[Ansteorra] Fwd: [Elfsea] For Mistress Stella, lower grade silk in Rennaisance Europe

Sunny Briscoe sunnyday72 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 15 18:36:03 PST 2007

The article that is quoted is written by Jen Thompson of the Festive Attyre
and the link is here:  http://www.festiveattyre.com/research/silk.html

She has some amazing resources.

Elisabetta Morosini

On 1/15/07, klfrench1023 at aol.com <klfrench1023 at aol.com> wrote:
> For anyone who wants to document dupioni, this is an excellent
> source.  I've been dying to get my hands on this book for ages!
> Caterina
> -----Original Message-----
> From: starstruck503 at hotmail.com
> To: elfsea at lists.ansteorra.org
> Sent: Mon, 15 Jan 2007 1:19 PM
> Subject: [Elfsea] For Mistress Stella, lower grade silk in Rennaisance
> Europe
> Here is what I have; do not know how accurate or authentic, but it looked
> good...
> The article was written by an SCA member on one of the several lists I
> belong to. Unfortunately I did not copy his or her name down when
> copy/pasting this for future reference. However, the book is listed as:
> Mola, Luca. The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice. Baltimore: The Johns
> Hopkins University Press. 2000 if anyone wants to try and find a copy to
> check it out. Hope you find it as interesting as I did... *putting this book
> on Christmas wish list*
> Namaste, Mary Ann (Rua)
> The Use of Lower Grade Silks in the Renaissance
> When choosing fabrics for the recreation of Renaissance clothing, I have
> always been told that you should never use slubby silk or silk noil. The
> common theory passed on by numerous respected costumers is that these fibers
> would have been considered waste products not up to the high standards of
> silk manufacturers or consumers during the period, and these materials would
> have never been used to make fabric for personal garments. Although I have
> not seen documentation to support this conclusion, I accepted it as fact and
> proceeded to tell others that silk fabrics such as douppioni were not
> historically correct because of the imperfections in the weave. But
> recently, I stumbled across a book that gives an abundance of evidence
> documenting the use of lower grades of silk in the 16th century, and
> uncovers another side to the story that has largely been ignored. This
> article is intended to share this newfound knowledge based on Luca Mola's
> research in The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Grades of silk:
> The first step to understanding this issue is to look at the different
> grades of silk fibers produced during the Renaissance. "True silk", known as
> seta leale, was the most precious material made from carefully unwinding an
> intact cocoon in a basin of hot water to form one long, very strong,
> continuous thread; a process known as reeling. These threads made up the
> category of first-grade silk, which was the primary fiber used in the luxury
> silk industry.
> Second-choice silk, or "double silk", "was produced when two silkworms
> were put too close together in the raisings during their metamorphosis, and
> so ended up wrapped in a single cocoon." (p. 233) This "double silk", which
> was referred to in period texts as seta di doppi, did go through the same
> reeling process as "true silk", but the imperfections and slubs from the
> tangled cocoons caused it to sell for half as much as the first-choice
> product, and it had traditionally been used for sewing threads, hangings,
> trims, and haberdashery.
> Waste silks or spun-silk noil (strazze de seda filada) were obtained from
> broken cocoons, the fluffy external coverings of the cocoons, or by
> collecting the waste fibers gathered from the cauldrons or reeling
> equipment. Because these materials were not made from a continuous thread
> like first- and second-choice silks, they had to be combed, carded, and spun
> like other short textile fibers. These waste-silk threads were classified
> according to their various sources and were valued at the relatively low
> price of 5 to 10 solidi per pound while "true silk" sold for 124 soldi per
> pound. (p. 252)
> In an estimate of the different raw materials produced from cocoons in
> mainland Venice in 1559, "true silk" made up 240,000 pounds, "double silk"
> accounted for 60,000 pounds, and various waste silks added another 100,000
> pounds to the total production. (p. 234)
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Fabric production:
> The luxury fabric trade that brought wealth and fame to Venice and other
> Italian regions was heavily regulated to insure quality control and
> perfection in the high-end silk cloths. After 1450, innumerable laws were
> passed prohibiting the use of second-grade and waste silks in the weaving of
> drappi da parangon, or cloths for comparison, that included the most
> luxurious satins, velvets, and brocades. These fabrics were extremely
> expensive, and they had to pass guild inspections and contain specific
> colored thread markers in the selvage to signify that they were made from
> the finest silk threads, dyes, and weaving techniques. Fraud and deception
> was common in the Renaissance silk market, and the strict laws and
> regulations were intended to protect the buyers and ensure the good name of
> the Italian silk industry. If any lesser quality materials or techniques
> were detected during guild inspections, the silk would be confiscated, and
> the weavers and sellers would be heavily fined. However, there were other
> less regulated classes of fabric in the silk trade such as the drappi
> mezzani, which were medium quality cloths destined for both local and
> foreign markets, drappi de navegar, cloths for export by sea, and drappi
> domestici, domestic cloths produced exclusively for local consumers and
