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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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On Success

On Success

You’ve done it!  You’ve fed the muses and kept them happy.  They in turn are feeding you inspiration.  And all that hard work is starting to pay off.  Maybe it starts with a bang, you launch your business, and it’s an overnight success story.  Or maybe it’s a slower burn.  A post like here, a sale there…it’s more gradual, but ever upward.  It’s slow, but you know you’re on the right path.

As wonderful as success is, it also comes with a side dish of bitterness.  See, success will show you who’s really in your corner.  You’re true friends will continue to support you.  They’ll cheer on every post like, every sample sold, every customer response, good or bad.  They may offer critique, but it will always be constructive (hey, have you thought of this?)

You’re not so true friends and full on haters will start with venom.  It probably won’t be as obvious at first.  Snide asides.  Hints that something is off or less than perfect.  The trick is to weed out the genuine pieces of helpful advice, the things that can help you move your business forward and in to your next level of success, from the bitter remarks of a jealous friend.

I don’t say former friend, because even jealousy can pass and someone can find they are genuinely happy for your success.  Or it’s entirely possible that in your flush of success, you turn in to a bit of a snot, and what is offered as genuine critique is blown all out of proportion by you.  In which case, pull your head out!  Seriously, success gets awfully lonely and if you turn in to a snot, you will chase all your friends away.  Then when you need a friendly ear to run an idea by, all you’re left with are sycophants.  And there is no way to improve when surrounded by yes men (or yes women).

So celebrate the wins, big or small.  Keep your friends close, but listen to the haters.  Sometimes your next direction will come from the most unexpected source.

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On Inspiration


Yesterday, it was all about the muses.  Feed the muses and they will feed you inspiration.  But what do you do when inspiration is in short supply?  How do you get out of the rut if you’ve ignored the muses and they seem to have abandoned you?

Well, it ain’t glamorous.  Hollywood would throw up a montage and when it’s all over, inspiration is restored, the big idea has hit you, and you’re off to make millions…or art…or kick some guys ass…whatever you were wishing for when the montage began, suddenly it’s there.  But the point of the montage is to cut out the boring stuff.  It shows an abbreviated version of what’s required to make the millions, or make the art, or win the fight.  The abbreviated version shows WORK, set against a catchy tune meant to inspire.

But very few people catch that while Rocky is running on the beach with bricks in his hand, he is also WORKING.  He is working his cardio, his core, his arms, his grip strength…everything he needs to win his big fight, he is working.  And not just for the four minutes of the montage.  That routine would be over MONTHS of training before the big fight.

So as Steven Pressfield says….repeatedly…DO THE WORK!  There is nothing alluring or seductive about it. Do the work, the rewards will follow.  And the muses will see your effort and reward you with more attention.  Which has it’s own problems, but lack of inspiration won’t be one of them.

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Feed the Muses

feed the muses

I am a fly by the seat of your pants, roll with the punches sort of gal.  Living in the moment helps me to adapt on the fly when things don’t go according to plan.  Mostly, this works for me.  But having a plan and, more importantly, sticking with it, is ALSO a good skill set to have.

Among the many things I have learned are that those slutty muses WILL give away your ideas if you don’t act on them.  Now, don’t panic.  Just because you have an idea does not mean you MUST act on it RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  Rushing in is where you go awry.

Now, inspiration feeds inspiration, and once the ideas start coming, inspiration becomes the norm.  The more often you feed the muses by heeding their call, the more often they will reward you with ideas.  My original desire to create patterns was inspired by a very specific picture.  Then I saw another picture and thought “Oh, I want to make that too.”  Then another.  Now I have approximately 15 ideas for patterns floating around in my head.  And the muses keep feeding me more.

This is where having a plan becomes vitally important.  If I jumped up and started working on every single pattern as the idea occurred to me, nothing would ever get done.  I would start a pattern, something else would catch my eye, and I’d drop my current pattern project to work on the new one.  Live in the moment is great in specific situations (not everything will fit in the car?  What don’t we need for this weekend?)  But have a plan to progress forward with ideas.  Otherwise the ideas remain floating in the ether.  And eventually, those muses will lose patience, and give your idea to someone else.

Should that happen, don’t throw in the towel!  Too many people, on starting a project and discovering that someone else had the same idea, lose heart and quit.  Find YOUR angle.  Use YOUR voice.  How is your product different and/or better than what the other guy came up with?  Be the standout, continue feeding the muses, and eventually, your voice will be as clear as Melpomeni.

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Doupioni–friend or foe?


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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Crepe de Chine

crepe de chine

We already discussed Crepe, but how is Crepe de Chine difference from Crepe?  Obviously there is a difference, words matter, and they each carry a unique name.  Surprisingly, Julie Parker was not as helpful as usual, listing the major difference between the two as Crepe de Chine is French for Crepe from China.  But good old Fairchild was supremely helpful (p. 157):

“A fine, lightweight, plain weave silk fabric woven with a silk warp and a crepe-twist silk filling alternating 2s-2z…more ends than picks per inch.”

Translation:  There are more warp threads, which hold the tension on the loom, than there are weft threads.  The warp threads are silk filament.  The weft threads alternate two rows of s-twist filament and two rows of z-twist filament.  This creates a very smooth smooth face, a firm hand, and a lustrous, slippery surface.  Crepe de Chine has a smoother surface than Crepe.

Like all silks, Crepe de Chine is easily dye-able and when a solid color is fully reversible; however, given that it has a considerably smoother surface than Crepe, it can also be printed on with a fair amount of ease.  In that case, watch for whichever side is brighter, that’s your primary.

