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My apologies to William Shakespeare:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would still smell as sweet.”

Act II Scene II, Romeo and Juliet

What do you picture when you think of satin? Something smooth, with a sheen that reflects the candlelight? A fabric somewhat heavy but with a lovely drape? What is satin?

Red Damask on the loom

Red Damask on the loom

What do you think of when you hear “damask”? Do you see figured tablecloths on your grandmother’s holiday table? Do you see a dense fabric in a single color or an elaborate upholstery for the sofa?

In popular usage, satin is that shiny, slippery fabric commonly used in wedding gowns – and sometimes sheets, although I’m told that satin sheets don’t live up to their hype. Damask can be heavy suiting, upholstery, or table linens.

In weaving terminology, satin is “a weave with warp floats on one surface of the cloth and weft floats on the other.”  (van der Hoogt,  Madelyn, The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers. Coupeville, Washington: Shuttlecraft Books, Inc., 1993).

Snowflake Damask Runner

Snowflake Damask Runner

“Satins have one binding point only on each warp thread within the repeat.” (Cyrus, Ulla, Manual of Swedish Handweaving. Boston, Massachusetts: Charles T. Branford Company, 1956). Having only that single binding point produces long floats which reflect the light, thus giving satin its sheen. Using fine threads with more luster accentuates that characteristic of satin. Satin is closely related to twill but because those tie-down threads are scattered, there is no characteristic diagonal line.

Handwoven satin is not as fine as machine-produced satin, mainly because factory-produced cloth uses much finer threads than are available to handweavers. Nonetheless, handwoven satin produces a lovely fabric!

“Damask is a self-patterned weave which…is based on interchanging areas of warp and weft emphasis.” (Johansson, Lillemor, Damask and Opphämta. Stockholm, Sweden: LTs Förlag 1982). Satin is often used in weaving damask, but other weave structures can be used in one of the faces, satin with twill for example.

I’ve dabbled in weaving satin damask for many years and each time I thread the loom, I learn something else. This summer, I’ve learned a new way to weight my ground shafts so they come back to a neutral position (simple elastic straps). I’ve also played around with some floral motifs gleaned from early weaving manuscripts.

Red and White Dräll (as opposed to "damask"), front and back

Red and White Dräll (as opposed to “damask”), front and back

I feel like I have so much to learn about these structures. Case in point, in researching for this blog, I realized that I have been using the term “damask” exclusively when some of what I weave is more correctly classified as dräll weave which uses repeating blocks for patterning whereas “the patterning in damask is…freer and richer than the geometrical figures in dräll.” (Johansson).

I’d like to see how 8-shaft satin differs in look from 5-shaft satin. That experiment is yet to come. A friend also noted that a lot of early manuscripts show drafts that combine satin on one face with a different weave on the other face. Intriguing.  That too begs to be studied.

What do you think of when you hear “satin” and “damask”? Let me know.

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