This article is designed to be used alongside six Circus Safety & Rigging videos with Mark Gibson from Aerial Edge, Glasgow’s Circus School, and Catherine Knowles, from Community Circus Paisley. There are also two other articles: Selecting Your Silks and Rigging Your Silks. You’ll find links to everything at the end of this article.

The Silks Series of videos are available for non-members of Circus Rigging & Safety, although we may refer to certain other relevant articles and videos which are in the member's area of the website. Membership is just £5 a month or £50 a year. You can find out more here.

Part 3: Maintaining your silks

All aerial kit comes with a life expectancy however there is no industry standard, so you need to ask the manufacturer or seller how long you can expect them to last.

They will give guidance on when to retire silks based on their age, the hours they’ve been in use and other factors.

This doesn’t mean they will last exactly as long as they say, no matter what happens. It means that under normal usage, and without any damage occurring, they will last for the specified period.

For example, if you used them outside all the time, UV light would degrade the strength of the fabric, or if you didn’t follow the washing instructions correctly, it could affect the integrity of the material.

The right usage and maintenance methods will make not only keep you safe, it will make your kit last longer.

Inspecting your silks

Regular inspections on your silks and the rigging set-up are required by law in commercial situations. Even if you’re only using your silks yourself at home, inspections are essential for safety. Who does this and how it’s done is prescribed under different laws, according to how the equipment is used. You can find more information at the end of this section.

If there are any holes, burns, runs or any degradation of the silks, you’d want to know about it before it becomes a safety concern. The same goes for any damage to hardware in your rigging.

Seemingly insignificant things like sequins on costumes or sharp finger or toenails can cause runs and holes. These can seriously impact safety because when the material is under strain during tricks and balances, it can tear and you can fall. Fingers and toes can also get caught in small holes.

Some studios encourage participants to remove jewelry by giving them a small box to keep them safe – this works as a branded marketing tool into the bargain.

Catherine says: “Personally, if I had a small hole which was running vertically, I would repair that because it's running in a direction of your pull. So it's not reducing, in my opinion, the strength of the silks greatly.

“If there was a hole running horizontally, I would retire the silks immediately. I wouldn't care if it was a week old, I would just retire them or maybe cut them at that length and make them into hammock, or find other uses for them.”

Here’s how to inspect your silks:

  • Take off the attachment because that's the area of the fabric that's taking the most strain and where it's most likely to have come into contact with something sharp. Undoing the knot also helps extent the life because it releases tension on the fabric from constantly having the pull in the same place, and removes dirt that could have gathered there, which would be abrasive.
  • Make sure you’ve got good light, perhaps by standing in front of a window. Inspect the whole silk by spreading it wide in front of you so that you can see any flaws. Depending on the width, you might be able to spread it over your head and inch it over you bit by bit.
  • You can use a fluorescent tube to pass the fabric over to see the light coming through any imperfections. The fabric shouldn’t burn with a fluorescent tube, but other kinds of lightbulbs may well melt the fabric.
  • Record the hours of use to keep the guarantee.

If you have several silks, you will need to be able to identify each one to record its usage. This can be tricky because any tampering would void any certificate of safety. Some have a label on the end of the tail. You could use marker pen to put an identifying mark on light coloured silks, or stitch coloured thread on the end of darker ones but you must check with the manufacturer.

Industry expert Chris Higgs says: “The manufacturer should provide a means to identify it (like rope off the reel) or the supply chain takes account of it. Those putting it on the market in the UK have duties in so doing. There may be a bit of liaison required.

“I’d suggest getting the manufacturer to stitch a blank white label to a corner or get a written authorisation to write in a particular indelible marker.”

Inspecting rigging equipment

Your hardware also needs to be inspected and you must record what you find. It may sound daunting but Circus Rigging & Safety articles and videos can walk you through the process step by step to make it easy.

These have been created in collaboration with industry experts including Chris Higgs of Total Solutions. Here’s where you can find out more:

Safe cleaning

  • ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maintain guarantees. Silks are usually washed in a front-loading machine on a low temperature or cold, without detergent or fabric softener. The agitator in a top-loading machine could damage the fabric. The more you wash, the quicker they will degrade so there’s a balance to be struck with how much dirt/odour you can tolerate.
  • It’s best to dry them indoors to avoid UV damage, although you should be careful how you hang them – draping them over doors could damage them with unseen wood splinters. Some can be tumble dried on a low heat but only do that if you are certain that the manufacturer recommends it.
  • Sprays which are designed to disguise or remove smell, or have a sanitising/anti-microbial effect are not recommended because their impact is unknown so manufacturers’ guarantees would be invalidated.

Mark says: “Since none of the silks have been tested with fire retardants or other sorts of chemicals, if you are putting chemicals on, then that's definitely not recommended by the manufacturer. The results would be unpredictable.”

Check with the manufacturer if they have been tested for chalk and rosin.

Storage

  • Don’t leave tour silks lying on the floor because dust and grit can start to erode the fabric and shorten its lifespan.
  • Use a proper bag to put them into, or big tubs, ideally with lids. You can hang them on a rail when they’ve been daisy chained to keep them off the ground.
  • Make sure they are kept in a dry place at ambient temperature.

Further information

Other videos in the Silks Series:

Other articles in the Silks Series:

Other information:

  • Videos and articles about Rigging at Home here
  • Rigging from Truss article here and video here.
  • Videos and articles about understanding Forces and Factors of Safety (FoS) in our paid membership area here
  • Equipment inspections. There are a number of livestreams and articles. There’s a Guide to Inspection in Circus Rigging here which explains what’s required under the law, and a livestream here which discusses the topic. There’s a livestream on How to do an Inspection here which demonstrates the process on several rigging items, and the corresponding article here, which also explains the two types of inspections. Finally, there’s a livestream on How to Record Inspections here, and the article is here. Downloads of templates here.