My newest spinning and weaving project is calimanco, an 18th century fabric. The research journey has been documented in the German-language articles in this category, but since it proved rather difficult to find detailed information, I thought I should do my little bit to remedy that by sharing my findings with the international community.
When I learned that in the 18th century there had been damasks and even brocades made from wool, I was fascinated. I hadn’t thought it possible that damask, let alone brocade, could be made from anything else than silk. (Historically, of course. Forget about poly right this instant! Shoo!)
Well, ok, there’s linen, for household textiles, but those were more or less white and definitely not used for clothing.
Now I’ve inadvertently introduced the answer to the question that often crops up, “How on earth can wool, let alone that of those coarse longwool breeds, mimick silk?” Simple answer: Colours. Both silk and wool are easy to dye with period dyestuffs, and keep the colours well. Linen and cotton are and do not. That’s basically it. With a non-crimpy, shiny wool and calendaring, you even get a sheen that would look almost, but not quite, entirely unlike that of silk. (I haven’t seen a freshly calendared period calimanco in person yet, though.)
Linda Baumgarten writes in What Clothes Reveal, “Colorful calimancoes that had been glazed mimicked more expensive silks, yet their long-lasting worsted fiber content was appropriate for a workingwoman’s garment.” (p. 114) There’s a picture of a striped and a brocaded worsted fabric on the same page.
As long as I don’t own a drawloom, a damask or even brocade is unattainable, but the Nordiska Museet also has a multitude of samples of striped worsted fabrics that seem doable. I found a name for that type of fabric: calimanco. Here’s what they look like: