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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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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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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.

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Silk Noil

Silk Noil

Let’s start with Noil (sometimes spelled Noile).  From Fairchild, p. 415, “Short fibers removed during the combing operation of yarn making…the fibers sometimes are mixed with other fibers to make low-quality yarns or are used for purposes other than yarn making, such as padding, stuffing.  See BOURETTE SILK.”  Huh?  What is Bourette Silk?

Bourette Silk: “A coarse silk yarn spun from the waste that is produced in the manufacture of SCHAPPE SILK…the yarn is lumpy, irregular, and possesses low elongation.  Tufts from the nubs, noils, and other waste are interspersed throughout the yarn…” (Fairchild, p. 71.)

SCHAPPE SILK!  WHY!  WILL THE DICTIONARY DIVE NEVER END!

Ok, what is Schappe silk?  “A yarn made from silk waste that has been degummed, but only partially.  Synonym: SPUN SILK.” (Fairchild, p. 537).  Finally…familiar territory.

Essentially, Silk Noil is produced using the waste by-product of filament reels.  Even carefully unreeled silk is going to have uneven ends.  Those uneven ends are spun into Bourette Silk…or Schappe Silk…or better known as Silk Noil.  For some reason, probably because of the nubby slubs in the weaving, Silk Noil is sometimes mistakenly called Raw Silk.  Raw Silk has not been cleaned of is sericin.  You are closer to raw silk with Organza…or even with Schappe Silk… than you would be with Noil.

Silk Noil is surprisingly soft for a fabric that still has bits of cocoon woven in to it, has easy drape, and works well for tailored blouses, can be gathered, pleated, or tucked at will.  However, it is relatively thick compared to other silks, so too much gathering adds bulk.  Additionally, as it is the product of waste by-product, Noil is weaker than other silk fabrics.  Still stronger than cotton, but not as strong as chiffon, with it’s intact filaments.

As for Noil, when I Googled Noil in Fashion History, I found this wonderful blog by Revival Clothing, tracking use as far back as the middle ages.  More recently, it has entered fashion lexicon as part of Jedi costume, and Haute Couture.  Remember, when looking at the Dolce and Gabbana dress for $532 of silk noil…waste by-product.  Couture if a FASCINATING subject.  And a strong argument to become a skilled seamstress in your right!

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Crepe Back Satin

Crepe Back Satin

Crepe Back Satin.  The definition of which needed more research.  Seriously. From Fairchild, p. 156 “A reversible satin weave silk…made with an organzine warp, and a crepe-twist filling.”  What the hell is organzine?

Also from Fairchild, p. 426 “Raw silk yarn made of two or more twisted singles that are then doubled and twisted in the reverse direction on the ply.”  Now, to explain that.  Four filament threads are laid out, two by two.  Two are spun together with an s-twist, the other two are also spun together with an s-twist.  Then those new threads are spun together on a z-twist.

crepe de chine
First two are s-twist, then those two are spun on a z-twist.

These organzine threads are then used on the warp of the loom, with the filling threads the usual s and z-twist crepe filling yarns, woven in a satin weave.

Warp faced Satin

Also from Fairchild’s description of Crepe Back Satin, “There are two or three times as many ends as picks per inch.”  This makes it a sumptuous fabric, with full drape, and elegant movement.  It is full of texture, slinky soft on one side, crinkly on the other.  The texturing is so visible you can use the same yard of fabric to create visually interesting parti-colored clothes, with the texture being the key feature.  As for when it was first created…undetermined.  We know the first references to crepe fabric are from the 19th century.  It probably didn’t take long to experiment with satin weave and crepe yarns.  But when did historical spinners decide organzine was a thing?  Another mystery to be discovered later.

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Seam Slippage

Seam Slippage

The un-talked of enemy of those who work with silk.  What is it?  Seam Slippage occurs when the seam is solid, but the threads/fibers to either side of the seam start to pull away, resulting in a gap in the fabric.  This typically occurs when not enough stitches per inch are used during crafting the seam, and are more likely to occur on seams that run parallel to the selvage, along the warp of the fabric.

It is also prone to happening with silk.  This is mostly due to the filament nature of the fiber itself.  Silk is slick, and that slippery tendency includes having the filaments migrate away from the seam stitches, especially at stress points.  But not all is lost.  There are actually several steps you can take to avoid this catastrophe.

First, shorten your stitch length.  The average stitch length for commercial sewing machines is 2.5 mm or 10-12 stitches per inch.  Shorten that to 2 mm or 12-13 stitches per inch.  May not seem like much, but it makes a big difference in seam strength for silks.  Always make sure your seam allowance is at least 1/2 inch.  This is so you can do the next step:  flat fell your seams.  Or use French seams.  Really any double row of stitching is effective in combating seam slippage.  Binding the edges is NOT effecting against seam slippage due to the binding occurs on the outer edge to prevent fraying from the outside in, but does not really strengthen the seam itself.

And preventing slippage is that easy.  Seam allowance, stitch length, flat felling.  And however much you may hate flat felling seams (I HATE flat felling seams…I prefer pinking sheers and call it good.  I am a lazy seamstress in that regard), you will hate more having poured your heart and soul in to making the perfect gown, only to have the characteristics of the fiber destroy your efforts from the inside out.

