THE BENEFITS OF SILK
Silky means the finest
Silk fabrics require special handling as well as great respect. This is not only because they are expensive and difficult to maintain but mostly due to their noble and complex origins.
(The history encompassing the origins and the complexities of silk production passed as secret knowledge is so interesting and vast that it requires a separate blog entry, and the author hereby promises to write it in the near future).
At this point, we should mention that archaeological findings indicate that silk was produced in ancient China as early as 3600 B.C. A Chinese legend says that silk was discovered in the garden of emperor Huang Di by his wife, whom he asked to check what kind of pest is attacking the mulberry trees. The empress found some white larvae which produced shiny cocoons. Accidentally, she dropped one of them in hot water and while attempting to take it out, she pulled a fine thread, which she later wound on a spool. This was the beginning of what was to become the secret of silk production that was improved upon and jealously guarded for thousands of years.
Incredible as this legend may sound, the natural, thin, fine fibre is really produced using the cocoons of silk worms. The average length of a thread produced from a cocoon is 1600 m but the most valuable fabrics are produced from even longer threads that are more difficult to obtain.
Silk fibre is made of protein and has a triangular cross-section, which means it reflects light at different angles. As a result, fabrics made from this fibre are very shiny. Silk has a characteristic fabric structure that is immediately recognisable – we often say that it rustles in your hands. It is light, airy, perfect for being arranged and draped. These features make it a favourite choice among stylists, scenographers as well as those who enjoy and are inspired by the flow of silk fabrics in the most sophisticated and lively interior arrangements.
It is nearly impossible to list all the advantages of silk which are key to its reputation. Silk is light, soft to the touch, shiny and smooth but not slippery. This is why we often say that it is organic and close to the body. Seemingly fragile and delicate, silk is quite robust but can lose up to 20% of its strength when wet. It is not very flexible, either. So when stretched, it does not return to its original length. Silk readily absorbs humidity. A considerable downside of silk fabrics, which at the same time constitutes the source of their charm, is the fact that when exposed to sunlight, they become discoloured and frail. One way to avoid such problems is to add lining to silk curtains, a method that has been used for ages to protect silk against fading caused by sunlight. Additionally, an intermediate layer of molton (a type of scratched cotton) is used, which adds volume to the silk fabric and lets it maintain its decorative shape. The interplay of shadow and light in drapes or curtains provides an incredible decorative effect with flowing, natural silk shining in thousands of shades as no other material does.
The natural tendency of silk to discolour over time, while maintaining its noble shine, guarantees a decorative patina or "aged" scenographic look of silk textiles. This effect is often used in historical interior arrangements.
The many faces of silk
Silk yarn is a high-quality raw material which produces various effects in fabrics of , different types and textures. This makes the world of silk incredibly varied and fascinating. Even the trade names of different silk yarns and threads are incredibly interesting: tram is silk yarn used for weft, organzine is used for warp, greige is raw natural silk, which should not be confused with grenadine which denotes a strongly twisted silk yarn.
In general, depending on the leaves eaten by the silk worm, two different types of silk will be produced – mulberry or wild silk. The length of the thread, its quality, tiny knots connecting sections of the yarn, small pieces of cocoons etc. are features that affect the final character and appearance of the fabric produced from the yarn, and determine its application.
The cheapest, most popular fabric is raw silk, also known as bourette. Today it is frequently used owing to its organic environmentally-friendly appearance. Bourette is the raw form of silk produced from silk noils (i.e. waste yarn) and has visible small imperfections between threads, remains of cocoons and thicker sections of the thread itself. All this gives the fabric a completely natural appearance associated with craft products.
Naturally dyed silk in loose, plain weave and a slightly stiff finish, with highly visible stripes and varying shine is known as shantung. The use of irregular yarn thickness produces characteristic beads or knots. Foulard uses the same plain weave but a more light-weight fabric that is smooth and thin but not transparent. It is very soft and therefore used mostly in ties and scarfs.
When using satin weave with its characteristic longer warp, a very soft, smooth silk fabric known as satin is produced. It has a characteristic shiny front side. A thick twill weave used in silk produces surah – a light-weight, non-transparent, soft fabric with a delicate shine.
The supreme silk fabric is taffeta. It is made using plain weave and has characteristic very dense stripes running across the fabric. It has a beautiful shine, and is rather stiff and rustling. Taffeta is made of two-coloured fibres, which makes it shine in two colours. Silk taffeta can also be creased, embroidered, plain or patterned. Organza is a variety of taffeta. It is characterised by milky transparency and shininess, and comes usually in plain colours.
Regardless of the type of silk: be it flowing, light-weight muslin, crimped matt crêpe or thick but soft tricotine, you should take the time to enjoy the luxurious feeling of handling one of the world’s most noble materials. This way you will pay due attention to the qualities that make silk so pleasant to our eyes and bodies. After all, there is a good reason why "the touch of silk" means something that is most noble and utterly pleasant to our senses.
Silk fabrics from the Dekoma collection featured in this photo-session:
Hand-woven natural silk, shantung type, available in many stunning colours. Very elegant and noble, thanks to the two-colour yarn, colours and surface texture of silk is unique. It has poor resistance to sunlight! Natural origin means that there might be differences in colour saturation between different batches of material and on surface of the fabric from one roll.
Yamir is a plain, silk taffeta with spots of slightly fuller yarn. Lining is required. The addition of Molton fabric gives it a special visual appeal. Available in a wide range of 50 colours. It is the most refined silk fabric in Dekoma’s offer. Available width – 137 cm. However, it has low resistance to light (typical for silk), so please take that into consideration when designing your decorations. Gentle dry cleaning only.
Photo-session for DEKOMA at Long Beach (NY).
Creative idea and styling: MBBM Studio.
Photos: Boris Miller.