Grosgrain //, also gros-grain and, rarely, gros grain, is a type of fabric characterized by its ribbed appearance. In grosgrain, the weft is heavier than the warp, creating prominent transverse ribs. It is called a "corded" fabric since the weft resembles a fine cord. Grosgrain is a plain weave corded fabric, with heavier cords than in poplin but lighter than in faille. Grosgrain has a very dull appearance with little luster but is very strong. It is a firm, close-woven, fine-corded fabric. While grosgrain fabric is generally black, it can be many different colors, and grosgrain ribbon comes in a large variety of colors and patterns.
"Grosgrain" is commonly used to refer to a heavy, stiff ribbon of silk or nylon woven via taffeta weave using a heavy weft which results in distinct transverse ribs. Historically grosgrain was made from wool, silk, or a combination of fibers such as silk and wool or silk and mohair. When a combination of fibers was used, the end result was sometimes given the name grogram, silk mohair, gros de Tours or gros de Napels.
Grosgrain is both a direct French loan word and a folk corruption of the French word grogram. Grogram, originally gros gram (appeared in literature in 1562), is defined as a coarse, loosely woven fabric of silk, silk and mohair, or silk and wool. The adjective gros means thick or coarse, originally from the Old French gros, itself derived from the Latin grossus.
Moire is a waved or watered effect produced especially on grosgrain silk and woolen moreen via engraved rollers and high pressure on carded material. The end result is a peculiar luster which works best when made from a corded fabric like grosgrain.
Use in clothing
Throughout the 17th century, grosgrain fabric was used as the fabric body (corpus) for many garments, including waistcoats, jackets, petticoats, beeches, sleeves, jerkins and many other items of clothing, as a cheaper alternative for the lower socio-economic demographic than fine-woven silk or wool. In the 1740s Admiral Edward Vernon, who was known as "Old Grog" because he preferred a grosgam cloak to a more expensive variety, introduced the Rum ration in the British Royal Navy. It's from his attire that the naval term grog is derived. Factories in America started to produce grosgrain silk in the late 19th century.
Throughout the 1920s the term seems to have remained true to original definition as a garment fabric. However, circa 1920s it fell out of favor as a garment fabric and was defined identically to contemporary terminology as a grosgrain ribbon. While grosgrain fabric is almost always black, grosgrain ribbon comes in a large variety of colors and printed patterns.
Grosgrain that does have some luster is a very popular fabric especially for ribbons, which are used to ornament and decorate clothing. As grosgrain has less luster than burnished silk or satin it is very popular with and common in evening wear because it is seen as less "flashy", though silk and satin (which is a different weave, as opposed to a fiber such as silk) can commonly be found on day wear. Although grosgrain may actually be made of silk, it is often erroneously referred to as a separate fabric.
Lustrous grosgrain is used extensively to join female semi-detached clothing articles such as bodices to skirts and similar, where this necessary joint may be visible. Ribbed grosgrain may be used similarly to twill tape for internal gussets and reinforcements. Grosgrain ribbon is often used for facings and for waistbands. Using a grosgrain ribbon facing for waistbands is faster and uses less fabric. It is also works especially well with bulky fabrics.
McCall's Sewing Book states: "grosgrain ribbon is used with any heavy fabric to reduce bulk" though it may be the word "bulk" is used in the sense of outward appearance, rather than actual mass. McCall elaborates: "grosgrain is used to finish the back of novelty braid or to face the back of any fabric belt."
As a more subtle option to lustrous satin, grosgrain is very popular with evening wear, used on the facings of lapels of most dress coats and high-end dinner jackets and tuxedos. Grosgrain is traditionally used to hem and highlight the cut of lapel, collar and visible outermost edges of the formal frock coat and the later morning coat. Hemmed frock-coats, as described, may be seen in the film Gone with the Wind noted for its historically accurate costume. Grosgrain is preferred over satin for practicality—it does not wear as easily as delicate silk or satin, as the threads do not snag as easily (on a ring or keys, for instance). Grosgrain is also used for matching accessories such as bow ties and cummerbunds, though these are often in barathea to complement the main suiting while still avoiding the glare of satin, increasingly gaining a 'flashy' image.
Grosgrain is also used in millinery. Grosgrain ribbons are popular creating ribbon decorations for hats (made into flowers, for example), however grosgrain is most notably used in top hats and opera hats, or as the trimming band on the Homburg.
