Tag Archives: silk taffeta

Glossary: Silk Taffeta

Taffeta is a fabric made from silk, a natural fiber produced by silkworms. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Silk Fiber. Taffeta is a light-mid- to mid-weight fabric with a crisp hand, in an even plain weave. Synthetic taffetas are also available today, but they are quite different, and very prone to shredding. Generally, they have a very plastic appearance and do not strongly resemble silk taffeta, though taffeta made from acetate, a man-made cellulosic fiber similar to rayon, is generally more silk-like than substitutes made from noncellulosic synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon. If seeking an less expensive substitute, some lengths of silk dupioni can be found which are quite smooth and have very few slubs, which can be used as imitation taffeta fairly convincingly in some applications. However, dupioni is not an even-weave fabric; it is plain-woven, but the weft threads are thicker than the warp threads, and are uneven to varying degrees. It is not a perfect substitute, and is not always appropriate.

Definitions of taffeta from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On page 29, under the heading “Changeable (Shot),” there is a swatch of changeable silk taffeta. The text states that “‘Changeable’ silk–that is, silks woven with one color in the warp and another color in the weft–have been around for centuries and are still easily found today. The play of light on a shimmery changeable silk gives it an iridescent look. The terms ‘changeable’ and ‘shot’ are most commonly used in reference to silk.”

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 crisp hand like taffeta. 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.”

On page 180, “taffeta, taffetas” is defined as “fine, even-textured, smooth silk fabric with a luster.”

Also on page 180, “tabby, tabi” is defined as “strong, heavy silk taffeta, shiny with a watered finish, also used to describe a plain weave.” On page 177, “gros” is defined as “a heavy silk fabric with a dull finish.” On page 179, “paduasoy” is defined as “plain stout smooth silk, formerly a rich heavy corded silk.” Also on page 179, “pou de soie” is defined (identically to the above) as “plain stout smooth silk, formerly a rich heavy corded silk.”

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.” On page 180, “silk tissue” is defined as “fine, transparent silk fabric.”

On page 180, “shot silk” is defined as being “woven with warp and weft threads of different colors, so that the fabric changes in tint according to the angle from which it is viewed” and “changeable silk” is “also called shot silk; fabric that is one color from one angel, another color from another angle.” On page 177, “glace,” or glacé, is defined as “usually silk, with a smooth glossy finish, sometimes with a shot effect.” On page 178, “moire,” or moiré, is defined as “a watered effect given fabrics by the pressure of engraved rollers that displace and flatten threads.”

On page 358, there is an entry for “Taffeta (taffety),” which states that “In seventeenth-century trade with Bengal, the term covered a wide variety of silk and silk/cotton goods, many of them striped or checked, among which were alachas, seersuckers, sousaes, and charconnaes.” It also states that “Most European taffetas were plain woven silks with weft threads slightly thicker than warp and related to tabby, alamode, Persian, and lutestring.”

On page 355, “tabby” is defined as “A plain silk, slightly heavier than lustring and stronger and thicker than taffeta. A cloth woven in a plain weave. Many were given a watered or waved finish.” On page 314, “Paduasoy (padaway, pattisway, poudesoy)” is defined as “A rich and heavy silk tabby with a self-colored pattern and usually brocaded. It was generally corded and was the heaviest of dress silks.” 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 195, “changeable fabrics” are defined as “Plain weave fabrics with warp of one color and weft of another. Chambray, caungeantrie, and modern Oxford cloth used for men’s shirts are included among these textiles.” On page 347, “shot” is defined as “A term used to describe textiles made partly of silk.” This may be an earlier usage of the term; I cannot recall having seen the term used this way in nineteenth century sources.

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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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

1860s Marie Stewart bonnet of scarlet silk

Last updated April 21, 2011.

Inspiration: The availability of an inexpensive bonnet form with that darling downturned point at the top of the crown! I love the “Marie Stewart” shape. I am particularly fond of this extant cream silk fanchon bonnet with blue ribbon and fringe, accession number 47.1519, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Form:
  Purchased reproduction buckram form from Timely Tresses, their “Wilhelmina Elizabeth” in the “Marie Stewart” shape appropriate for 1863-1867. It was not a terribly common style historically, but I’ve always loved it, and it isn’t inappropriate, just a trifle unusual.
Lining:
  White or ivory (or maybe very pale pink) silk taffeta or habotai
Ties and Ribbon Trim:
  Probably black silk, either taffeta or habotai, but possibly brocade if I find something promising.
Outer Trimmings:
  Probably a black ostrich feather or two, possibly some black silk satin ribbon, possibly a red artificial flower. I’ll revisit this later.
Trimmings Inside Brim:
A frill of white or ivory silk organza
Thread:
  TBD
Construction:
  Linings and trimmings will be entirely hand-sewn, though I believe that the form itself is machine-stitched.
Current Status:
  This bonnet will not be included with my Div III. There’s simply too much to do, so I’ve been scaling back the 1860s pieces. But I plan on going forward with this particular project soon, quite possibly this summer.

