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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

or

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.