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Clothing Fabrics - Silk

( Originally Published 1924 )

"And silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies"

Silk is no longer considered a luxury, but a necessity. There is no fabric that brings more grace to a woman's figure than silk, and the women of America are very fond of it, especially for their lingerie; many women wear it exclusively and pride themselves upon their economy. The woman who is clothed throughout with this lovely texture should be continually in good humor.

The silk industry was developed some time after linen. Tradition has it that a woman originated this delightful textile, and that seems peculiarly appropriate, if true.

Over five thousand years ago the charm-giving quality of silk was discovered by the wife of one of the Emperors of China who thought out the method of reeling silk from the cocoon and of weaving it into cloth. The Empress was deified and was worshipped by the Chinese at a yearly festival, in which they honor the "Goddess of the Silkworm" with a ceremony called "feeding the worms."

The secret of silk remained in China until two monks, commissioned by Justinian, the Roman Emperor, smuggled out of China several thousand silk-worm eggs in their hollow staffs. Silk cultivation then became the monopoly of Roman royalty, but later spread over Southern Europe. To-day the cultivated silkworm is largely produced in China, Japan, and Italy. Most of the finer silk fabrics are woven from the silk of the cultivated worm; but pongee, which is rough, like Tussah silk, is woven from the rougher fiber of the wild silkworm.

The silk industry is steadily growing in America; for it has been proven that the mulberry tree will thrive in California, and where the silkworm's provender flourishes there will it thrive also. Over five hundred thousand acres in California are suited for silk growing. However, considering the large amount of raw silk which is used in manufacture by the United States as one of the most important silk fabric producing countries, cocoon growing in America is not now extensive enough to be appreciable.

Very interesting are the figures in government reports which show the amount of silk necessary to enable our women to be beautifully clad. Over fifty million pounds of raw silk are imported by this country for manufacturing, most of it coming from the Orient. Add to this quantity of American manufactured silk goods, the fabrics which are imported and we begin to feel that silk must be one of the reasons for woman's charm in costume.

The silks of long ago, largely stiff and heavy brocades, had long life and gave much satisfaction. This was because they were "pure dye," not weighted with tin or iron salts as they sometimes are today.

Silk is dyed in the yarn or in the piece, the former method prevailing. The weighting is done before dyeing, since the dye is not affected by the tin salts and it is impossible to obtain a good black in un-weighted silk. Before dyeing, most of the silks are boiled to rid them of gum and to cleanse them. In this process the silk loses from eighteen to twenty-two per cent. of its weight, sometimes even more. In order to make up for this loss, a practise of weighting (which is legitimate up to twenty per cent.) has become common. Formerly sugar or other harmless substances were used, but at the present time, tin salts are preferred, with the occasional use of iron for black silks.

Reeled silk, or "thread silk," which is the best quality, is the filament which is unwound from the cocoon, the method of removing it requiring delicacy in handling. After the cocoons are soaked in boiling water to loosen the gum, they are immersed in medium hot water. Then all defective cocoons and imperfect fiber are laid to one side, and the remaining ones are reeled off by catching the extremely frail ends of the filaments of four to six cocoons and then attaching them to a reel which is then revolved. The silk comes now from the cocoon in a long smooth thread which, tho full of gum and stiff, is both shiny and beautiful. Large quantities of reeled silk come to the United States in skeins which are sorted as to color and pressed into books —oblong packages. The manufacturer again sorts the thread in regard to fineness. After ten to twelve hours of soaking in warm water to remove the gum, the silk is dried and wound on bobbins. By the doubling machine the silks from the bobbins are combined, or "thrown," according to the weight desired. The next process is "spinning." In this the thread may be twisted in one of three ways to suit the intended use. Tram, or slightly twisted silk, is used for filling; organzine, or tightly twisted, for warp.

Spun silk is made from short fibers of rough silk taken from the outside of the cocoons, or from imperfect cocoons, or from those from which the moth has escaped by cutting through ; it also comes as waste from the manufacturing processes, shoddy, which is clippings from new and old woven silk reduced to a fibrous condition. These are all pre-pared for weaving by the necessary processes of boiling out gum from the raw silk, then straightening, cutting, combing, and spinning.

The high price of good reeled silk underwear may prohibit a demand for it, yet it is a good investment. It may be that the buyer has not known how to judge its real value and has been attracted by the cheaper spun silk garments, which often are not worth buying. It is possible to have a good quality of washable silk, such as crępe de Chine or glove silk, made into silk garments which will wear a long time if they are carefully laundered. Some spun silks give comparatively good service. Silk stockings made from spun silk may have enduring qualities if they are not too thin, and especially if garter tops, toes, heels, and soles are of cotton.

Silk sheds the dust and keeps clean, dyes beautifully, and is light in weight—qualities which combine to make it most desirable for outer garments as well as for lingerie.

The wearing qualities of silk differ. Crępes are duller in appearance but more enduring than the soft shimmering fabrics. This is because of the twist of the yarn in weaving. In the best silks crępe effects are produced by yarns which are twisted some to the right, the others to the left, so that the electricity in the fiber makes the opposing yarns crinkle slightly; the crępe effect is accomplished through the difference in the drawing up of the yarns that are differently twisted. Crępe effects are not only obtained by this manner of weaving but also by combining silk with cotton and mercerizing the cotton; when dampened the cotton will draw up while the silk does not, and thus a crepon effect is produced. The cotton in the material also gives strength by its weight.

Silks have varieties of finish : the moire effect is produced by pressure on the fabric with engraved rollers running unevenly; panne velvet is produced by a smooth pressure on velvets ; in printed silks the design may be stamped on the woven piece, or it may be printed in the warp before weaving. Pat-terns may also be made on piece-dyed goods by discharging the color with chemicals, as the polka dot design.

Designs for figured silks are obtained from museum studies, new books, operas, snow flakes, the constellations of stars, flames, flowers, plants, Oriental rugs, stained glass windows, Arabian Nights tales, China, Egypt, and modern happenings.

One may grow a little weary of plain or printed fabrics and decide to have one of the novelty weaves —not, however, if she must be penny-wise, for the popularity of novelties is transient and each season sees a new leader. The foundation of novelty silks is very often crępe; and the design is formed by weavings which owe their being to Joseph Marie Jacquard of Lyons, who, after years of poverty and distress, succeeded in completing in 1801 a magic loom which brought prosperity to the city of Lyons, fame to Jacquard, and untold beauty to women's costuming.

Corded silks, such as poplin, have the cotton or wool enshrouded with the silk, over which the silk warp passes and is held down by the weft or filling. This warp may be weakened under the weight of the cord and subtract from the life of the fabric.

Cotton is sometimes substituted in the weaving of brocades and novelty weaves, the backs of velvets, and in satins and crępes. These union materials are often stronger than the fabric made entirely of silk which acquired the necessary weight through a chemical filling. The silky appearance of mercerized cotton makes it possible to weave it in combination with silk and yet not be easily detected in the cloth. If too much cotton is present the fabric will soil and crush more quickly than when silk alone is used.

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