Print resources for 1860s bonnets of this style:

A September 1864 plate shows four new styles of bonnets, at least one of which appears to be of the Marie Stewart shape, on page 66. A full scene plate of August 1865 has only one bonnet, but it is of a similar style to mine, on page 69. Two ensemble plates from October 1865 include bonnets of a similar style to mine, on page 70. (See below for more general bonnet references in this book.)

The early 1860s photograph (image 67) at the upper left of page 27 depicts a mother and small daughter, both of whom wear bonnets. The mother’s bonnet is a spoon shape with a slight dip at the top, while the daughter’s little bonnet has a very pronounced dip. The book’s text describes it as “heart-shaped,” but it is quite close to the Marie Stewart dipping point shape. The brim appears to be filled with a small frill.

Grayscale fashion plates of full ensembles: Figure 89, dated 1863, on page 127; Figure 90, dated July 1864, on page 127.

Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 2, 1867, on page 8: “The ‘airy fairy’ fanchon, so long popular, is gradually being deposed by the much more stately Marie Antoinette bonnet, more in keeping with the picturesque costumes now worn.” Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 2, 1867, on page 8: “The fanchon still lingers with us in a slightly changed form. It used to be a matter of some doubt which was the front and which the rear of this bonnet. But as now worn with the Marie Stuart point still remains in front, while the back is shorn of its points, being entirely straight on the chignon.” Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 23, 1867, on page 29: “The fanchon is so universally becoming that all efforts to displace it have failed.”

There is also a very useful section of the book that pulls information on “Making Bonnet Frames and Bonnets” directly from Harper’s Bazar of May 9, 1868, on pages 210-220.

Terminology: Although the source for the assertion is not cited, page 80 states that “After the Civil War, milliners conceived smaller [than spoon bonnets], curtainless Empire and Fanchon bonnets as larger and more elaborate chignons were worn high on the head.”

Extant: There are four photographs on page 82 of an extant spoon bonnet of moderate size which is fully trimmed with the original decorations. The inside of the brim retains “the original fine ruched silk tulle,” which goes around the entire inside edge of the brim. There are also artificial flowers at the top of the inside of the brim.

The lower left period photograph on page 76 shows a woman in an early 1860s bonnet of a slightly different shape, with a dense frill of what appears to be a crisp, sheer silk all around the inside of the brim. The earlier, wider bonnet in the left photograph on page 78 also has a frill on the inside of the brim, but it also appears to have flowers at the sides. The tall spoon bonnet in the second photograph down on page 79 has a dense frill inside the brim, as well as a spray of flowers. The lower right photograph on page 91 has a tall spoon bonnet which dips in the middle, though not quite to the full point of the Marie Stewart style; inside the brim there are frills at the sides and large flowers at the top.

Introduction, pages 4-5. Spoon Bonnet, 1855-60, with “A frill of silk net and cream silk lace…inside the brim,” on pages 58-59. Fanchon Bonnet, 1865-70, of a slighter later variety than mine (smaller), but of a similar variety, with a slight Marie Stewart style dip at the front, on pages 64-65. Mourning Bonnet, 1865-70, a similar fanchon to the previous example, again with a slightly pointed dip at the front, on pages 74-75. Information on trimmings, specifically ribbons, with photographs, pages 34-35. Glossary, page 94.

Grayscale fashion plates images, with descriptive text, from May-December 1865 of a selection of bonnets of this style, including some of the Marie Stewart variety, pages 144-149. See entry below for information on this this book as a general bonnet resource.

The figure at left in Plate 31, of June 1864, wears a bonnet of the Marie Stewart shape. It is described (on page viii) as a “White crepe bonnet, with a fall of point lace over the brim à la Marie Stewart.” Other plates which show bonnets of a style similar to mine: January 1865, Plate 32; April 1865, Plate 33; March 1865, Plate 34; November 1865, Plate 35; May 1865, Plate 37. See below for more general bonnet references in this book.

