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Wednesday, February 6, 2008


SILK, the fabric that makes its own statement. Say "silk" to someone and what do they visualize? No other fabric generates quite the same reaction. For centuries silk has had a reputation as a luxurious and sensuous fabric, one associated with wealth and success. Silk is one of the oldest textile fibers known to man. It has been used by the Chinese since the 27th century BC. Silk is mentioned by Aristotle and became a valuable commodity both in Greece and Rome. During the Roman Empire, silk was sold for its weight in gold.

Today, silk is yet another word for elegance, and silk garments are prized for their versatility, wearability and comfort. Silk, or soie in French, is the strongest natural fiber. A steel filament of the same diameter as silk will break before a filament of silk. Silk absorbs moisture, which makes it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of its high absorbency, it is easily dyed in many deep colors. Silk retains its shape, drapes well, caresses the figure, and shimmers with a luster all its own.

Contemporary silk garments range from evening wear to sports wear. A silk suit can go to the office and, with a change of accessories and a blouse, transform into an elegant dinner ensemble. Silk garments can be worn for all seasons.

Silk -- elegant, versatile and washable. In the past, owning a silk garment meant not only the initial price of the garment but also the cost of dry cleaning. All silk is washable. Silk is a natural protein fiber, like human hair, taken from the cocoon of the silkworm. The natural glue, sericin, secreted by silkworms and not totally removed during manufacturing of the silk, is a natural sizing which is brought out when washing in warm water. Most silk fabrics can be hand washed. Technically, silk does not shrink like other fibers. If the fabric is not tightly woven, washing a silk with tighten up the weave.... thus, lighter weights of silk (say a crepe de chine of 14 mm) can be improved by washing as it will tighten up the weave. A tightly woven silk will not "shrink" or will "shrink" a lot less. Silk garments, however, can shrink if the fabric has not been washed prior to garment construction. When washing silk, do not wring but roll in a towel. Silk dries quickly but should not be put in an automatic dryer unless the fabric is dried in an automatic dryer prior to garment construction. A good shampoo works well on silk. It will remove oil and revitalize your silk. Do not use an alkaline shampoo or one which contains ingredients such as wax, petroleum, or their derivatives, as these products will leave a residue on your silk and may cause "oil" spots. If static or clinging is a problem with your silks, a good hair conditioner (see above cautions) may be used in the rinse water.

Silk may yellow and fade with the use of a high iron setting. Press cloths and a steam iron are recommended. Silk is also weakened by sunlight and perspiration.

Glossary of Silk Fabrics and Weaves

Brocade is a jacquard weave with an embossed effect and contrasting surfaces. Can also be woven with synthetic or man-made fibers.

Canton Crepe is a soft crepe woven fabric with small crosswise ribs. Similar to crepe de chine but heavier.

Charmeuse is a satin weave silk with a crepe back sometimes called crepe backed satin.

Chiffon is transparent soft and light silk. Can also be woven of cotton or man-made fibers.

China silk is a plain weave silk of various weights. This silk is the "hand" or touch that many people identify as silk. There are various weights of China silk from light, used for linings and many "washable silks" with the wrinkled look, to heavy for shirts and dresses.

Doupioni is reeled from double cocoons nested together. The threads are uneven and irregular. Italian Doupioni is the finest, followed by Chinese Doupioni and Indian Doupioni. Doupioni is also seen in man-made fibers such as polyester, acetate and referred to as Doupionini. Silk Doupioni is most often found in men’s and women’s fine suits and also dresses in lighter weight silk Doupioni.

Faille soft ribbed silk with wider ribs than seen in grosgrain ribbon. Slightly glossy.

Georgette sheer crepe silk, heavier than chiffon and with a crinkle surface.

Matelasse has raised woven designs, usually jacquard, with the appearance of puckered or quilted.

Noil is sportier in appearance and created by short fibers, often from the innermost part of the cocoon. Has the look of hopsack but much softer.

Organza is similar to cotton organdy except it is made with silk and is transparent.

Peau de Soie is a stout, soft silk with fine cross ribs. Looks slightly corded. Also called paduasoy.

Pongee is a plain woven, thin, naturally tan fabric that has a rough weave effect.

Poult de siue is sometimes called faille taffeta. It has heavy cross ribs.

Silk Shantung is a dupionni type of silk that comes from the Shantung Prov. of China.

Silk Broadcloth is a plain weave silk in various weights; crisper than china silk. Often used in shirting.

Silk linen has a nubby yarn in a plain weave. Weights range from light to heavy. It is different from Dupion in that the nubby runs both lengthwise and crosswise. The look of linen with the characteristics of linen.

Silk satin is a satin weave with a plain back.

Tussah silk (tussah means wild) is a plain weave silk fabric from "wild" silk worms. It has irregular thick and thin yarns creating uneven surface and color. Wild silkworms feed on leaves other than mulberry leaves.Tussah silk is similar to shantung, with silk from the wild. Color is often uneven; usually referred to as "raw" silk.

Silk is also available in other weaves such as velvet and corduroy.

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