Guide to Silk Fabrics: Dupioni and Taffeta
Silk is an ancient organic fiber consisting of a three-sided prism structure, giving woven textiles a lovely sheen when viewed from various angles. This natural fiber has been used for eons to create elegant home furnishings and clothing items. Even with the advent of synthetic fabrics, the popularity of silk has never waned. Apparently, there will always be something endearing about this magical fabric.
According to Chinese legend, Empress Hsi Ling Shi discovered silk quite by accident. While having tea under a mulberry tree, she was startled when a silkworm cocoon suddenly fell into her cup and unraveled its shimmering threads. Her husband Emperor Huang Ti was so impressed that he ordered his people to cultivate the silkworms and spin the newly found fiber into luxurious textiles.
The silk trade expanded by way of the Silk Road, which originated in the western Han Dynasty from 202 BC to 9 AD. It hit its peak during the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368). The route eventually stretched 4,350 miles from western China, to central Asia, and into Europe. The silk routes transformed into multiple branches to distribute silk, porcelain, salt, sugar, spices, and tea.
Popular Silk Types: Dupioni and Taffeta
Dupioni and taffeta conjure up images of old world opulence. Silk curtains with dressmaker details and plush interlined "petticoats" remind one of elegant ball gowns. If you're not one for formal attire, you might envision a silk dress adorned with its fanciful ruching and sparkling beadwork.
The main difference between dupioni and taffeta silks are the slubs. Dupioni is nubby and a little more coarse than taffeta, with its signature slubs found throughout the fabric. The bumps are an accumulation of raw silk as it is spun into yarn. The slubs stay within the threads and are woven into the fabric. Dupioni silk is widely made into lavish dresses, home furnishing fabrics, and elegant curtains.
Taffeta's extra manufacturing process removes thread slubs to create a smooth finish, as opposed to the less refined texture of dupioni. It also gives taffeta more luster and a crisper hand. Its additional processing makes it slightly more expensive than dupioni. Taffeta is mostly used for formal gowns and sumptuous bed linens and curtains.
What About Wrinkles?
As dreamy as silks are, they inevitably wrinkle. So how do you go about smoothing out the creases? You can look the other way if your silk curtains have a few wrinkles. But a ball gown reduced to a mass of wrinkles is never in style. High heat damages silk fibers, so using a hot iron is totally out of the question. Remove wrinkles with light steam—by either hanging the fabric in the bathroom after a shower or using a professional steam machine.
You can also try the steam setting on your iron. Steam the fabric by holding the iron at least 6–8 inches from the fabric. When using a steam method, be careful not to let moisture condense on the silk. Water causes stubborn spotting, which is difficult to remove. To be on the safe side, take your silk creations to the dry cleaners. It may not be the cheapest route, but it's the best way to preserve your investment.
Cleaning and Care
As delicate as silks appear, they are very durable textiles. However, there is a special way to clean and maintain both curtains and gowns to avoid permanent damage. Never try hand washing or treating stains at home. Leave that to the professionals. Find a dry cleaner specializing in fine fabrics to care of your precious silk items.
Silk and ultraviolet light do not mix. While your silk evening gown is safely stored in the closet, your curtains are another matter. UV rays can ruin silk in just a few short years. Once the fibers become brittle and the color fades, they're beyond repair. Make sure your curtains are lined and interlined to provide a barrier from the elements. It's also a good idea to place blinds between the curtains and window, or hang them in a room without direct sun.
Giving your silk a well-needed rest once in a while is a good idea. Store it in a cotton bag or bin that will allow the silk to breathe. Be sure silk doesn't become permanently creased. The folds can become brittle and tear after being stored in place for too long.
Before putting silk gowns and curtains into storage, make sure they're clean, completely dry, and free of toxic chemicals. Store them in a cool, dry, and dark space. Dry cleaning bags or PVC storage bags are sure death for any type of silk fabrics. Plastic traps ambient moisture, resulting in mildew and discoloration.
Don't forget moths love to munch on silk. So throw in cedar chips, blocks, or balls to repel hungry larvae.
Which curtain and gown combo is your favorite?
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© 2011 Linda Chechar