Buying your own Aerial Silks
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SO! You're in love! You tried a few classes and now you can't get enough. It's all you think about, it's all you dream of. I understand! You have decided to invest in your own set, but you aren't sure where to start. What material? What rigging supplies? What do you NEED to know?
(PS: I HIGHLY encourage you to click on all of the hyperlinks in this article as you read through. They hold an abundance of information beyond what I am outlining here. )
Firstly let me say a few things..
1. Aerial Silks can be DANGEROUS. NEVER EVER EVER practice alone. EVER. Practice low to the ground or with THICK MATTS. Have someone spot you for tricks you have never tried before. DO NOT learn moves from the internet. That's how you become paralyzed. If you like a move you've seen, talk to an experienced aerialist about how to safely learn the move.
2. Tying from trees. Trees are unpredictable. It is impossible to tell the health of a tree or tree branch by simply looking at it. There could be rot or insect infestation on the inside that will weaken the tree's integrity making it unsafe for aerial silks. You may have seen me tie to trees before and I only do it if the branch has healthy looking leaves and bark, and I only use it for light conditioning and static poses (the branch I sometimes rig to is 1.5 feet thick)... A good question to ask yourself is "Do I trust this branch to hold up a small car?". If not, best to leave it alone. Otherwise that branch could break sending you straight to the ground with a broken neck and crushed pelvis or worse. Tie to a tree at YOUR OWN RISK.
3. Rigging is COMPLICATED. There are so many things to take into account. Is all of your equipment rated appropriately? Is the structure you want to rig to safe and structurally sound? Is it legal to rig where you want to? Will you be putting other people in danger? Will you be damaging property? Do you need to have insurance? Do you need a structural engineer to check things over? Please do some research before rigging just anywhere.
4. Dynamic movement generates FORCE. Check out this video for how a 150 lb. aerialist generates 900 LBS in a matter of seconds. Swinging, sliding, pulling, spinning, and dropping all generate large amounts of force that need to be taken into account.
5. I am going to say a good generally rule is that if you don't have a 100% safe place to rig, someone who knows proper spotting techniques with you, and you have poor endurance or technique on the silks... best to practice a bit more before you commit to purchasing a pair. Ultimately it is your decision, these are just my own opinions based on research and experience (of which I am still gaining plenty of!)
BUYING YOUR SILKS
Firstly, I am going to say: avoid eBay, amazon, or cheap fabric stores online or brick & mortar. Only buy Aerial silks from reputable vendors with experience in providing and testing fabric made specifically for this purpose. You will spend more money this way, but you will have the peace of mind that comes with a properly tested product. www.aerialessentials.com is a great resource for purchasing Aerial silks, they have plenty to choose from and decent prices, though they are in the US so remember currency conversion and shipping. www.jugglegear.com is a Canadian vendor for circus apparatuses, however I personally did not like their fabric. That being said, other aerialists use and love their fabric. You can do some research into which vendors you feel comfortable purchasing from, but always look up reviews, shipping costs, and product descriptions before you commit.
Types of fabric:
Tricot fabric is a good fabric for beginners. It usually has little to SOME stretch which makes it easier to climb.
Interlock fabric has medium to HIGH stretch that cushions drops but is much more difficult to climb.
These fabrics come in a variety of widths from 60" to over 100" wide. Anything under 75" is generally recommended for children. Over that width is based completely on personal or artistic preference.
Length is determined on your space. You would calculate your space height, multiply that by 2, and you have the minimum length needed for your fabric, (as it is folded in half when rigged).
Color and shine is personal preference. I do not personally like a fabric that is too shiny as I find gripping is harder. I also like darker colors that easier to keep clean.
Fabric "grippiness" is often something that comes up, however grippiness is less determined by type of fabric and more by environment. Humidity, moisture on the fabric and your skin, temperature... etc all play a part in how easy it is to grip the fabric. Cold & dry = slippery fabric. You can purchase rosin or grip aids at almost any aerial vendor, and they are generally cheap. Avoid chalk on the fabric. I personally use water on my hands when I need it, but I do love using rosin for longer training sessions in drier atmospheres.
Pretty much all of the reputable Aerial fabric sellers will also carry various hardware options. steel or aluminium is fine. For the most part, depending on your rigging set up, you will need two carabiners, a swivel, a spanset or webbing, a descender (friction device) and possibly pulleys, ropes, beam clamps and maybe more. The most important thing when buying rigging hardware, especially from anywhere other than a specialized vendor, is the kN (kilonewton) rating. kN is a measurement of FORCE and in this context reveals the hardware's breaking strength. 100 kG's of force is approximately equal to 1 kilonewton. A person who weighs 120 lbs can EASILY create 1000 lbs of force, or, 4.5 kN. As good safety measure (a safety ratio of 10:1) I personally do not purchase equipment that is rated less than 10 kN, this gives my equipment a weight limit of about 220 lbs with a safety ratio of 10:1.
An interesting tidbit:
- "For a 220 (~0.98kN) pound aerialist to do something on a silks setup that would cause them to produce 2,200lbs (9.78kN) of force on the fabrics, that performer would experience the equivalent of 10g's of force - more than enough to cause blackout and possibly internal injuries before the equipment would give away." -Chris Clark
- "For a 140 pound (~0.62kN) person to produce the same 2,200lbs (9.78kN) of force on the fabrics, that performer would experience the equivalent of 15.66g's of force - more than a fighter pilot experiences during an ejection - before reaching the breaking point on the fabric. It should be noted that the military will only allow pilot's to experience such eject force twice before grounding them permanently." -Chris Clark
So your hardware may come with care instructions and it may not. Swivels may be sealed or may need graphite added to them. All hardware should be inspected regularly for stress or damage. Damaged and old hardware should be retired/destroyed and replaced. Never purchase used hardware.
Fabric should be kept in a cool and dry place that is away from direct sunlight. UV rays can & will discolor and damage your fabric. Air them out regularly, and keep scented products away from them. If you spot large holes in your fabric it might be time to replace. (Holes may affect the structural integrity of your fabric). Be careful not to snag your silks on sharp objects like ungroomed or long nails, jewelry, zippers, buttons, embellishments, branches, tree bark etc.
I think that is everything I wanted to talk about, but if you have more questions please do not hesitate to ask.