Flossy silk at Hardwick Hall

Detail of the flossy silk hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the flossy silk hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the meanings of the word ‘floss’ is fine silk in spun strands not twisted together. I was looking this up because apparently the hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall are made of ‘flossy silk’ – and they look rather good.

The Cut-Velvet Dressing Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Cut-Velvet Dressing Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another meaning of ‘flossy’ is ‘showy or overdressed’. I suppose these hangings are quite showy, but in the context of Hardwick, which was all about show when it was built in the late sixteenth century, they don’t look out of place.

In fact much in this room, including the silk hangings, dates from the late seventeenth century, when the 1st Duke of Devonshire created two new apartments on the first floor at Hardwick, one for his wife and one for himself. But of course this is not really surprising in a many-layered house such as Hardwick.

Detail of the flossy silk hangings. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the flossy silk hangings. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Even the name ‘Cut-Velvet Dressing Room’ is layered in a characteristically country house way. There is no cut-velvet in this particular room, and the name actually refers to the fact that it is the dressing room to the Cut-Velvet Bedroom next door. The splendid cut-velvet bed in that room, in turn, was a relatively late addition, having been brought to Hardwick by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the nineteenth century.

The immediate inspiration for this post was the beautifully illustrated post about Hardwick over at the ArchitectDesign blog.


10 Responses to “Flossy silk at Hardwick Hall”

  1. architectdesignblog Says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my post as I get so much out of your lovely blog!

  2. opusanglicanum Says:

    I think a lot of modern embroiderers get confused by this, as stranded cotton is often refered to as floss, and even some silk suppliers refer to thier twisted silks as floss. A lady on my opus anglicanum course this weekend (where we were using proper untwisted silk floss) told me that the rsn tutor at hampton court had told her you couldn’t even buy proper flos any more(which you can).

    it gets a bit tapestry/tapestry

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    As long as people don’t get too flosstered about it 🙂

  4. Will Chandler Says:

    The wall fabrics illustrated were indeed embroidered with silk “floss,” as opposed to silk “twist,” and it appears that the underlying brocaded silk support fabric is also patterned with zigzag bands of light-reflective silk floss threads used as supplementary weft floats. So although the use of “flossy” as an adjective might be technically accurate, unless readers of that description are familiar with the structural implications of the term “floss,” the description can become ambiguous and unnecessarily confusing.
    So, what is silk floss? The fiber in an unbroken silk cocoon is a single continuous filament, typically 600 to 900 meters in length, and if the cocoon is obtained before the insect inside it has emerged (which breaks the cocoon’s continuous filament into short sections), the filament’s outer end can be found and the cocoon unreeled.
    Groups of these individual silk fibers can be unreeled together to produce plied threads that are much finer, much stronger and much more light-reflective than threads that have been spun (twisted) together from the much shorter fibers obtained from broken silk cocoons, or for that matter almost all other traditional animal and vegetable fibers.
    Additional confusion can arise when plied silk flosses are given a slight visible twist simply to stabilize them for use in embroidery. A slight twist does not indicate that these flosses are actually a spun silk “twist” thread. “Twists” are usually made from several thin spun yarns twisted together to add tensile strength for utilitarian plain sewing, in various thicknesses designed to be used, say, for seams, buttonholes or embroidery.
    Silk floss threads are much more labor intensive to produce than spun silk, and fabrics or embroideries made with silk flosses are correspondingly more expensive and usually also more visually lustrous than other fabrics made with spun silk threads. That might account for the doubtless later adoption of “flossy” to describe something that is “showy or overdressed.”
    The high reflectivity and tensile strength of unreeled silk floss threads was exploited in warp-face weave structures such as satin and satin-ground damask, and as the supplementary “effect” threads in figured brocaded fabrics. But silk flosses were also used to make many of the best quality light-absorbing fabrics such as silk velvet, especially voided or figured cut velvets, in which only selected areas of the the looped threads were cut to make the velvet pile. In that context even a high-quality silk cut velvet could also be described as “flossy.”.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Will, thank you so much for this detailed explanation of what silk floss actually is – that it describes the type of thread rather than the textile end product.

    On a less scholarly note, one of my grandmother’s sisters was nicknamed ‘Floss’, after her actual first name, Florence, but I wonder if there was also a teasing reference to showiness (or some other silky quality) in it.

  6. Ellen-Scarlett Says:

    Reblogged this on View from my attic.

  7. gailcreativestudies Says:

    What a great set of photos that show off the bright colors from the 17th C. The design of the panels is very detailed showing off the usual type of faces and scrolling leaves. It looks like Long and Short Stitch has been used. A grand description for floss, Will. That would be a great description to place on Wikipedia.

  8. gailcreativestudies Says:

    Reblogged this on Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts and commented:
    Recently our students have been working with silk floss. I was intrigued to see this blog post about flossy silk used on 17th C embroideries from Hardwick Hall – one of my very favorite National Trust properties. Nowadays the term silk floss often has different connotations – depending on who is making or selling it. The term floss in N. America has also come to mean cotton threads that are divisible. Read the comments on this blog too as Will Chandler gives us a good explanation of the words flossy silk. Flossy silk or silk floss? The word floss has surely changed from country to country and thru the centuries. Here’s another word to ponder on – dental floss.

  9. marilynpwaitempwstudios Says:

    Loved reading about “silk floss” as a new student of Gail Harker, and spinner, it gives me new and old methods to ponder. MPW Studios

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gail and Marilyn, I am so glad you found this post interesting. And yes until I wrote this post that was how I understood the word ‘floss’: as in the threads used to clean teeth with. But it makes sense in that dental floss, too, is made up of bundles of untwisted threads.

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