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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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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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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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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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What’s that fiber?

Rose Scrolls Silk Twill

Let’s talk fiber. Fabric is composed of fibers, twisted in to threads, which are then woven in to fabric. So the fibers are Silk, cotton, wool, linen, acrylic, polyester, rayon, nylon…I’m sure there are others, but you get the drift. Everything else is weaving technique. So when you walk in to the fabric store and buy satin, you are usually buying polyester satin. Taffeta is usually polyester. Broadcloth is usually cotton. Twill is usually wool. Because these are the common weaves for these fibers in retail outlets, fiber is almost never specifically delineated on signage.  However, fiber content should always be listed on the bolt end. But, any fiber can be woven in to any weave. The three common weaving techniques are:

  1. Plain weave. This is also known as basket weave. Broadcloth is a plain weave. Habotai or China Silk are plain weaves. Organza, Dupioni, and taffeta are all plain weaves. What creates the different textures is how the thread is spun or treated during the weaving process. This is a very stable weave, not particularly prone to snagging.
  2. Satin weave. This is created by floating the weft thread over three or more warp threads, which causes a lustrous front and a dull fabric back. Damask weave is created by weaving designs in a combination of plain and satin weave. The satin is the lustrous design, the plain is the background. True damask is 100% reversible, so you can pick if you want the design to be plain weave or satin weave showing.
  3. Twill weave. Twill is sometimes called double basket, as it is created by weaving two weft threads over two warp threads. This is called 2/2 twill.  Twill can also be created by weaving three weft over 1 weft (3/1 twill). The end result is a diagonal weave pattern. This is a VERY stable weave, commonly found in Denim.

You have your fibers. Everything else is technique.