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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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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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Costume College

Costume College

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.

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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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Silk Crepe

Crepe

To understand Crepe and how it is made, we have to dig a little bit in to spinning techniques.  Only a little bit. I’ll try and keep it brief.

Fibers, or in the case of silk filaments, are spun in to threads before weaving.  Fibers/filaments are spun with either a z-twist or an s-twist.  A Z-Twist means that when the fibers are spun, the spirals formed from spinning conform to the central portion of the letter z.  S-Twist means that the fibers when spun conform to the central portion of the letter s (Fairchild, p. 184).

With that bit of technicality out of the way, we can jump in to crepe.  From All About Silk, crepe has finer warp threads with heavier filling threads, with threads alternating between z and s twists.  These irregularities give crepe a crinkly, pebbly texture, and an elegant drape and flow.  However, the irregularity of the texture makes it hard to hold a crease.  Among the easier fabrics to work with BECAUSE of it’s texture, crepe truly is a dream drape to work with.

One additional word of caution before buying or working with crepe: due to how very tightly twisted the filaments are, crepe is VERY prone to shrinking when washed.  100% silk will dye to any color you want, and despite belief to the contrary, silk CAN be washed with water, it can even be machine washed.  But, crepe will definitely shrink, so make sure to purchase extra to allow for that shrinkage.

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Busy busy busy

busy busy busy

No, not another cloth weave.  While I will continue with my descriptions and details of different silk weaves, that is just one of my projects.  And to give my brain a break from this is that, I thought I would outline some of my plans and upcoming events.  Busy, Busy, Busy.

 

So far this year, Damask Raven is confirmed vending at Hot Raqs, Miss Fisher Con, and Cairo Shimmy Quake.  Also plan to be vending at West-AnTir War and Great Western War.  Additionally, am teaching three classes at Costume College.  So this is shaping up to be a very busy year.

 

And on top of vending plans, I am learning to make patterns, hopefully soon to be on sale everywhere Damask Raven vends, and learning to digitize embroidery, for that perfectly matched trim.  And because I feel I’ve been neglecting my blogging here at Damask Raven, I set myself the task of writing one blog post a day from two days ago until Hot Raqs.  Now, that isn’t entirely selfless.  One of the classes at Costume College is a class on different silk weaves.  By writing the posts, I’m prepping myself for that class.  And hopefully sharing some knowledge along the way.

 

So I am juggling.  A lot.  And learning a lot.  Pattern making is new to me, and once I get the hang of it, I’m looking forward to a series of blog posts highlighting my progress.  With the thirty seven posts in thirty seven days I set myself, I will probably start that soon, as it is a learning process and curve.  And continuing to show off the Baby Lock, although I’ve decided to speed up the lessons a bit with that.  Also have to keep up with stain removal and the Folly of Dry Cleaning Everything.  So more posts to come, and  I will try to mix it up, so as not to bore everyone with this is that blog posts.

 

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Let’s talk Broadcloth

Broadcloth...not satin

According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, Broadcloth was “a fabric made on a wide loom, specifically one wider than 27 inches.”  Since the narrowest weave found commercially is typically 45 inches wide, it seems odd that 27 was once considered broad!  But, width was not the only consideration.  Specific to weaving on the broader loom, the fill or weft threads are heavier and have less twist, creating a heavier hand than the lighter habotai or china silks.

In addition to the dictionary definition of broadcloth, Julie Parker provides that silk broadcloth is typically woven of spun silk, versus filament silk.  So what is the difference between spun silk and filament silk?  From Fairchild, filament is “a fiber of indefinite or extreme length, for example, silk filament, which runs from 300 to 1400 yards and more.”  This unadulterated length allows for the filaments to be woven as is, with no additional twist.  This is not to say they are NEVER twisted, because that would be grossly inaccurate.  But in the case of broadcloth, twisting would be unnecessary.  And this is because of the spun silk threads used in the weft.

Again from Fairchild’s, spun silk is made of the short lengths of silk waste.  When silk cocoons are harvested, they are typically unraveled to obtain the unbroken filament.  But they can also be harvested after the silk moths have broken out of the cocoon.  This will create many slubs.  One way to work with the slubs to card the silk, like wool is carded, then spin it in to threads for weaving.  And in this way is broadcloth made…a plain weave silk, but with a very different hand and texture than habotai.

Because broadcloth has a bit more texture, it is very easy to work with, and holds a crease.  While we don’t sell Silk Broadcloth (yet) it is relatively easy to come by commercially and is sometimes known as shirting silk.

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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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What’s in a Weave?

Amethyst Glass Silk Satin

In a blog post earlier this year, I asked the question What’s that Fiber?  I provided a brief list of different fibers, then a slightly more thorough detailing of the three different weaving techniques most commonly used.  I’m going to write a (long) series of posts describing what specifically each weave is.  The three weaves are Plain, Twill, Satin.  But there is TREMENDOUS variety within those three categories.  So what’s in a weave?

Just in a silk fiber, plain weaving is used to create Batiste de Soie, Broadcloth, Chiffon, China Silk, Cloque, Crepe, Crepe de Chine, Dupioni, Four Ply, Georgette, Habotai, Matka, Noil, Organza, Peau de Soie, Pongee, Shantung, Taffeta, and Shot Silk.  Seriously!  All of those DIFFERENT fabrics utilize a plain weave to create different drape, different hand, different look.  Which says remarkable things about the ingenuity of Man.  And none of that includes weaves that are specific to cotton, wool, or linen!

Utilizing a Twill weaving technique creates Gabardine, Surah, and Tweed.  Satin is it’s own weave, but you use satin techniques to create brocade, charmeuse, damask, and matelasse.  And silk can be knitted!

Plain weave, as defined by The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles 8th Edition, is as follows:

Simplest and most important of the three basic weaves, used in about 80% of all woven fabric…is executed by passing each filling yarn successively over and under each warp yarn, alternating each row (p. 463).

plain weave
Like this. This is a blown up, close example, of what a plain weave is.

EIGHTY PERCENT OF ALL WOVEN FABRICS!  That’s a pretty big number!  Also means the variety found in plain weaving is a result of thread spin, and treatment.

Twill’s, according to Fairchild, are “A basic weave characterized by a diagonal rib, or twill line, generally running upward from left to right…Each end floats over or under at least two consecutive picks (p. 643).

Twill weave
Basic twill weave

The third most common weave is Satin. From Fairchild, “A smooth, generally lustrous fabric, with a thick, close texture made of silk…Generally, there is a higher number of yarns on the face than the back (p. 531).  With Satin, the face of the fabric is very smooth and lustrous, while the back is dull with no shine.  A blown up line drawing of a warp faced satin would look like this:

Warp faced Satin
Warp faced Satin

So that’s a little better explanation of what’s in a weave.  Future posts will go in to each particular weave and explain the differences between china silk and batiste de soie, chiffon and organza.

Until next time…

Welcome to Damask Raven…where we do History in Style