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Grenadine – Adventures with a Linen Tester

When I selected the title for this column it reminded me of the fine gent Euell Gibbons who wrote a monthly column Stalking the Wild Asparagus for Rodale’s Organic Farming.

In many ways I felt like him as I began tracking down the elusive but lovely fabric grenadine. Grenadine was once a popular dress fabric, a fine leno-weave mesh first made in silk , then a silk/cotton blend and then cotton. One can see yesteryear’s fashionable women floating gracefully in this sheer to keep cool and refreshed on a hot summer’s day. Somewhere in the 1920s the name went off the market as a dress fabric, and when grenadine did appear afterwards, it was as a curtain fabric.

It’s cousin is marquisette when the mesh becomes about 1/16″as far as I can determine from old glossaries and from marquisette in my collection [shown in this column]. It is intriguing how the textile and fashion industries view and treat fabrics; one season making them the rage, the next putting them on the back burner and then reviving them under another name. A case in point is when textile collector Pat Roth recently sent me some silk swatches c1998 which included several of what the manufacturer called fancy organzas.

One was a beautiful yellow shade with barely discernible narrow shadow striping. On impulse I put it under a linen tester to get a magnified view and was astounded to find not a plain weave used for organza but a leno weave confirming this was grenadine.

It was my first up-front view of this fabric and helped me to understand varying glossary descriptions. Photos of grenadine, far and few between, don’t convey this fabric’s beauty or characteristics as a leno weave. I guess at some point in our textile collecting and continuing self-education, we have a priority list of favorites to pursue. Grenadine was low on my curiosity list but when it’s turn appeared and I began to trace its history, I realized that it is very much alive today and that it’s likely many have it in their homes or textile collections and may not even be aware of it.

Photo 1

A colorful 1855 street costume for visiting: green silk mantelet over violet grenadine dress and topped with a green silk bonnet with pink roses.

– 100 Years of Costumes in America; 1950; Rose Kerr This lovely 1870 ball gown of white silk grenadine, trimmed with peacock blue ribbons and pink silk roses, must have been a floating dream on the dance floor.

Photo 2

– 100 Years of Costume in America; 1950; Rose Kerr As noted , grenadine is a finer mesh version of marquisette in an all-over leno weave and resembles organza or a fine mesh in appearance.

In a dress fabric it is made of hard twist yarns in cotton, silk, wool and manufactured fibers. Various patterns can be formed with leno weave to create stripe and checked effects. When filling is black it was sometimes known as black leno. During the 1920s as grenadine began to lose its identity, it simply became known as leno or leno muslin. Grenadine dates back to at least the 18th century when it was used for black silk lace scarves.

While the name appears in old glossaries, fabric does not seem to have been advertised by that name in ads or catalogs prior to 1920s when curtain grendadine became popular. There is a reference in a 1912 drygoods glossary to hernani, listed and described as originally being grenadine of silk and wool.

When fiber construction was changed to silk with a weight between gauze and grenadine it was named hernani. Apparently this also was a seldom-seen name.

Photo 3Photo 4

Magnified views of leno weave [l] compared to plain weave. Leno was used interchangeably with gauze weave although leno is preferred today. Notice double warp yarns in leno. These are formed by moving warp yarns with a gauze or doup attachment in pairs from side to side. One pair is always in front and one stays behind.

This weave in an all-over pattern can create grenadine, marquisette, mosquito netting, rice net and mesh shirtings, and in larger mesh and coarser yarns, onion sacks and thermal blankets. In conjunction with other weaves it can produce novelty or fancies of incredible beauty and design. As grendadine lost its name as a dress fabric it appeared in a fine but looser weave with embroidered figures or dots and was called curtain grenadine.

This was very popular curtain fabric and many styles were featured in 1930s-50s catalogs. Marquisette is distinguished from grenadine by its larger mesh and will resemble netting. It is a light, open fabric of leno weave in cotton, wool or silk, rayon and synthetics, and often mistaken for scrim when cotton yarns are stiffened. It can be of one, two or three-ply yarns. It has always been a popular curtain fabric; other uses include veiling and overdresses or overskirts for dress or formal wear.

How do you know if you have grenadine or marquisette? You need a linen tester [also known as thread counter]to determine the weave. Chances are if you have sheer curtains or something resembling netting in your stash it could be one or both of these fabrics. And certainly swatches of each are deserving of being added to your fabric catalog collection for future reference.

Photo 5Photo 6

Grenadine [l] and marquisette showing the difference in mesh size. Grenadine swatch is c1998 and was called a fancy organza. Photo could not be enhanced to much without distorting but if you look closely you can detect faint shadows from warp yarns. Marquisette is a combination dotted swiss very fine netting from 1950s. Mesh measures 1/16″.

Photo 6Photo 7

Grenadine and marquisette were popular curtain fabrics as shown in Sears 1933 summer sales catalog. Both curtains shown here are fine cotton. Oh, to find the cushion dot fabric today.

Note prices per pair!  Linen tester.

Photo 8

Fabric is placed beneath tester to get better view of weave and to count threads. If you cannot find linen testers locally, an online source is Indigo® Instruments http://www.indigo.com. Try to get the 9x double lens if it’s available or else the 10x single lens. Both are excellent magnifications and produce no distortion. If you wear glasses, the double lens requires no removal of them for viewing.

I would be interested in hearing from everyone who discovers these two fabrics in their home and from those who have additional information about grenadine. Your input would make a nice followup to this column. The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960.

To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time. Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.

One Response to “Grenadine – Adventures with a Linen Tester”

  1. […] of the above.  It is used for dresses, curtains, and mosquito netting.  It is very similar to grenadine, but with a slightly more open weave.  Marquisette can look quite different depending on the […]