Hakim’s Cloak

I’m kind of ashamed of how long it’s taken me to complete this cloak. I bought the fabric last January, cut it out in February, and then it languished on the To Do pile for months. Every so often, I would take it out and look at it again. It was a gorgeous blue wool, which I’d felted immediately when I got it home — boiled it in the wash load, dried it on the highest heat setting in the dryer — and it was (and is) pure luxury to touch, if your idea of luxury is a sturdy coat wool that doesn’t care about your wee wittle feewings or sensitive skin, and only wants to keep you warm and perhaps serve as a layer of light armor. Since Hakim is frequently chilled at night, I knew right away that it was for him.

He picked out a fabric to line the cloak with. It was far from a fabric I’d have chosen, but that doesn’t mean much. I’m kind of picky. So is he, but in a very different way, so for him the soft cotton flannel seemed ideal. It’s predominantly purple, with a green stripe and some bits of pink… Well, here, see for yourself.

Hakim's flannel, distorted by lying across a fat roll of butcher paper, and perhaps also by being too close to the camera.
Hakim’s flannel, distorted by lying across a fat roll of butcher paper, and perhaps also by being too close to the camera.

So pretty. So gorgeously appropriate with most of the linens I’ve bought for us. So… cotton flannel. For the SCA, I kind of hate it, to be honest, but Hakim loves it, so I was all set to line the cloak in it, and just deal.

But that was in March. Since then, I’ve learned something. Plant fibers include linen, cotton, and hemp, among others. They do best when they are washed in slightly alkaline solutions, and when they are stored in very slightly alkaline conditions — that is, with a pH of more than 7. Regular soap and detergent are fine for this. They’d be too strong if you spilled a liquid detergent onto your cotton or linen garments and didn’t notice for several months, but just that little tiny bit that’s left after the final rinse in the machine? That’s fine. Technically so is regular bar soap, though that’s usually got just a bit of extra oil in it to moisturize the skin, so it’ll leave your fabrics looking a bit dingy.

But alkaline treatments play merry havoc with animal fibers, which include wool and silk, among others. Animal fibers are better off when they’re stored in very slightly acidic conditions instead — a pH value of below 7. Detergents are too alkaline; these fibers are best washed in shampoo, which was also designed to cleanse animal fibers, and when you put a couple of tablespoons of vinegar into the final rinse water in the machine.

More to the point, if you treat animal fibers the way you should treat plant fibers, the animal fibers will weaken and rot much more quickly than they would do if you treated them properly. And vice versa.

Sort of makes some sense of that Biblical prohibition against the mixing of wool fibers with linen fibers in the same garment, doesn’t it?

When I explained this to Hakim, he was a bit disappointed, but not too badly. He agreed that in lieu of spending a fortune on silk to line the cloak, he’d deal with it unlined.

So, with cotton impractical and linen forbidden, what thread was I going to use to finish off the edges, so that Hakim didn’t look like some quasimodo newbie? I did consider silk thread. Silk is an animal fiber, and I have access to all the colors that Joann Fabrics carries in a store that’s less than 3 miles from our home. It sounded ideal. But then someone reminded me that silk fibers are incredibly strong. Maybe too strong. It makes a nice embroidery thread on wool, but for sewing stress-bearing seams, it might actually cut through the wool and render the cloak ragged. Now, all I needed to do with this was edges… but some of those edges are eyelets, and if ever there was a stress-bearing edge, this was it.

Therefore I nixed silk, and decided on wool fibers that I bought from Hedgehog Handworks. The closest color match was their Dark Indigo (number 165).

Five skeins of Dark Indigo (#165), five spools of linen thread in thickness 100/3, and six spools of linen thread in thickness 80/3. Plus, Hedgehog Handworks included a free gift — BUBBLE WRAP! Best free gift ever, to be honest.

I bought five skeins of it, but only used one skein on the edges of the cloak, and barely started a second skein for doing the eyelets. There ought to be enough for sewing a wool gown later.

The cloak is now finished. It took me far less time than I thought it would take, finishing every edge with a very close-together whipstitch. Each of the four eyelets took about 30 minutes, and they’re not all that pretty, but that’s okay. They should still work.

“Why eyelets?” I hear you cry. Fortunately I have an answer! And the answer is imbedded in the triumphant final pictures!

Et voila. You will be able to see the cloak in person at the Gyldenholt/Lyondemere Winterfest party, should you be inclined to come. Hunt him down and give him lots of compliments. (That is an order.)

4 replies on “Hakim’s Cloak”

    1. Thanks! Once I actually committed to doing it, it was stupid-easy. The hard part was sitting down and deciding not to get up until it was done.

    1. Thank you! I feel pretty spiffy about it. Now to get my own stuff done in time for Winterfest. Here’s hoping.

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