The materiality of things and their essence is fascinating. That charcoal stick I used to make marks was once a grape-vine. This piece of chalk was formed from beached sea urchins millions of years old.
It is all so mysterious and magical this changing of substance, one thing into another – very alchemical.
To witness the manufacture of silk is an unforgettable experience. The feeding and housing of thousands of worms so they can spin a cocoon only for machines to unspin it to make silk thread is enchanting, it is then woven into cloth in patterns and colours that still have no equal!
Tom Thompson might have been a dandy, I’ll never know. But I do know that a silk tent (instead of canvas) and silk shirts (instead of denim) do not make him one. They are the marks of a man with a very practical nature.
If you have ever slept under canvas (smelly, especially if wet) or had to pack it out of an isolated camp (heavy, especially if wet) you would see the sense in this too!
Silk is ounces to canvases pounds, breathes yet is wind proof, dries quickly and is a thin skin that lets in light compared to the dense airlessness of its counterpart.
A silk shirt has all the benefits of denim but none of the disadvantages. It is wind proof (as is denim) but also warm in cold and cool when it is hot, and unlike denim also dries quickly and is feather light. The colours are also a lot prettier and it is soft to the touch. What more can you ask for, this is perfection.
This was before nylon, a synthetic fibre designed to replace silk. Its biggest disadvantage is that it doesn’t breathe, so although light weight it is hot when it is hot and cold when it is cold and retains all moisture, very unsatisfactory when compared with its original inspiration. Nylon was invented in 1935 by Wallace Carothers, with a lot of help from Dupont and previous chemical explorers.
When silk became scarce because of the 2nd World War, 1939-45, as it was used extensively in the manufacture of parachutes my mother tells the tale that all the school children were encouraged to harvest the seed pods of the milk weed plant, natures close equivalent to silk.
Is it me, or do we invent things when most needed for war? or is it all serendipity?
Tom Thomson, Canadian Painter b. August 5th, 1877 d, July 8th, 1917