An Artisan’s Perennial Issue – Quality Raw Materials

painted silk twill scarf 18 mmYesterday I was reading a post and accompanying comments from Juliet Macleod’s blog, the Cloud Pottery discussing the choices of different clays for pottery. One of the contributors mentioned ‘extra white stoneware’, and said, “itā€™s definitely not as white as it used to be”. How timely, I thought to myself, as I have just been notified that my supplier of square, silk twill blanks are no longer stocking my preferred 90 x 90 cm size. And, the option to go direct to the Chinese supplier in Shanghai is not viable as a minimum order of 1000 pieces is required. More change, things are definitely not like they used to be.

Silk is similar to any raw material as it comes in different grades, weights and weaves and that is before you start to consider colour. I am not sure how often people read the textile labels when buying clothes and accessories, but if you do, you will see percentage fibre contents and for a silk item it normally just says 100% silk. Of course you can find specialist woven textiles where silk is woven with wool or cotton, or there are more complex, multiple fibre mixes that add some silk threads to the weave to add lustre to the finished textile.

But, most usually silk as clothing is sold as pure silk, 100% silk. Pure silk is the epitome of luxury textiles with a long and fascinating history including the establishment of one of the greatest trade routes the world has ever known – the Silk Road. And, with my Art Historian’s hat on, over the centuries silk has been the medium for the transmission of many Chinese and Eastern designs and motifs from the East to Europe and the West.

Silk is available in many different weaves and patterns from the simplest tabby/plain weave to complex figured fabrics such as damask. It is sold in mommes (mm), pronounced mummies. This is a measure of density as opposed to purely weight. That is kilograms per metre square. Originally it was equal to the weight in pounds of a bolt of silk that was 45 inches wide by 100 yards long regardless of the weave. Nowadays, silk is sold between 3 mm for a light gauze right the way through to 40 mm for a heavy, raw silk cloth that looks like a coarse linen.

As a silk painter for most of my designs I like to use a silk that is woven to give a clean surface and I particularly like to work on twills or crepe de chines that are between 10 mm to 14 mm giving the finished scarves a good weight that falls well. Also, as a matter of personal choice although I think satins and charmeuse look beautiful for evening wear, I prefer the gentler lustre of twill or crepe de chine for normal everyday scarves. Despite my last declaration, I do have to admit to owning a couple of showy silk chiffon scarves that I’ve been known to wear in the daytime to the accompanying remark, “Oo, we see Agnes is glammed up today – what’s the occasion?” Actually, there was no special occasion, but sometimes you just need to brighten yourself up a bit – and why not?

painted red silk chiffon 8 mm scarf
Painted silk chiffon scarf.
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