Tag Archives: silk habotai

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

Glossary: Silk Fiber

Silk is a natural fiber which is the product of the silkworm. Many different fabrics are made from silk, including chiffon, organza, georgette, charmeuse, dupioni, taffeta, satin, velvet, and brocade.

“Silk is a continuous protein filament produced by the silkworm to form its cocoon. The silkworm is the caterpillar of the silk moth (Bombyx Mori), and its cocoon is the shell it constructs to protect itself during its growth from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to moth. A single cocoon is made of a continuous filament that the silkworm extrudes from its body and throws about itself, layer within layer, into a thick, smooth, symmetrical ball larger than a robin’s egg but smaller than a pigeon’s.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, pages 66-67)

“Silk is a product of the silkworm, most commonly Bombyx mori, which came originally from China. Silk is a filament fiber, meaning that it is extruded in a continuous length. It is this continuous length and smooth fiber surface that creates silk’s elegant luster. The silk fiber is also strong and warm. Raw silk was imported from China and Bengal to Europe, where it was woven into a variety of fabrics.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, page 13)

“Beautiful, luxurious to touch; has a deep luster. Available in a variety of weaves and weights from sheer drapable chiffon to stiff rich brocades in brilliant colors and beautiful prints for dresses, suits, blouses, linings, lingerie. Found in fabrics such as crepe, brocade, satin, jersey, tweed.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 50)

“The vast variety of silk weaves available in the early and mid-Nineteenth century is simply not present today. Care must be taken in selecting only those weaves and weights of silk that approximate textiles of that time. Taffeta, satin, faille, brocade, organza, batiste, broadcloth, bengaline, and velvet are all suited to period dressmaking, and are available in fine fabric stores and through some on-line merchants. Silks can be expensive, but durable when care[d] for properly. Silk dyes very well without losing its luster, so if appropriate weaves are found undyed, they can be custom colored for dressmaking projects.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

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 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.

Glossary Entries for Silk Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

Norse tubular smokkr of fulled dark blue wool


Intro: Mid 18th to early 19th century red wool cloak

Inspiration: The general fabulousness of red wool cloaks (also, piles of snow!)
Pattern: Drafted from Costume Close-Up, #10, Cloak, c. 1750-1810, in the Colonial Williamsburg collection (#1953-968), p 54-56 and color plate 2, with a slight alteration and additional piecing due to yardage constraints
Fabric: Just over two yards of 60-odd-inch-wide coating-weight wool flannel in vivid scarlet red, pieced within an inch of its life
Lining: Front edge facings and hood lining of black silk habotai
Thread: Plain cotton thread in matching red and in black (I couldn’t afford silk)
Closure: Two inch wide black silk satin ribbons which tie at the neck, purchased from Timely Tresses
Construction: Entirely hand-sewn
Fun fact: I had to do quite a bit of piecing in order to get away with using the fabric I had, but it’s really quite difficult to see, because the pieces of fulled wool are butted up against one another and overcast. The original had one bit of piecing, making an ostensibly 4-piece pattern actually five pieces. Mine was nine pieces. When I finished cutting out the fabric, I had literally only a handful of amassed scrap material leftover – of heavy coating-weight wool. Seriously.
Current Status: Finished! (Update! Now with photos to prove it! 3/25/12)

My Reproduction Red Wool Cloak

(Never mind the later period reproduction quilted petticoat under the cloak. My mannequin looked creepy and naked with only the cloak on,  so it is wearing my c. mid 18th century to early 19th century repro cloak with my 1830s-1850s repro quilted petticoat. Which also clashes slightly. Shh, moving on.)

Current Status, in more detail: (Update May 1, 2011) The cloak is now entirely finished! After the ribbon arrived from Timely Tresses, I cut lengths of it and stitched it to the front edges of the cloak. I then proceeded to run around the house in the cloak, in spite of the fact that it’s now full spring and quite warm out. Despite how very unseasonable it now is, I’m very fond of the cloak. Although I must admit that the shaping, which is the same as the shaping of the original in Costume Close-Up, drapes more nicely on people with a slighter build, and narrower shoulders, than I have. Nevertheless, I can and will wear it.

(Status update from April 24, 2011) Happily, the cloak is essentially finished. Unhappily, it has been essentially finished for months. It came together quite quickly initially, due to a confluence of events involving winter inspiration, falling in love with the extant cloak depicted in Costume Close-Up, discovering that I had the perfect wool already, fiendish determination to find a way to cut the pattern out of not-nearly-enough fabric, an epic patterning and cutting effort, and conveniently timed illness that gave me four days of complete uselessness during which I was somehow still capable of executing tiny, perfect hand-stitches. (I don’t believe in feigning modesty about my hand-sewing skills. I am, in fact, quite vain about my hand-sewing.) I was able to construct the cloak, which is made of a coating-weight red wool flannel, with a lining for the hood and facings for the front edges, out of black silk habotai. Both of these things I had on hand, and I was able to buy matching red cotton thread.

But could I get my hands on black silk ribbon? No, I could not. Silk ribbons are notoriously difficult to find, and I was quite unwilling to use synthetic substitutes on a garment that I had spent an astonishing number of hours painstakingly constructing, entirely by hand (including nearly-invisible piecing to get the most out of my scant yardage), of high-quality natural fibers. For such a heavy garment, I didn’t want to try faking ribbons using my habotai. I didn’t have any black silk taffeta on hand, or I might have considered using that. The poor cloak has had to wait until I got around to ordering my millinery supplies – because I was able to buy black silk satin ribbon from Timely Tresses, along with everything needful for my charmingly enormous 1830s bonnet. The order has finally been placed, and with luck, the ribbon will arrive soon, and I will attach it to the cloak in short order. Then it will have ties! Once it has ties, I’ll be able to put it on, and will cut the arm slits. I marked them already, but I want to make certain they’re in the right place.

My Cloak, Side View

Further information online:

Print resources:

It was surprisingly easy to figure out how to put this cloak together – a great deal of information gets packed into the entries in this book! I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I wish there were more resources like this for the 19th century! See the annotated bibliography entry for more information. The cloak is on pages 54-56 and color plate 2.

There is an example of a similar cloak pictured on page 53, with substantial accompanying information on that cloak, a particularly fine example, and red cloaks in general, on page 54. It is noted (without citation) that “It would be typical Sunday best for an English village woman from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. After that date. the younger element were more likely to wear mantles, pelisses and shawls, and the scarlet cloak became an old woman’s garment by the 1830’s” (page 54).


Last updated March 25, 2012, to add pictures.

Intro: 10th century Norsewoman’s clothes

While I was doing my undergraduate thesis project at Hampshire, a fellow Div III student, Freya, was putting together a museum exhibit of reproduction artifacts of 10th Century Scandinavian domestic life – Vikings at home, in other words. Toward that endeavor, I contributed clothing for Freya to display and then wear, based on archaeological evidence and various hypotheses about what the scraps of evidence might mean and how ancient many-centuries-old Scandinavian clothing would have been worn, looked, and functioned. Only scraps of fabric, beads, and ornaments remain, along with a few vague images of people and references in epic poetry. Researching and experimenting with clothing of a period with so little information presented a new and interesting challenge!

Sadly, this project is still waiting on a proper write up, but eventually I’ll get some pictures from Freya and get back here with my notes and research to detail all of it!

Updated – such as it is – August 7, 2012.