An April 1864 fashion plate from Peterson’s Magazine includes a bonnet of the Marie Stewart shape, which appears to have fringe hanging across the top of the brim, on page 267.

Print resources for 1860s bonnets in general:

A July 1861 plate offers the latest styles in millinery (three bonnets and one hat) with descriptions, on page 44. An August 1862 plate shows, among other things, two new spoon bonnet styles, with trimmings, on page 48. A full scene fashion plate of January 1864 includes two spoon bonnets, on page 57. A January 1864 plate depicting the back of a cape also shows the back of a bonnet, on page 59. A December 1864 full scene plate shows three spoon bonnets, two in side view and one back view, on page 64. A September 1864 plate shows four new styles of bonnets, at least one of which appears to be of the Marie Stewart shape, on page 66. A full scene plate of August 1865 has only one bonnet, but it is of a similar style to mine, on page 69. Two ensemble plates from October 1865 include bonnets of a similar style to mine, on page 70.

Schematic drawings, with notes, of extant bonnets: pages 191-193.

The photographs of dressed and posed mannequins sometimes have bonnets, but their details are not always readily discernible. However, several from around the early 1860s make appearances throughout pages 220-236.

While rather disorganized, this book pulls fashion and vast quantities of fashion information, including instructional articles, from original 1850s-60s ladies’ magazines; in this volume, all is about headwear. In addition to the section of 1865 bonnets in a style similar to mine, listed in the entry for this book above, there is a great deal of general useful information, and an immense array of images to look at for trimming and style inspiration. The section devoted to bonnets specifically is on pages 107-160

Full color fashion plates of complete ensembles, including bonnets: September 1862, Plate 28; November 1864, Plate 29; April 1864, Plate 30. See above entry for further references, to bonnets of a style specifically like mine.

Online resources:

1830s straw bonnet with plaid silk ties and white trimmings

Inspiration: My need for a charmingly enormous 1830s bonnet to go with my fashion plate gown; I’m not imitating any specific bonnet trimming style
Form:  Purchased reproduction straw form from Timely Tresses, of ivory-colored hemp braid in their 1835-1840 Frivolia style
Brim Lining:  White silk taffeta or habotai (which I still need to procure)
Crown Lining:  White cotton batiste
Ties and Ribbon Trim:  Plaid silk taffeta in cornsilk yellow, dove gray, and white, purchased at Delectable Mountain Cloth, which I will cut into wide (6″ plus) ribbons and turn narrow hand-stitched hems on.
Outer Trimmings:  Puffing and possibly a bow of the plaid taffeta ribbon, one large white ostrich feather from Timely Tresses.
Trimmings Inside Brim: Three bunches of white velvet lily and two bunches of ivory/yellow velvet violets from Timely Tresses (though I may move one of the bunches to the outside of the bonnet)
Thread:  TBD
Construction:  Linings and trimmings will be entirely hand-sewn, though I believe that the form itself is machine-stitched.
Current Status: I’ve ordered the form and trimmings, but currently all I have for this project is the fabric to be made into ribbons (which I’ve had for over a year, since I originally intended to make this bonnet as part of my 1830s clothing independent study). Since I’m using a straw form rather than buckram, as I’d originally intended, it should go together fairly quickly, so hopefully I can manage to finish my bonnet by my Div III final meeting – or at least by graduation!

Print resources for 1830s bonnets:

Grayscale fashion plates of complete ensembles, including bonnets, all dating from 1832: Figure 41 on page 70; Figures 42 and 43 on page 71; Figure 44 on page 72.

Grayscale fashion plates of complete ensembles, including bonnets, 1838-1840, pages 2-7. There are no color plates dated earlier than 1841.

There are schematic drawings of, and notes about, an extant bonnet on page 140; the bonnet is described as a “Large WHITE SILK BONNET; Trimmed white satin and pale blue ribbons” and appears to be the same bonnet as on pages 26-27 of Hats and Bonnets by Althea Mackenzie, where it is shown in photographs. Together, these sources offer a great deal of information about this bonnet, which is unusually well-preserved. Mackenzie dates the bonnet to the late 1820s. See entry for that book below for more information.

Images of extant 1830s bonnets on fully dressed mannequins: straw on page 190, silk-covered on page 191, page 194 (same bonnet/mannequin as page 190, from another angle), straw on 196/197 (same bonnet from two angles in two pictures).