> excluded from trade. (p. 97)
> The drappi domestici was the most ancient of these categories dating back
> to the 13th century. With these fabrics, "anyone at all could order a cloth
> from a master weaver with a weft thread of second-choice silk, waste silk,
> or some other fiber, so long as he employed it exclusively for his or his
> family's personal use and did not sell it." (p. 165) Mola points out that
> "this regulation was addressed in particular to the members of the Venetian
> nobility, who made large use of it, but it was also used by simple citizens
> or by the setaioli (silk sellers) or artisans themselves to produce the
> fabrics they needed for making cheap clothes and hangings." (p. 97) So it is
> not surprising that a large number of garments, coverlets, and hangings made
> with a weft of waste silk are found in the inventories of Venetian nobles,
> citizens, merchants, and artisans. (p. 166) These cheaper fabrics were
> commonly used by the upper and middle classes for less-formal garments and
> could provide an affordable alternative to the high-end silks that were sold
> for exorbitant prices.
> The reduced cost of the lower grades of silk thread also drew the interest
> of entrepreneurs who could produce fabrics for a much lower cost that were
> in high demand with local and international consumers. A law passed in 1475
> officially sanctioned the use of waste silk and second-choice silk in cloth
> da navegar, as long as it had the proper identification mark in the selvage.
> While still restricted from using anything but "true silk" in cloths da
> parangon, "the freedom in the use of silk threads for cloths da navegar was
> widely exploited by weavers and setaioli in the course of the 16th century,
> as attested by the many trials held to ascertain the quality of cloths
> produced in Venetian shops." (p. 166) Although the guild inspectors commonly
> spoke of these lesser fabrics as having thread that was "filthy" or "bad",
> they could not confiscate it as long as it was clearly marked so that it
> would not mislead foreign consumers. (p. 166)
> Even the drappi mezzani enjoyed a slackening of standards during the 16th
> century due to the demand from foreign markets, "first by admitting the use
> of unboiled silk, then of second-choice silk, then of waste silk, and
> finally, even of other textile fibers" such as wool, cotton, or flax. (p.
> 167) Even though the guild continued to protest the use of these
> lesser-quality fibers, "the use of weft thread made with second-choice silk
> in the drappi mezzani was officially countenanced by state officials, even
> though no law was issued on the matter." (p. 169)
> Mixed cloths, a final form of lower quality silk, were the primary types
> of cloth produced by the East and Southern Mediterranean countries in the
> early Middle Ages, but regulations from the 1360's onward began to curb this
> practice in Venice and other Italian regions. (p. 161-162) However, laws
> were amended once again in the last quarter of the 16th century to allow the
> manufacture of various mixed cloths made with a warp of silk and a weft
> created from various combinations of wool, cotton, flax, and waste silk.
> Venetian weavers petitioned the silk guild in 1575 to be allowed to make
> these types of fabrics which were produced throughout Europe, and as stated
> by Pasqualin d'Alessandro, "are continually imported in very great
> quantities to the detriment of us poor weavers, who are forbidden to produce
> such kinds of fabric since they are forbidden by law, which laws were issued
> a long time before the invention of these new types of fabrics." (p. 172)
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The bigger picture:
> Although most of this information on lower grades of silk is specifically
> based on the Venetian silk industry, the author also covers similar trends
> throughout Italy, Europe, and the Levant. Mola begins this further
> exploration by stating that "the Venetian production of low-quality and
> mixed cloths fell within a general trend that affected nearly all of the
> other Italian silk industries in the second half of the 16th century.
> Indeed, one of the principal transformations in the manufacture of silk
> cloths in Italy during the late Renaissance was the return to the production
> of fabrics woven with less noble materials, an older tradition that had
> faded away almost everywhere between the 14th and 15th centuries." (p. 177)
> The author goes on to give numerous examples of the use of these materials
> in other regions, such as the cities of Genoa, Reggio, Emilia, Modena, and
> Lucca, who "were accustomed to using waste silk together with first-choice
> threads in cloths exported to France, Flanders, Germany, Bohemia, and
> Hungary where they were appreciated for their low price." (p. 177) In one of
> my favorite antidotes, Mola's research finds that young unmarried girls in
> Lucca were forbidden by a 1572 sumptuary law from wearing the finest silks,
> so they avoided this regulation by "avidly seeking fabrics woven with
> second-choice (doppi) and waste silk," or fabrics made from silk and wool
> blends. (p. 179) German businessmen bought these lower grades of silk cloth
> in huge quantities, and in Flanders, the predominant fabric for local
> production combined a weft of wool with a warp of first-choice,
> second-choice, or waste silk. (p. 182)
> Many other specific facts are given about the use of these lesser silk
> fibers in various regions, and all of these findings attest to the
> widespread use of these material throughout most of Europe during the 16th
> century. Mola's research seems to suggest that while the finest silks were
> indeed free of any imperfections and dominated the international luxury
