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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.

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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!