Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review-- Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years

Women's Work:  The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Barber, might be the most important book on the history of clothing/textiles that I've ever read, and I have read a lot of them.

This book presents itself as a history of developments in textile technology from the Paleolithic through approximately the 5th century BCE, with a special focus on Bronze Age Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.  It begins with the invention of string in the Paleolithic, continues through the Secondary Products Revolution which followed the domestication of animals, and covers the invention of several different types of looms and weaving techniques and innovations in the way that workers were organized to produce textiles.  Throughout the book, the author combines evidence from archaeological evidence like spindle whorls and loom weights, ancient artwork, literature, folktales, modern folk costumes, and ancient textiles which have miraculously been preserved. 
If the book had stopped there, it would have merely been excellent, but it becomes so much more-- an argument that women's social freedom is tied to their economic freedom, and that this, in turn, was tied to textile production for much of human history.  Why textiles?  Spinning and weaving are safe, can be done at home, can be stopped and started at a moment's notice, and generally do not require intense concentration.  Thus, they are compatible with child care.
This book is fascinating, and extremely well-written. If you like sewing, you'll love the detailed discussions of how ancient garments were crafted, and the slice-of-life descriptions of how women would gather together to spin, weave, and prepare fibers.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Silk in the Wash

Obligatory photo.  Yes, I'm running my four ply silk crepe wedding dress through the washing machine as I write this.

I refuse to sew anything that requires dry cleaning.  This is partly because I'm too cheap and lazy to go to the dry cleaner's, and partly because none of my experiences of taking me-made clothes to the dry cleaners has turned out well.  (RIP, several garments). 

I send a lot of fabrics through the washing machine that would probably make you panic.  On the bright side, you now have the chance to learn from my experience!  Here's what I've found about putting silk through the washing machine, and yes, sometimes, even the dryer.

IMPORTANT NOTE #1:  I always wash cold delicate, tumble dry low.  If it's an evening dress, I wash the dress by itself with nothing else in the load.

IMPORTANT NOTE #2:  Always wash/dry the fabric before cutting it out, so it won't shrink after washing.  It's a bad idea to run a dry clean only silk dress through the washer for this very reason.

IMPORTANT NOTE #3:  Never ever ever ever wring out silk fabric.  The fibers lose strength when wet and you could rip it apart.

Without further ado...

Silk Habotai/China Silk
Washer:  YES
Dryer:  YES
This is what I typically use for lining fabric.  With tens of garments and hundreds of washings, I've never had any problems whatsoever putting it through both the washer and the dryer.

Silk Charmeuse
Washer:  YES
I use silk charmeuse for linings and also for garments.  For linings, I've never had problems putting it through the washer or the dryer.  It does come out of the experience looking somewhat sueded, though.  That's why I line dry my charmeuse dresses.

Silk Crepe
Washer:  YES
Dryer:  NO
My red silk crepe de chine dress has gone through the washer several times with no apparent problems.  However, the time I ran it through the dryer, it shrank, and I was only able to get it back to wearable condition by weighting the hem overnight.  Thank God it was cut on the bias and that kludge worked.

Silk Chiffon
Washer:  YES
My silk chiffon dress has gone through the wash several times.  It's fine.  It gets lots of wrinkles from air drying, though, and ironing it out afterwards is a pain.  Oh well.

Silk Dupioni
Washer:  YES
I have two silk dupioni dresses, one that I blogged about here and another that I haven't posted yet.  They come out just fine.  Washing makes the dupioni soft and drapey rather than stiff, but I like that, since I almost never make garments with a lot of structure to them.

Silk Brocade
Washer:  YES
I have a silk brocade dress that I've somehow never blogged about.  It goes through the washer with no problems.  Running silk brocade through the wash makes it soft and drapey rather than stiff, but I like it better that way anyway.

Four Ply Silk Crepe
Washer: YES
I have two dresses made out of four ply silk crepe, and I run them through the washer regularly with no ill effects.  One of them is in the washer as I type this, in fact.

Silk Velvet
I run my silk velvet evening dress through the washer and the dryer and it's great-- the dryer fluffs up the pile and the dress comes out looking better than new.  I don't see why you would clean silk velvet any other way.