> fabric market, another world of lower-grade silk materials were able to
> successfully co-exist with the finer versions, and these fabrics, contrary
> to modern beliefs, played an important role in the production of garments in
> the late Renaissance.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Comparison to modern textiles:
> Although this information opens up some exciting new possibilities for
> authentic garment construction, it is still difficult to say which modern
> fabrics can or cannot be used in the recreation of period attire.
> Second-grade or "double silk" is described almost exactly the same way in
> period texts as modern fabrics such as douppioni (whose root comes from the
> same source as doppi, the Italian Renaissance term for double silk fibers).
> Modern silk douppioni is defined as having uneven and irregular threads that
> are reeled from two or more entangled cocoons. Our modern tastes have grown
> to appreciate the slubby textures of fabrics like douppioni, Shantung, and
> pongee (which are also made from double silk), and lower grade fabrics such
> as Indian douppioni tend to emphasize these imperfections. On the other
> hand, 16th century buyers would not have appreciated these flaws within the
> weave, and slubby silks probably would have never been used for the
> nobility's finest clothing. However, lower grade silk fabrics that might
> possibly resemble modern douppionis or Shantung seem to be within the realm
> of possibility for less-formal wear.
> Waste silk is even more difficult to match up with modern counterparts
> because of the wide variety of fibers and weaves associated with this
> material. Modern silk noil and spun silk, once again, are defined in the
> same way as waste silk of the Renaissance, but it is difficult to ascertain
> from the text whether or not low-grade silk fabrics of the 16th century
> would look anything like the spun silk fabrics we are accustomed to seeing
> today. In fact, the production of fabrics with either second-choice or waste
> silks in the 1500's often hid these fibers beneath the complicated weave of
> satin, velvet, or brocades, so they might look more like modern silk brocade
> (which typically uses lesser quality fibers in the weave) than nubby silk
> noil. But there are also period descriptions of plain weave fabrics that
> used waste silk threads, so it is just impossible to know for sure. However,
> I feel that modern spun silk fabrics should not be entirely ruled out simply
> because they are made with short fibers, since this book gives abundant
> evidence that waste silks were used in the production of fabric from the
> that period.
> With this being said, I still feel the need to point out that most of the
> research presented in this book deals with lower grade fabrics that retained
> a warp of true silk. The use of waste silk for the long warp threads would
> reduce the strength of the cloth and impair its durability, and most of the
> laws permitted the use of lesser fibers for the weft alone. Douppioni and
> some finer spun silk materials still use the higher quality reeled silk
> threads in the warp, so this would not be an issue with those fabrics, but
> most of the modern silk noils use waste fibers for both the warp and the
> weft. Mola's research rarely discusses fabrics made with a warp of waste
> silk in the 16th century, except when it was combined with other types of
> fibers (for example, the Flemish silk-wool blends mentioned in the previous
> section), and the only example I could find of 100% silk fabrics made with a
> warp of waste silk was from a 1335 Florentine law permitting its use in
> light cloths, but this practice was later overturned in the 15th century.
> (p. 179) Although it appears that using a warp of waste silk was not unheard
> of in the Renaissance, fabrics resembling modern noil with both a warp and
> weft made of waste silk were probably extremely rare.
> And finally, mixed cloths made from a combination of silk and cotton,
> wool, or flax are also documentable, especially before 1350 or after the
> first half of the 16th century, but the availability of these fabrics would
> probably vary depending on the location and exact date. This also does not
> account for the types of weave, which would need to be carefully researched
> if you are looking for complete authenticity, but it does open up a nice
> range of silk blend fabrics that could be considered for the construction of
> historical clothing.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Conclusion:
> I realize that this information goes against some of the common knowledge
> espoused by Medieval, Renaissance, and Elizabethan costumers, but I was
> completely thrilled when I found this new source of documentation, and I
> encourage anybody who is interested in this subject to read this book and
> see the evidence for yourself. I have attempted to condense an enormous
> amount of information into a fairly brief article, but there is much more
> wonderful research on this topic as well as information on dyes, weaving
> techniques, sericulture, centers of production, the silk guilds, and the
> socio-economical impact of the silk industry in Venice and other regions
> during the Renaissance. It's not exactly a light read, but the research is
> astounding and you could spend weeks just going through the 150 pages of
> glossary, notes, bibliography, and appendixes! As always, if you have any
> comments, questions, or additional evidence either supporting or refuting
> the use of lower grade silks in the Renaissance period, I would love to hear
> from you!
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Mola, Luca. The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice. Baltimore: The Johns
> Hopkins University Press. 2000.
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