It is both beautiful and luxurious, but also created without the intervention of man – divine indeed. No other cloth seems to garner the same emotive reaction as silk. It is haute couture for some and a cushion for others. It connotes weddings and births and grand country houses. It is beauty, history and modernity and in the cloth world we seem to covet nothing more than silk. It is fluid and delicate like no other and holds colour so that it looks almost luminous. It has clothed royalty since the 27 BC and when its secrets were unraveled, the Silk Route was born. It has been everything from currency and curtains, tapestries and ties to parachutes and pantyhose.
Fabric has always been the foundation of my work and silk - well silk is my talisman. It can be an expensive cloth, but nothing takes or reflects colour like silk and the tactility of a silk velvet covered chair or the whoosh of silk taffeta blinds - well it is just wonderful. I was hooked by Christian Dior's silk swathed goddesses as a teenager and Caroline Quartermaine was (still is) an unbelievable inspiration in the 90's. If you don't have her book 'Revealed', you should find it as it is extraordinary.
I've always used Japanese and Indian silks in our bespoke quilts and we hand dye silk velvet as cushions, curtains and as backings for the quilts. I'm fascinated by natural fabrics and how they are both made and the stories behind their creation. I often use silk, linen and leather together as the enhance each other and become patterns without being an actual pattern, which as I prefer quieter rooms where people provide the pattern, this works. I often use clothing quality silk fabrics rather than upholstery weight for curtains and blinds. It is more cost effective - but also is available in many colours and I often have it dyed, so that you can see the magical 'hand-of-the-maker'. You need to back all silk textiles to protect from sunlight and I never been disappointed with using dress-weight silk, once they have been lined. Lastly - antique or vintage silk saris make the best casual curtains - again lined for robustness and for blocking the light, but they are so wonderful for bringing life to a room as they have usually been hand dyed and blockprinted.
Silk is a unique and fascinating cloth as it is spun into existence by the silk worm, ready made and in one length. So fragile that it needs to be twisted into stranded lengths to make it strong enough to weave. Yet it is the strongest natural fibre - a steel filament of the same diameter will break before silk does. But it is also temperamental under sunlight (thus the need to line curtains or blinds) and doesn’t respond positively to mankind’s perspiration.
It is a natural protein fibre, very similar to human hair. It starts life as a liquid, which then hardens on contact with air. It mostly comes from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm, which are now reared in captivity - a process called sericulture. Silk fabric shimmers due to a prism like fibre structure. This mean the fabric can refract light, which is why the finished cloth often looks like it is made of many colours – miraculous.
The worm creates a cocoon in which it pupates and covers itself in silk thread. Like all natural fibres there is a cost to this - in order to use the silk in its strongest and most luxuriant form, the pupae have to be killed whilst inside the cocoon. This is done by either dipping them in boiling water, or by piercing them with a needle. Unlike any other natural fibres, there is no need for chemicals, or a huge strain on natural resources. But of course it is still a cost. If you don’t want to buy silk that has been created through sericulture, there is wild silk – or Eri silk, which I love. To create this cloth, silk cocoons are gathered in the wild rather than through concentrated farming. The pupae have usually left the cocoon, thereby tearing the thread into shorter lengths. As a cloth has a slubby feel, and is usually left in its natural colour. We use it for throws and cushions because it looks and feels beautiful.
I love silk - and I really enjoy using it on homes or products where I can - it isn't right for everywhere, but I think there is always a place in every home.