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|Silk fabrics & Types of silk
Silk is the smoothest and brightest natural fabric. It is not a good
electricity and heat carrier, and it is powerful, elastic, long lasting and resistant to
dirt and odours. It also makes it less likely than other fabrics to cause allergic reactions or
Furthermore, it absorbs moisture away from skin, which makes it cool in the summer and warm in the
winter. Pure silk helps to preserve heat in extreme moisture and cold conditions: this is the
reason why it is used as underwear in climbing and sleeping bags production.
The importance of silk is due to the extraordinary fibre lenght, its high resistance to breaking
(wet or dry), its elasticity, lightness and its pleasing touch. Natural silk is one
of the most valued materials of textile industry, such as damasks, brocades and silk velvets were
years ago: silk is a luxury product, respectful to environment.
Silkworm breeding was the reason which caused Chine to have the silk monopoly during millenniums,
although Europe imported silk breeding or
it was used there since 3th millennium BC and arrived to
Roma in plenty from Persia and Syria. It was then when the Roman emperor
Justinian I brought it
to Byzantium and Near East, where Moslens knew about it. With the spread of Islam, the silkworm
came to Sicily and Spain. By Middle Ages Italy had become the silk center of the West, but by the
17th century France was challenging Italy's leadership. In the beginning of 19th century, the
synthetic fibers appearance caused a tremendous reduction in silk production, and Europe finished
it. So, Europe is now importing natural silks from China and they are woven in Italy or France.
At present time, China and Japan are the main world-wide suppliers.
As we saw on the
fabrics page, textile fabrics come from different origins. Thus, silk is
animal origin fibre:
it comes from spider and caterpillars. But the interesting silk is the one that comes from
(bombix mori) and
Tussah silkworm (some species of wild silkworms that eat
leaves different to mulberry leaves). Both moths produce a silk thread to make the cocoon
from which they will get out as moths.
However, the breeder won't let them metamorphose: before it happens he will make the silk fiber
processing. The moth dreaming will be interrupted drowning it by hot water or steam. Here the
breeder function ends, and it begins the textile industry one.
The cocoons must be dipped into hot water to loosen the filaments, so that the gummy substance
(sericine) that holds the cocoon filament in place dissolves.
After that, the filaments from various cocoons are joined and twisted at 90 oC,
to make a thread that is wound on a reel (sericine joins filaments).
Finaly, woven silk is boiled in soapy water, remaining white and bright.
The next step is the woven by a loom with two sets of threads: warp and weft (or woof).
The process consists of entwining warp and weft threads. The way this is made (thread number
and the way they are entwined) produces different drawings and textures which are the
fabric types, and, therefore, the different silk types.
In silk painting, fabric comes with no dyeing-printing and no finish (the two last
stages of textile processing): dyeing or painting will be handmade.
|Types of silk
Silk is a woven fabric: it is woven by a loom. The types of silk are defined by variations
weaving patterns, produced by the way warp and woof are interlaced, varying the number
of warp yarns and by altering the sequence in which they are raised or lowered.
But the types of silk are also defined by the way the thread is spun: a light twisting
produces fabrics with a smooth surface; a strong twisting provides the cloth with hard surfaces,
superior strenght, subject to less dirty and wrinkles, and to shrink.
The usual types of silks (the common names to the most usual fabrics made of silk fibers) are the next:
Taffeta weaves includes:
Pongé, Pongee, Habotai, Habutai or China Silk:
With the home-made Chinese looms (pen-shi) a medium quality silk was done
(in Europa it was called pongée, and it was imported spun to be woven in France, Italy,...).
Habutai is a Japanese word meaning "soft as downy" and both Habutai and China silk
are soft, lightweight and lustrous, with a smooth surface and a graceful drape, white or natural
in color, sheer and ivory.
It is one of the less expensive and more commonly available silk fabrics. Steam and dry-cleaning
improve its brightness and smoothness.
It is also the most common to paint, with a good relation of quality/price.
Sometimes incorrectly called "raw silk", noil is particularly distinguished for the
subtle flecks that are actually particles from the silkworm's cocoon. It is made from the short
fibers left after combing and carding, so it doesn't shine like many other silk fabrics. It has
the look of hopsack but much softer.
Noil resists wrinkles and travels well, making it an excellent choice for knit sweaters.
It can be painted once it is removed the natural gum from it. It is used for clothing or
Chantung, Shantung or Tussah silk:
Named for the Chinese province where it originated. Originally shantung was hand-loomed Chinese
tussah silk. Now it refers to a plain weave silk similar to dupioni, but featuring a more
irregular and textured surface. Depending on the filling yarn, shantung may be lustrous or dull.