In the first section of image plates, following page 32: there is a photograph dated “Summer 1840,” of a woman in a late 1830s style large bonnet, either drawn silk or with a shirred silk lining, plate 3; there is also a photograph of “Queen Victoria’s going-away bonnet after her marriage on 10 February 1840,” plate 4.

“Chapter XXI. The Art of the Milliner, or the Mode of making Hats, Toques, &c.” encompasses pages 522 through 564. It offers a great deal of useful information, translated and edited from 1820s and 1830s sources. Included is detailed information on trim, such as how to make different types of bows and ribbon trimmings, and about different types of ornaments. There are very few images, and most are of 1820s hats, but this section is overall a useful informational reference.

Grayscale fashion plates of full ensembles: Figure 51, dated 1834, on page 89; Figure 52, dated 1835, on page 89; Figure 55, dated c. 1837, on page 90; Figure 56, dated July 1837, the popular image of the seated woman in corset with a standing dressed woman beside her, on page 91; Figure 57, dated November 1838, on page 92; Figure 58, dated 1839, on page 92.

The text on “Women’s Bonnets” is on pages 158-162, including hoods and a caleche (or calashe). The associated plate is plate 20. There is some useful information about how to go about lining, covering, and trimming a bonnet. There is also a section on “Straw Plaiting” at the end of the book, on pages 278-290. This book can also be accessed online, so direct links to pages and plates are included.

Extant bonnets: a silk-covered bonnet from the 1820s or 1830s, page 47; a silk-covered bonnet dated “early 1830s,” page 51; a large drawn bonnet, c. 1836.

Fashion plates with bonnets: from Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1830, page 51; fashion plates including bonnets, c. 1830, pages 52 and 53; fashion plate, 1835, page 54; fashion plate with drawn bonnet, 1836, page 55.

Introduction, pages 4-5. Information on straw plaits, with photographs, pages 24-25. Enormous silk-covered bonnet of the late 1820s with intact puffs of ribbon, pages 26-27. Leghorn bonnet, 1830-35, with trims added later, pages 28-29. Winter bonnet, 1830-40, covered in novelty fabric, with a cream satin lining with a gathered strip around the brim edge, pages 30-31. Bonnet of the later, closer-fitting shape, dated “Late 1830s – 40s,” with interesting applied striped ribbon decorations, pages 32-33. Information on trimmings, specifically ribbons, with photographs, pages 34-35. Glossary, page 94.

Note: Futher information on the late 1820s silk-covered bonnet is available on page 140 of Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail. There are schematic drawings of, and notes about, an extant bonnet; the bonnet is described as a “Large WHITE SILK BONNET; Trimmed white satin and pale blue ribbons” and appears to be the same bonnet as on pages 26-27 of Hats and Bonnets by Althea Mackenzie, where it is shown in photographs. Together, these sources offer a great deal of information about this bonnet, which is unusually well-preserved.

Full color fashion plates of complete ensembles, including bonnets, 1838-1840: plates 2-5, of which 2 and 3 are both double plates. Plate 6 is also dated 1840, but only evening styles, with evening headdresses, are pictured; there are no bonnets.

The plate shown on page 8 and described on page 9 is dated to c. 1842, but the style of the clothing is quite similar to fashions of the late 1830s, including the large bonnet, so it is useful for reference. The bonnet’s wide ribbon ties are left untied.

Two extant 1830s straw bonnets are shown on mannequins in 1830s gowns, page 34. Extant wedding bonnet of “cream silk with cream crêpe trimming and artificial lilacs 1835-39” shown on a table in a period room, along with a dummy head and a “milliner’s wooden delivery box 1820-50,” pages 87-88. Presumably the same wedding bonnet, shown with a veil, on a mannequin in an 1837 wedding dress, page 91.

Print resources for general millinery, not necessarily period:

This book is less likely to be useful, since it is geared for making hats more-or-less contemporary to the 1960s publication date. However, there is some good general information about materials and techniques.

Online resources, specifically collection photographs of extant bonnets:
(I have organized these roughly chronologically, based on the overall shape. As nearly as I can tell, the angle of the crown related to the brim, at the top, started out fairly acute with early bonnets of the regency era and 1820s, often around a right angle – more like a hat – and around the middle of the 1830s became gradually more obtuse [yes, geometry is relevant to bonnets!], eventually smoothing out completely in styles of the very late 1830s and the 1840s, including the “coal scuttle” bonnet.)