OK, this isn't exactly the shortest post I've ever made
but I thought someone somewhere might be interested.
Dupion as we know it now was invented in the mid-nineteenth century, when it was considered a cheap and slightly naff alternative to grown-up, un-slubbed silks like taffeta. It is woven with a thin, tightly-twisted warp and a thicker, more irregular weft. The weft was originally made from double silk, but these days any poorer quality silk may be used. The lustre of dupion is artifical, created by the slight difference in width and colour between the warp and weft.
'Double silk' is from the cocoon of two silkworms that were too close together, and it has an uneven texture. "100% pure spun silk" is a term often used these days to indicate high quality. I have no idea why, because spun silk is made up of shorter fibres, the surface is not that shiny and it's less strong. Silk noil is poorer quality still, more matte in appearance and spun from the shortest ends, leftovers and broken cocoons. The highest quality of silk is reeled directly from a single silk cocoon in one continuous length. High-quality reeled silk is even, shiny and very strong.
There is, however, evidence that weaves similar to dupion were in use by the sixteenth century. To the best of my knowledge no American scholar has published a paper on this subject but Luca Molà
published an excellent book entitled "The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice"
in 2000. Small sections of this were summarised by an American costumer as The Use of Lower Grade Silks in the Renaissance
Parts of the book discuss inferior grade silk fibres such as 'double silk', 'waste silk' or spun silk noil. These were made into threads, trimmings and materials, sometimes pure poor-quality silk, sometimes mixed fibre. This type of cheaper, coarser silk was almost always used for furnishings but there is a tiny
amount of evidence it was used for less expensive clothing by less wealthy people. Some of the cheap fabrics being made were very similar in weave to dupion.
Why is renaissance Venice is relevant to UK re-enactors? According to Dr Molà, silks and mixed-silks from these inferior grade fibres were not only produced in Italy by the fifteenth century, but being imported to England by the sixteenth. And the mixed fibre cloths produced in England from the 1560s sometimes contained these waste silks too. The book
is fascinating and I thoroughly recommend it!
This isn't proof that dupion-style silks were used for clothing by anyone in the British Isles. It isn't even proof that dupion is a suitable substitute for those silks in texture and weight, just that the weave is similar. So this definitely isn't a mandate for silk-crazed re-enactors to make cheap dupion costumes. Use dupion at your own risk for furnishings and possibly linings. But really, if you can't afford the more authentic, heavy-weight, un-slubbed silks like taffeta and satin, you should probably still wear wool, flax, hemp or cotton fibre material (or a mixture), depending on the period you do. I don't want to be lynched by an authenticity mob for encouraging fluorescent yellow dupion houppelandes
A silk-crazed re-enactor