It has a firm, semi-crisp hand and tends to ravel.
Textured silk, sometimes pebbled or crinkled. The warp threads are more twisted than weft ones,
which gives it a crosswise rib. Its surface is wrinkled and matt, and it can shrink.
There are some types of Crepe:
- Moroccan Crepe:
Thicker and more textured.
Silk Georgette has a grainy texture and a sheer feel, but is not so soft or lustrous.
Very light and transparent, matt and elastic, drapes very fluidly, it is used for
blouses, evening wear, dresses and skirts.
- Crepe de Chine:
A lightweight fabric with less texture, smooth, luxurious hand and look, often used
in evening or bridal wear. Its matte surface and "pebbled" texture of this
graceful fabric reflect individual pinpoints of light, giving it wonderful chromatic
depth and striking eye-appeal. This luxurious silk has the additional virtues of
great durability and excellent wrinkle resistance. It is used for elegant slacks, skirts,
dresses, suits and eveningwear.
Dupioni, douppioni or dupion:
This shimmering and lustrous silk is woven from two different colours of threads,
so that it shimmers or changes color in the light. It is usually produced in bright shades,
enhancing its beautiful iridescence. It has a moderately crisp drape and a slightly pebbled
texture, though not so much as crepe, and doesn't wrinkle badly. It is used in fine suits,
dresses, tops and more.
Peau de soie, paduasoy or Duchess satin:
From French peau de soie which means "skin of silk". It is a stout, soft silk with
fine cross ribs, with a satiny, lustrous finish. It looks slightly corded.
Distinguished by diagonal lines that herald its superior strenght and durability, this fabric
has a muted luster and supple feel. Medium-weight fabrications make ideal sleepwear and shirts.
Heavyweight versions are often the choice for the most beautiful dresses, slacks and blazers,
and very elegant for ties.
Satin weaves includes:
Sateen, Satin, Charmeuse, crepe backed satin:
From French satin, Italian satino, Catalonian satí,
and these from Latin seta, silk, serica, silk thread.
Loved for its lustrous shine and sumptuous feel, charmeuse satin is the most widely recognized
of silk fabrics. The back of the fabric is a flattened crepe or a dull finish, while the front
is a shimmery satin weave. Wonderful versatile, this elegant fabric has medium weight, some natural
elasticity, and even more drape than crepe de chine. It works well for skirts, dresses, eveningwear,
nightgowns, scarves, blouses, lingerie and shaped tops.
It came to Europe from China and India, although it was known much later from its invention.
From Gaza, Syrian city. Silk gauze is a sheer, thin open weave fabric, sometimes confused with
organza (heavier and crisper). Gauze is more loosely woven ana fairly floppy. It was widely used
in 19th century. This open woven is used with silk, nylon, viscose, and cotton fibers (the cotton
version is the one used for bandages). It should not be wrung out, and it has to be ironed at a
low temperature while it is almost dry.
A silky densely piled fabric with a plain back, smooth, elegant and expensive. There is also a 'burnout'
velvet, which is a processed silk where parts of the pile have been removed, so a resulting pattern
is sawn. Nowadays, velvet is made from silk and rayon, less expensive.
In 19th century was used for dresses and jackets, while in 20th century was used for eveningwear,
although in 60's and 70's it was used for skirts and trousers.
Gutta cannot be used to paint velvet, so it has to be painted freedomly.
Jacquard silks offer various woven patterns. Its name comes from the French Joseph Marie Jacquard,
who invented a loom to make these elaborated fabrics easily, at the beginning of 19th century.
A genuine damask (usually silk) has an even alternation of warp and weft atlas, which gives
the fabric its characteristic shiny quality. Silk damask and gold brocade were and are the
most costly of the traditional textiles produced in Damascus. After the collapse of the textile
market in the mid-nineteenth century, Damascus deliberately concentrated on the production of
these luxury fabrics for a well-heeled local and European clientele.
Brocade is a patterned, damask-like fabric made of natural or artificial silk with metal
threads woven in. There are also brocades made entirely from gold or silver threads.
Brocade threads usually have a cotton or linen core round which metal threads (lame) are
spun. Today special threads, such as lurex, which do not oxidize, are mainly used.
European people learned its technique from Persians, and these ones from Chineses probably.
Sometimes a number can be found with a type of silk. This number is the weight of silk, and it is shown
by this mommy number (mm), which is bigger with a thicker fabric.
For example, the pongee/habotai silk fabrics with a weight between 20 and 30 grams per square metre have
mommy numbers from 5 to 9. A 5 mm pongee is thiner than a 8 mm pongee, and this one is thiner than a 10 mm pongee.