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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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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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Rare Commodity

Rare Commodity--the Gorgeous Queen Latifah

I’m talking time.  Time is a rare commodity.  I always think I have all the time in the world, until suddenly, I don’t.  So with Hot Raqs approaching and Miss Fisher Con hot on it’s heels, I have to use my time wisely.  I have to pick which projects to move forward, and which to back burner until after these events.

Now, a subtle part of my marketing is wearing clothes made out of the silks I sell.  Sort of a “This is what I made, what are you going to make?”  To that end, I am set for SCA events.  Those being the first events I vended, I have lots of costumes for them.  I even have costuming I can wear for Hot Raqs, since half my SCA wardrobe are historical dance attire.  So I can make that work.

But Miss Fisher Con.  I got nothing.  I mean seriously.  I am all curves, a la Marilyn Monroe.  So while I love the style of the 1920’s, I am definitely not built for this decade of fashion (although I love, love, LOVE how they styled Queen Latifah in Chicago).  But, on the plus side, I can make the drop waist styles of the ’20’s work for day wear in my day job.  So I go in search of 1920s patterns in my size.

And Voila!  I find Decades of Style.  Now, these are stylish, fun patterns, that will in fact easily convert to day wear for the day job.  So I picked two to make up and start planning my fabric usage.  But, as with all outfits, the fun doesn’t stop there!  Silk, like all natural fibers, is inherently anti-static, due to it’s natural retention of moisture which counteracts static electricity.  What DOES create static cling when wearing silk is undergarments made of polyester and nylon, even rayon.  While rayon is technically a natural fiber, it is so heavily processed that it tends towards static.

So to make my wonderful 20’s fashions elegant, rather than a continuous wrestling match, I also need undergarments of silk.  Not a problem.  I have habotai which is perfectly suited to slips.  And I have a Folkwear pattern which is perfect for the 1920’s fashions.  So, make the outfits from the inside out, and I will be well dressed for Miss Fisher Con.  Just in Time.

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On Failure

On Failure

Yesterday, I wrote about Success.  But what about failure?  Statistically, any business or venture is more likely to fail than to succeed.  But really, it depends on your definition of failure.  If you take the dictionary definition: an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful.  All told, that’s a pretty nebulous definition, given that success means different things to different people.  For one, success may mean being able to cut your day job to part time.  In which case, enough sales to supplement your day job would count as a success.  For another, being fully self-sustaining so you can QUIT the day job…in which case, only enough sales to supplement the income would be a failure.

But again, is it?  In a more nebulous sense (meaning NOT the dictionary definition) failure is a state of mind.  You only truly fail when  you fail to learn from mistakes.  Did you overspend on marketing, cutting in to your operating budget?  That’s a mistake to learn from, and not even necessarily fatal.  It’s just something to learn and move on.

Did you not practice as much as you could have, leading you to not even placing in the competition?  Or what if you practiced til your feet bled, but the first place winner just had that extra spark?  How you react in that situation determines whether or not you are a success or a failure.  You can scream about how unfair it was, how much you practiced, how you feel robbed of your opportunity.  Or you can acknowledge that today was not your day.  Go home, do more, try harder.  And maybe next time it will be your day.

Failure is very much a state of mind.  You can let life’s set backs hold you down, you can rail and scream about what went wrong.  Or you can acknowledge it happened, dust yourself off, and move forward with plan b….c…d…and plan e.  However many plans it takes for you to reach your personal definition of success.  You’re only a failure when you quit trying.

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Doupioni–friend or foe?

Doupioni

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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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

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Indigo Dyed

While at Golden Beltane last week, I met many fabulous people and had a generally grand time.  Among the fabulous people was the wonderful and lovely Eirny Thorvaldsdottir of The Treasury.  Eirny was offering to dye fabric or garments indigo in the vat she had on site and available.  Having just cut off a 2 yard piece of white Habotai to make an impromptu veil, I decided, sure!  Let’s see what indigo does to silk.  Indigo does this to silk:

Snow Light Silk Habotai BEFORE and Indigo bath...