As for when Crepe and Crepe de Chine made it’s appearance, the earliest references to date are 19th century France.  This is not to say these weaves did not exist prior to this point in history.  But so far, no references to them have been found, so use caution with historical sewing and crepe.  But as usual, if you are a cosplayer, go for broke.  Crepe de Chine is lovely, and elegant, lightweight, and sleek.

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Vending 2017

Vending 2017, to vend

Where oh where will you find Damask Raven this year?  Word of mouth is hugely important for any business, but people can’t talk about you if they don’t know you exist.  So to that end, we are vending.  We are vending A LOT this year.  While you can always shop Damask Raven online, if you want to see what we sell in person, here’s where you can find us in 2017.

Hot Raqs, April 22-23, 2017 in Clovis, CA.  What is Hot Raqs?  Only the newest and hottest Bellydance competition!  Hosted by Andalee, winner of Project Bellydance and herself an extraordinary dancer, Andalee wants to spread the love of Raqs through competition and festival.  We will be vending both days and are happy to talk silk and dance while watching amazing dancers compete and perform for love of the dance.

Miss Fisher Con, May 4-7 in Las Vegas, NV.  If you haven’t seen Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, then you are missing the femme fatale of the 1920’s solving mysteries and murders in Melbourne, Australia.  Hosted by the Adventuresses Club of America, this promises to be a fun time of speakeasies and guest appearances.  Vending is Friday May 5 and Saturday May 6, but we’ll be at the welcome reception meet and greet on Thursday Night.

Cairo Shimmy Quake, June 2-4, 2017 in Glendale, CA.  Southern California has a long tradition of fantastic dance events and CSQ is no exception.  Vending is open Saturday and Sunday and you can browse our wares while enjoying amazing dancing from world class dancers.

West/AnTir War, July 4-9, 2017 in Gold Beach, OR.  West/AnTir War is a long standing event between two kingdoms within the SCA.  Large events are always fun and we enjoy camping and hanging out with our SCA friends and family.  If we haven’t met you yet we surely will and you are more than welcome to hang out at our booth and chat.  Just filled out the application today and am looking forward to this event.

Costume College, July 27-31, 2017 in Woodland Hills, CA.  Not vending, but will be teaching classes on Care and Feeding of Silk, What’s in a Weave, and History of Costume in Egyptian Oriental Dance.  Super excited to be attending this annual event dedicated to the arts of crafting in fabric and other textiles and to be teaching for the second year in a row.

Great Western War, October 4-8, 2017 in Taft, CA.  This will be our second year vending at this event and we are excited to be returning.  While the vending applications are not up yet, we will be sending ours in as soon as it’s available.  Another annual SCA event, this one will probably be a regular rotation for us in years to come.

So there you have it.  Our vending schedule for 2017.  If you think of any events we might be a fit for, please feel free to contact us.  Otherwise, come find us where we’re vending and introduce yourself.  We’d love to meet you!

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Make Your Own Dress Patterns

Make Dress Patterns Review

So this is a brief review of Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis.  I honestly don’t even remember how this book came on to my radar to begin with.  It’s not new. It was published with copyrights in 1985.  Even so it is solidly written.  It covers basic geometric shapes, darting, shaping, slopers, and style techniques.

And one might look at this book and assume it is dated, but the pattern blocks are solid and the instructions are clearly written and detailed.  And the designs don’t LOOK dated.  They look timeless and elegant, with design details that have periodically cycled through stylish and in to classic, and back in to haute couture.

The book flows logically from one concept to the next, covering how to add or remove fullness, and how to design necklines. Button placement, collars and closures, cowling and yokes.  Margolis even covers how to make uneven opening, plackets, and tabs.  Everything is truly covered in an easy to read and digest format.

I’m sort of loving this book and can see why, even with a copyright of 1985, this book is still being printed and sold for the home sewer.  This is a strongly recommend, even if you don’t intend to make your own pattern line for sale.  If you only need a book to help with minor adjustments, even just drafting a different collar for a commercial pattern–I would recommend this book for your collection.

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To Make a Pattern

to make a pattern

Ok, this is not as horribly bad as I thought it would be.  I mean, it’s not easy.  Or maybe it would be if I had majored in fashion design.  I’m basically using my 30 years sewing experience in sewing to make a pattern.

And then I have to expand that pattern in to multiple sizes.  Again, something one would not think was difficult.  But judging by several pattern companies I have tried to work with before, where in the patterns did NOT size up well, this is the part that scares me.  Not to the point I’m unwilling to try it.  But I don’t think it’s as simple as adding a line 1″ out from my start point.

But I’ve figured out my size tables.  It helps that my first two designs are loose garments, utilizing a S/M/L format.  So a little pressure to get sizing JUST right has been removed.  Also helps that my area of costuming interest tends toward loose and flowing.  We already have dozens of patterning companies that make excellent Robe a l’Anglaise and Victorian ball gowns.  Even excellent patterns for Elizabethan Gowns and 1920’s jazz babies.

There are even books for these styles.  Lots and lots of books.  What’s missing are books and patterns devoted to eastern fashion.  I want Egyptian style.  I want entaris and caftans and gallabeyas.  I want appropriate dance skirts, and flowing bohemian style.  I want Mongolian Deel and Chinese Robes and Japanese Kimonos.  I love the grace and elegance and simplicity of cut that allows the silk to be truly showcased.

And I can’t be the only one.  It is utter folly to assume that because I want these things, a market must exist.  However, logic says if I can master pattern making with loose fitting garments, then I can eventually move on to fitted garment patterns.  And so that is my aim.  To make patterns that I love and can be proud to wear.  That other’s will love and not send time ripping their hair out in frustration as they try and figure out what I meant by do the thing.  So, once more in to the breach of knowledge.  Wish me luck.