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(Clockwise From Top Left:  Cuarto Colorado; Unknown; Vera Bradley; Dalani Italy; Vivienne Westwood)

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Fabrics of Life: Batik

Batik:  A method of dyeing fabric.  A pattern is drawn, stamped, or covered with wax, and then the fabric is dyed; the waxed patterns do not take to the dye.  The wax is then removed by boiling the fabric, applying solvent, or ironing over with a designated absorbent.  This process can be repeated numerous times to obtain a variety of designs.  Often batik fabrics show some streaking where the dye has gone through the cracks in the wax.

Wax resist dyeing and Batik printing have a very long history.  Today Batik is popularly associated with Indonesia, as well as Malaysia and Singapore.

Fabrics of Life: PIQUÉ

Piqué: [pee-kay’].  Most often associated with today’s Polo shirt, knit piqué is a mesh-like fabric.  The face has lots of tiny holes however the back is smooth.  It is comfortable, durable, and can hides flaws.

The original true woven piqué is a double cloth (or double-weave) that produces a raised fabric surface similar to a fine ribbing.  Corded and twilled cotton are somewhat similar in effect.  Piqué is defined by the use of two warps (lengthwise yarns), one fine and one heavy; and two weft (the filling yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns), also one fine and one heavy.  These two warps and two wefts interlace to form a woven piqué pattern.  Generally it is cotton.

The woven piqué, by some accounts, is believed to originate by way of the Lancashire cotton industry per the late 18th century.  Lancashire is a county in north west England, where prior to 1974 Manchester and Liverpool were its largest cities.  During the Industrial Revolution approximately 85% of all cotton manufactured worldwide was processed in Lancashire.  At that time textiles were a dominant industry in terms of both employment and the utilization / implementation of modernizing production methods.

The British term for piqué was marcella, or french quilting.  During the 18th century bedding quilts made in Marseille (historically the most important trade center in the region) were an important industry for Lancashire.  These quilts, named Provençal quilts or boutis, used a hand-technique of ‘stuffing’ to create a three-dimensional effect.  The piqué marseillais technique involved stretching two plain pieces of fabric together without filling, and then stitching them together with a backstitch or running stitch.  The narrow space between the stitching allowed for a corded or rolled fabric to be run through via a special needle, and the result was a three-dimensional effect.

Lancashire developed a mechanized technique for weaving double cloth with a corded weft (horizontal), in an attempt to produce a product in a similar likeness.  The result was something a little bit different.  This marcella (piqué) is now closely associated with full evening dress, or white tie, the most formal evening dress code in Western fashion.  Some account that the weaving style was developed specifically for these shirt fronts, as the marcella (piqué) can hold more starch, and produce a stiffer shirt.  It is still a common fabric used today.

The knit piqué sport shirt came about in the 1930’s, made famous by René Lacoste (French seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion), and the the owner and president of the largest French knitwear manufacturing firm at the time, André Gillier.  In 1926, Lacoste won the United States National Championship wearing a short sleeve alternative to the standard tennis shirt at the time (a long-sleeved white button-up shirt, worn with the sleeves rolled up).  Perhaps with formality in mind (woven piqué being so closely associated with formal wear), the Lacoste/Gillier team put forth the knit petit piqué as a more comfortable option.  It was a success.

Lacoste knit piqué is a weft knit, where a horizontal row of loops can be made using one thread running in the horizontal direction.  The textured surface is produced by combining a straight line single jersey knit with a hexagonal knit, and when the knit/tuck stitch combination is not equal.  The design mimics the look of a woven piqué, and has the functional capacity to show less sweat due to it’s textured surface vs. single jersey.  It is heavier than jersey, thus more durable.