Looking for information on swansdown/swanskin

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Fashion Q & A' started by MegStRicky, Mar 22, 2020.

  1. MegStRicky

    MegStRicky Registered Guest

    I'm doing research on the trumpeter swan, and was wondering if anyone had any information on the use of swansdown/swanskin in clothing. Info on larger, non-trim, pieces would be very much appreciated, or on its production, but anything that anyone is willing to share will be met with enthusiam.
  2. lkranieri

    lkranieri Trade Member

    I am sorry to be slow to reply to your question, but I went down a lot of rabbit holes in the process of trying to find information about swanskin.

    First I must admit I was very skeptical that "swanskin" was actually made from swans. Did you find something that indicates it was?

    Next, most of what I began to find about it (in newspaper databases in which I found over 5,000 references) seems to confirm my initial skepticism.

    I found references to swanskin back to at least the early 1800's (an 1874 article referred to swanskin as an "old-fashioned fabric") and most of those early references were from English or Scottish newspapers. I mention that because I found countless later references to "swanskin flannel" and I immediately suspected there was a connection with the English and Scottish wool industry. That assumption was confirmed for me when I found

    1) an 1835 ad titled "Merino (as in merino wool) Shirts and Drawers" and which listed under that header "One bale of swanskin flannel"
    2) an 1840 ad for "Low Woolens" and which listed under that header "25 bales of white swan-skins"
    3) an 1862 English ad for "Woolen Swanskin"
    4) a 1948 article stated: "Swanskin is a soft, thick woolen cloth; or a kind of flannel"

    I also found later references to swanskin silk and while there was never a definitive explanation about that I found a 1901 article that discussed it:

    and this 1895 article

    and this 1959 tidbit

    Finally, I found references to swanskin leather, which led me to wonder if they were *really* using the skin of a swan, but then I found this 1954 item

    and a 1934 ad for shoes noted the Oxford shoes were made with "Swanskin (which) is a soft, pliable leather with an attractive grain that makes it adaptable for wear with town or country tweeds."

    My reaction to all this, then, is that Swanskin is a fanciful name for a leather/silk/flannel made from calfskin/"waste silk"/cotton/wool.

    Good luck with your research!
    denisebrain and Vinclothes like this.
  3. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix Trade Member

    There was limited use of swansdown for hat making / millinery, dating back hundreds of years. I have had a small number of hats with real swansdown trimming. It was also used for trimming garments. I have read that only baby swans were used for their down, as they had such fine soft underbellies. Not sure if that was always the case.

    I am not at all familiar with any references to using swan skin as a leather, as the skin is rather thin and delicate to use alone. But yes, actual swanskin (the skin of the swan) actually was indeed used for garments (mostly trimming), but with the feathers still on, not as a leather itself. Rather than pluck the feathers out and then use the tanned skin, (as in ostrich leather) one would use the entire skin with feathers still on. One reference is made to this fact in the 1884 edition of "Cole's Encyclopedia Of Dry Goods". There are references made in other books on feather usage as well. But it was certainly not common.

    Of course, there are still antique and vintage swansdown powder puffs to be had, which are wonderful to have.

    Your choice of subject is very interesting!
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2020

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