but I do recommend using silk thread when sewing silk fabric.  I also recommend shortening your stitch length to 2mm, or approximately 13 stitches per inch.  The filaments on silk threads are considerably finer than cotton, linen, or rayon threads, making the thread virtually invisible against the fabric.  And silk threads will run through your machine the same way cotton, linen, and rayon threads do.  Use the finest size needles for your machine and for hand sewing.

Originally, this post was published in June, 2016.  I am adding this paragraph here to reflect new knowledge.  When I originally published this post, I did not know what I now do about Seam Slippage.  Given this new to me knowledge, I wanted to include a paragraph about finishing your seams, as a preventative to seam slippage.  My first recommendation is to flat fell your seams, but a good alternative is french seams.  Both work well in giving a clean finish to your seam, and in preventing seam slippage.

And that’s it.  Follow these guidelines to make sewing with silk less stressful.  For additional tricks and tips, read this post from  I think the only thing we disagree on is thread type.  Otherwise, everything there is what I also recommend.  Happy sewing!