Glossary: Silk Habotai

Habotai is a fabric made from silk, a natural fiber produced by silkworms. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Silk Fiber. It is also known as China silk. Man-made fiber imitations of habotai, generally made of polyester or rayon, are readily available but quite different, and are unfortunately sometimes sold as “China silk” or “China silk lining.” Habotai is usually opaque, or only very slightly sheer (in lighter colors), made in an even tabby (plain) weave of very fine silk threads. It has a soft, drapey hand. It is comparable to some historical (nineteenth century) definitions of tissue, but not to all. It is similar in weight to period lutestring or lustring, which is lighter in weight than taffeta, but unlike lutestring, habotai has a very soft hand. “Mousseline de soie” was a silk version of muslin, and might possibly be similar to habotai, but I am only guessing.

Definitions of habotai and other soft, lightweight, opaque silks from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On page 37, under the heading “Lutestring (Lustring),” there is a swatch of crisp, evenly plain-woven silk of a weight closer to habotai than to most taffeta, but with a distinctly different hand. The text states that “Lutestring is a plain-woven silk, similar to taffeta in that it has a crisp hand and even thread count, but lighter in weight than taffeta. Its smooth, glossy surface made it a favorite for elegant dresses for women in the early nineteenth century.”

All on page 178: “lustring” is defined as “lustrous paper-thin silk” while, oddly, “lutestring” is defined as “plain, stout silk fabric with a lustrous finish.” Next, “marcelline” is defined as “thin silk fabric sometimes used for linings.” Later, “mousseline de soie” is defined as “silk muslin, a thin soft silk with a muslin-like weave.” Note that historical muslin differs greatly from modern utility muslin (see entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste for further information). Furthermore, “silk muslin” is defined as “resembled grenadine, except it is all silk while grenadine may be silk and cotton.”

On page 179, “sarcenet, sarcenett” and “sarsnet, sarsenet, sarsinet” as well as “sasnet” are all defined as “fine, thin silk fabric, plain or twilled.” On page 180, “India silk” is defined as “soft, thin, silk fabric with a cambric-like weave.” Back on page 175, “cambric” is defined as “thin, fine white linen fabric.” On page 180, “silk tissue” is defined as “fine, transparent silk fabric.” Also on page 180, “pekin silk” is defined as “silk fabric usually flowered or striped, originally from China.” Also on page 180, “taffeta, taffetas” is defined as “fine, even-textured, smooth silk fabric with a luster.”

Unsurprisingly, there are no definitions for “China silk” or “habotai.”

On page 283, “Lustring (lutestring)” is defined as “A light, crisp plain silk with a high luster.” There is no entry for “mousselaine de soie,” nor for “silk muslin.” On page 321, “Persian” is defined as “A thin plain silk, principally used for linings in coats, petticoats, and gowns in the eighteenth century. Silks from Persia were the most highly esteemed of all Eastern fabrics, and the name Persian may have been given to English imitations to promote their sale.” On page 339, “sarsenet (sarsnet; Fr. armoisin)” is defined as “A thin, transparent silk of plain weave.”

The definition of “tissue” on pages 366-367 are very different from those in Marsh’s glossary (see above), and relate to decorative and ecclesiastical use. On page 366 it is stated that “The weaves often included silver and gold threads. Technically tissue was made with two sets of warp threads and at least two sets of shafts, and with one or more pattern wefts controlled by the figure harness on a drawloom.”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

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