Cargo and packing use
A particular characteristic of grosgrain ribbon is that the thicker weft resists longitudinal curling and so it exerts an even pressure when tied around crushable materials. Nylon grosgrain is often used as heavy-duty webbing or binding around luggage, packs, messenger bags and other heavy use "soft" goods. It is also used for securing cargo. It can be dyed and is available in a variety of colours (though again usually black).
Grosgrain made out of cotton or low-cost synthetic such as polyester is very common for gift-wrap ribbons, or for decorating and ornamenting scrapbooks and greeting cards. It can be used for many different crafts as well, from bead making, to book-binding, to trimming or embellishing, as well as a multitude of other uses. Grosgrain ribbon is the primary ribbon material used in the hair bow industry.
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Grosgrain out of cotton or low-cost synthetic such as polyester is very popular for use as a lanyard, and is often printed on by large corporate companies to use as a marketing or branding tool to promote their companies.
Polyester grosgrain in a 5/8-inch width can be used as the tensioning material attaching the snares of a snare drum to the throw-off mechanism, with the ribbing providing good insurance against slippage. Some like to use it in an attempt to lessen sympathetic snare buzz from external sources as it will hold the tab ends of the snares closer to the head than string and it will provide more dampening than mylar straps.
Grosgrain ribbons made from nylon are sometimes used to make watchbands. They are also generically referred to as ribbon straps or "NATO" straps. The straps are inexpensive, extremely durable, and can be easily and quickly switched out to fit one's outfit or mood. Grosgrain watch bands come in solid colors and stripes most often but sometimes they are also plaid.
Whereas a grosgrain watch band is quite a simple design consisting of a nylon grosgrain ribbon with a center bar buckle or other simple buckle style and a matching grosgrain keeper at one end and punched holes on the other, a so-called "NATO" strap has a very specific design which is most readily distinguished by the existence of a pair of metal keepers, something not found on a simple grosgrain watchband. Strictly speaking, a "NATO" strap would be one that has a NATO stock number which uniquely identifies it for requisitioning purposes much the way item or part numbers identify goods found in any shopping catalog.
The more correct name for the "NATO" strap is "G10" or "G10 strap". In 1973, "Strap, Wrist Watch" made its debut in the British Ministry of Defence Standard (DefStan) 66-15. For soldiers to get their hands on one, they had to fill out a form known as the G1098, or G10 for short. Subsequently, they could retrieve the strap at their unit's supply store of the same name.
Though the British Ministry of Defence's name for the strap was nondescript, its specifications were precise. MoD-issued G10 straps were nylon, only made in "Admiralty Grey" with a width of 20mm, and had chrome-plated brass buckle and keepers. Another key trait was a second, shorter piece of nylon strap attached to the buckle. Since the strap was to be used by the military, it needed to be functional and fail-safe. The extra nylon had a keeper at its end through which the main part of the strap passed through after it had been looped behind the watch. This created a pocket, limiting the distance the watch could move. As long as the strap was passed through properly and snugly on the wrist, the watch would stay exactly where it was needed. The bonus feature of a strap that passes behind the watch is that in the event a spring bar breaks or pops out, the watch will still be secured by the other spring bar.
Since 1973, the G10 strap has seen slight modifications. The current version has been downsized to 18mm (this is due to the 18mm lugs found on the Cabot Watch Company's military issue watch) and now has stainless steel hardware. In 1978, a company known as Phoenix took over production of MoD-spec G10 straps, and would be the "real deal" if one was looking for it today.
Not long after the simple "Admiralty Grey" G10 was issued, British military regiments began wearing straps honoring their respective regimental colors with stripes of all colors and combinations. One strap's stripe pattern has become more famous than all the rest, but to call it a G10 or a "NATO" strap is actually a misnomer. When Sean Connery's Bond famously wrist-checked his "Big Crown" Submariner (reference 6538) in Goldfinger, he revealed a striped nylon strap. Aside from the obviously too-narrow width, the strap was notable because of its navy blue color with red and green stripes. Many watch enthusiasts have labeled this strap as the "Bond NATO". Despite the strap's similarities to a G10, Goldfinger began filming in 1964, nine years before the first MoD G10 strap was issued. Timeline issues aside, it is clear that the strap Connery wore had a very simple one-piece construction, not unlike that of a waist belt, and distinctly different than a true "NATO" or G10 strap.
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