Many military uniforms in the 18th and 19th century included sashes. Some of these were made using a braiding technique called sprang.
How can you identify a sprang sash?
The goal of this article is to assist you in identifying these items.
Sprang is a braiding technique. The textile is composed of warp threads only. There is no weft. Warp threads twist around neighboring threads to form the cloth. A variety of structures are possible with sprang. These include interlinking, interlacing and intertwining. The structure of European military sprang sashes in my experience is always interlinking and the structure can be likened to the structure of chain link fence.
Sprang sashes have a reputation for widthwise elasticity thanks to their unique structure.
Spreading the textile may not be an option in some cases.
How can you identify the structure without spreading it?
Looking at the selvedge you will find that there is no weft exiting the warp shed on one row, and re-entering on the next. The warp threads alone create the structure.
Damaged areas in a sprang sash will appear as lengthwise slits. A single broken thread will cause a separation where neighboring sections are no longer attached. Weft threads are noticeably absent in these damaged areas.
The threads in the face of a piece of interlinking sprang do not sit completely parallel to the selvedge. The threads will sit at a slight angle, either S or Z. Many sprang sashes have a line in the middle where the twist changes from S to Z.
Often there may seem to be a color difference along this line, as the light reacts to the S and Z differently. As you move around the sash this color difference changes.
Some sashes having this ‘chain link fence’ structure will not have the meeting line between S and Z. These sashes have only S or else only Z twist in their stitches. The theory is that these sashes may have been made from extra long warps. Two sashes were made at the same time, one in S and the other in Z. When the two sashes were finished they were cut apart, eliminating evidence for all posterity of their sprang origin.
It is questionable whether or not these sashes can be called sprang. The other option is to assume that these sashes were created using a free-end braiding technique, a wearisome task, as the ‘false weave’ must be unraveled frequently.
Some military sashes feature stripes. Only lengthwise stripes are possible in this type of sash. The identifying characteristic in sprang sashes that are striped is found along the line where two colors meet. The line should be jagged as the threads wrap around their neighbor, as opposed to the clean join in a warp faced cloth where threads run parallel to the selvedge.
Many sprang sashes finish with a kind of gathering before the fringe begins. Threads double up giving the appearance of a coarser weave at the ends.
Some sprang sashes have elaborate patterns created by the careful placement of holes. These patterns will be symmetrical around the center line of the sash.
A design at one end of the sash dictates that there is a mirror-image design at the other end.
The military sash is a very special item. It indicated rank. Anecdotes in the historical record would indicate that the sprang sash sometimes doubled as a litter to carry an injured soldier off the field. I have tested this with a replica sash that I made using very fine silk. My replica sash stood up to the task.
Sprang is an interesting textile technique. Widely known in Europe until the early 19th century it now is all-but-forgotten. I would like to increase awareness of this textile method. Identification of items in museums is a start.
Research on sprang continues, including:
Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Sprang.
Faber and Faber Ltd. 1974. ISBN 1 55821 930 7
Abrahamsson, Tine. Sprang een oude vlechttechniek.
Cantecleer. 1975. ISBN 90 213 1346 4
Kliot, Jules. Sprang Language & Techniques.
Lacis Publications. 1974. ISBN 1 891656 46 5
Nijman Fenny, Sprang Egyptisch Vlechten.
Zomer & Keuning Boeken. 1977. ISBN 90 210 2075 0
Skowronski, Helen and Mary Reddy. Sprang Thread Twisting, a Creative Textile Technique.
Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1974. ISBN 0 442 27642 7
Van Reesema, Elisabeth. Egyptisch Vlechtwerk.
V. Holkema & Warendorf.
James, Carol. Sprang Unsprung.
Sashweaver, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9784695-2-8