Snow Light Silk Habotai BEFORE and Indigo bath…

Indigo Dyed formerly white Silk Habotai
Indigo Dyed formerly white Silk Habotai

The results were beautiful and I now have a lovely piece of cloudy blue silk veiling.  When she dropped it off, Eirny commented that she wished we had video of that since it was fun to watch the color change (Yes!  It changes before your very eyes!)  I said “I KNOW WHAT WE CAN DYE NEXT!!!!”

See, I designed this fabulous byzantine pattern and had a sample of it in white.

Byzantine design in white
Byzantine design in white

Now, this small piece of sample came off a larger sample piece, which I had tucked in to a box to prevent it from getting all dirty in the camp conditions.  So now we had almost a full yard of white Byzantine damask to dye.  And thanks to Eirny, here was the result:

You literally watch the color change from white, to greeny/yellow, to a beautiful robin’s egg blue in less than two minutes.  And after a second dip in the dye, the finished Indigo Dyed Silk Damask looks like this.

Byzantine in Blue

Byzantine in Blue

So yeah, the plan is to carry the Byzantine design in the originally scheduled purple with a smaller yardage available in white, for those who wish to try their hand at dying silk themselves.  Thank you Eirny, for bringing the Indigo and letting us record the process!

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“Water Stains”

Water Stains

CAVEAT:  I actually do need to start this one with a HUGE caveat.  Watered Silk, aka Moire, should never…EVER…be washed.  This is one of the few silks that is genuinely, unquestioningly, dry clean only.  What is it?  Moire silk is silk that has been pressed through industrial grade, steam rollers, which pull the warp threads slightly out of alignment from the weft threads, while simultaneously steaming the silk, creating a rippled effect that looks like, well, WATER.  It is very cool, as seen in this dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To give an analogy of why you do not want to get Moire wet, imagine you have just stepped out of a long, steamy, hot shower.  The mirrors are all fogged up, but you don’t really need them and you’re feeling a little silly, so you wright “Love you Sweetie!” in the mirror.  That “Love you Sweetie!” will stay on the mirror, visible whenever the mirrors steam up, forever.  Or until you wash the mirrors.  Or until the next time you step out of a steamy, hot, shower and decide you DO need the mirror, and wipe it away with a towel.  Getting Moire silk wet is the equivalent of wiping away the design with a towel.

Also, silk velvet.  Silk Pile is TRICKY so until I get some in stock and practice cleaning at home, I am recommending dry clean only for Silk Velvet as well.

Now, on to the Challenge:  WATER!

Oh No! Water!
Oh No! Water!

Oh no!  I’ve dripped water on my silk dress.  What should I do?  Let it dry.  Seriously, that’s it.  Water is a completely neutral compound.  Unless there is tea, or coffee, or Easter egg dye, IN the water, water does not stain.

Water on Black...How artistic!
Water on Black…How artistic!
Let it dry
Let it dry

The cause of water stains is starch.  That’s right…Starch.  Because water does not stain.  Because water is a neutral element. What happens, is the water rinses a small patch of starch off the silk, creating very slight differences in gradation of color.  I decided to test this theory, in the name of making sure I was passing on good information.

Now, according to WikiHow, you erase these gradations…with WATER.  Or Steam.  What you’re really doing is displacing starch from the surrounding fibers to the previously blank patch which the water had cleared away, thus restoring balance to the force.  However, if you are trying to remove “Water Stains” from a completed item that is difficult to wash, like a silk hat, follow WikiHow’s instructions.  When it’s a blouse you have, just rinse the whole thing, and re-starch once dry.  So it is seriously that easy.  Water staining—It’s just not a thing.

 

Very faint gradations in color, brought about by displaced starch...
Very faint gradations in color, brought about by displaced starch…

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So I rinse and re-starch.  It’s truly that simple!