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Taffeta–from the Persian

Taffeta

As silk made it’s way along the silk road and down in to Persia, the Persian’s added their own twist.  Literally.  Taffeta is from the Persian word Taftah, meaning “twisted woven,” Taffeta was first woven in the Third Century in Persia (p. 68, Parker).  Taffeta is a smooth, tightly woven, plain weave fabric, created by adding additional twist to the threads during weaving.  This adds strength to the fabric so that this is a very stable weave, with minimal fraying.  It still frays, but not as bad as organza or chiffon would.  Typically, the weft threads are slightly heavier than the warp threads, which also adds the smooth luster and face of this heavy fabric (p. 604, Fairchild).

Taffeta is produced using two effects, already discussed in my post on True Damask, silk pieces can be created by piece dying or by thread dying.  When Taffeta is piece dyed, it tends to have a slightly softer hand.  If it is thread dyed for shot silk effects or for stripes, the fabric tends to be slightly stiffer and have a bit more body.

Regardless of piece dyed or thread dyed, silk taffeta is where scroop originated.  Now, the dictionary definition provides that scroop is added artificially by treatment with dilute acid.  This is true for nylon or rayon taffetas, but scroop is a natural property found in silk (Fairchild, p. 540), and especially noticeable in Taffeta.  That rustling sound is what let Rhett Butler know that Mammy had accepted his gift of a red silk petticoat.  It is that noticeable.

Because it is a plain weave silk, it will crease, pleat, and gather, beautifully.  It drapes fantastically, and is relatively easy to work with, when compared to satin or lightweight organza.  And if the scroop bugs you too much?  Wash it in warm soapy water.  Missing the scroop.  Return it…with dilute acid!  From Julie Parker “…soak it in a solution of 5% white vinegar and water. (p. 68).  Huh….I guess dilute acid does add the scroop!

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Shot Silk

Shot Silk

No, this is not another reference to Silk in Warfare.  Shot silk is a specific effect which is created when the warp threads are one color and the weft threads are a second, complimentary or contrasting color.  Most commonly found in Taffeta’s, shot silks require a bit of forethought to manufacture.

Now, the reason for the forethought isn’t just what colors do I want to use.  Typically, when a length of fabric is woven, the looms do their job, and the end product is then dip dyed in a large vat, to produce an all over color.  Or in cases of calico prints, they’ll be sent through the printers to have the design printed on them.  But in shot silk, the threads must be dyed before weaving can commence.  This requires calculation at the manufacturers end.  How much thread will actually be needed in each color to make the ordered yardage.  And then that much thread must be dyed in separate vats, then placed in mordants for the dyes to set.

Then the weaving commences.  The result is pure iridescence.

Purple on the Warp, Blue on the Weft

Today this effect is called shot silk.  However, historically it has been called changeant, changeable silk, and shadow silk.  Now, this effect is by no means a 21st century innovation.  The wikipedia article on shot silk reports a 12th century description of liturgical vestments from the 7th century of purple and yellow.  So this technique dates back to the middle ages, at least to the 12th century, and as far back as the 7th, if the article is described accurately from that time.

It was unquestionably fashionable in the 19th century, as shown in this image from The Met.

Changeante Silk 1840s

And there is reference to changeante silk throughout many books on 18th century dress.  I suspect that much like all things, the trend comes and goes.  So while shot silk is referenced in the 12th century clergy wear, it’s popularity waxed and waned over the intervening centuries, sometimes en vogue, sometimes not.  Such are the vagaries of haute couture.  As Heidi Klum would say, one day you’re in, the next, you’re out.  Auf Wiedersehen!

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Organza

Silk Organza

Organza, that crispest of crisp fabrics.  Organza is a plain, very light weight, basket weave fabric.  There are no special twists in the yarn, although they are tightly twisted.  What gives Organza the body we all love is the sericin, or silk gum.

When the bombyx mori start to spin their cocoons, they don’t just tightly spin the fibroin around themselves.  They also produce sericin, which is the gummy component that allows the fibroin to maintain it’s cocoon shape until the bombyx mori crawls out of it’s cocoon.  Or until the cocoon is harvested for silk filaments.  If you’re a true blue Buddhist, you might want to skip cultivated silk.  Lots of bugs die in the making of it.  Don’t worry, there is always Ahimsa Silk

Typically, once the cocoon is harvested, it is dropped in a vat of boiling water to remove the sericin as part of the processing to create the filaments for silk threads and yarns.  But if the intended product is silk organza, most of the sericin is left on.  This natural silk gum leaves the threads stiffer and is what creates the crisp, stiff, body of silk organza fabrics.

Organza is good for decorative embroidery work, as an over skirt, or to flat line a fabric that needs a little more body.  Because of it’s natural crispness, this is not a curve hugging fabric.  Even on a bias cut, organza would be hard pressed to do anything other than fall in folds away from the body.  It can be gathered, pleated, shirred, puffed, and bouffanted.  It is genuinely versatile.  Organza makes an excellent sew in stabilizer or facing fabric.  However, given that it is a sheer fabric, seams need to be finished.  Generally, I use french seams or flat-felled seams when finishing sheer seams.  Or if I’m in a hurry and feeling lazy, I’ll serge them.  But french seams look the nicest, especially on fabrics where the seams are definitely visible.

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Learning new things

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.

I know Nothing
Yep….that’s me!

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.

I learned!
All that college learning…

And hopefully comes out the other side having learned something useful.