There are so many options, it's hard to know where to start. What fabric to get, what length, what rigging supplies, what to watch out for... the list goes on and on! There are so many different ways to rig, that it can be so hard to figure out what you need. We've pulled together all the aerial fabric information in one place to help you find everything you need, from aerial silks to yoga hammocks!
Safety First! Rigging at home can be dangerous. Always consult with a professional rigger (the ETCP website is a great starting point for contacts), so once you've determined that you can rig safely, here's everything you NEED to know!
What to look for in Aerial Fabric Manufacturers
Reputable dealers - look for stores that have been around awhile, that are completely transparent about who they are and where they are located - that way you can be sure you are buying from a company with real experience that will be around in a few months to answer any questions you might have down the line! Additionally, you will be more likely to receive high quality equipment.
When shopping around, be aware that all aerial fabric is NOT the same, even the fabric specification or color is advertised the same, because many different manufacturers produce the same kind of fabric. You may find multiple stores selling 40 Denier Nylon Tricot, or Polyester Tricot, but the quality could be completely different. The quality of the fabric begins from the threads it is made of; and can vary in durability, softness, and stretch. Beware of cheap fabric on sites like Amazon and eBay or other resale stores that do not specialize in aerial; if the source isn't reputable, you may not receive what you paid for and it could be potentially a weaker material that may not have been weight tested for aerial use!
Always check the return policy of the store before buying. Aerial equipment is something that you are hanging your life from so be mindful from where you buy.
Different factors like dye processes can affect fabric strength, which can make it potentially risky to use just any fabric from the local fabric store. You need to know that the fabric has been tested to aerial standards, and ALSO what those standards are - how much weight will the fabric actually take? This should be listed as a 'Working Load' or 'User Weight Limit'. When you practice aerial silks, you can generate up to 1000 lbs in a very powerful drop - or possibly even more! The ratio should be generated off the expected load. Keep in mind that the aerial safety factor is a minimum of 5:1 for aerial yoga and minimum of 8:1 for aerial silks (10:1 is ideal) - the fabric and equipment should be around 3,000lbs for aerial yoga and 5,000 lbs for aerial silks. These are general guidelines and not professional advice, we always recommend to check with your professional rigger to determine the proper equipment and ratings for your needs and space as it could be more or less than our guidelines.
Most Aerial Fabric is Nylon (Nylon Tricot) or Polyester (Polyester Tricot or Polyester Lycra). Each fabric has a slightly different weight, stretch and feel - even the exact same "type" of fabric from two different manufacturers can feel and act differently. Some polyester fabrics can be slippery. Tricot comes in bigger widths (standard is 280cm), which is ideal for aerial yoga, but some aerialists do not like the thick grip on their aerial silks. Please be extra careful to check weight limits on your fabric of choice, because the smaller the width, the less fabric you have holding you, thus it will be less strong.
These are some of the most common fabric widths:
You can trim edges off the fabric to get thinner silks, but consult the manufacturer before doing this as it will affect the fabric strength. There are guidelines for "trimming" fabric online, but you may compromise the strength of the fabric. Note that tricots do not typically fray, so it is rare to find aerial fabric that has been hemmed.
Different fabrics have different levels of slickness. Some fibers can be a little more slick than others; this will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Aerial Silks are slickest when they are new, or freshly washed. Slicker fabric is easier to unknot, but harder to grip. When silks get worn in, they lose a bit of the "new silks" feel and are easier to work with, especially if you use rosin or grip spray as that can build up on the fabric. Everyone has a preference for what width, stretch, and slickness they prefer.
Low Stretch, or Non-Stretch fabric is by far the most commonly used for Yoga Hammocks, and also is the most common fabric type for Aerial Silks. It's recommended for both beginners and professionals, because it is easy to climb. We prefer to refer to this a low-stretch, because non-stretch still does have some give - which can make it confused in the aerial yoga world with the Yoga Trapeze, or 'parachute' nylon material which has no stretch at all. The fabric of choice is a personal preference, but for beginner aerialists and for aerial yoga, Low-Stretch is the recommended fabric because it is easier to predict your height from the ground. Using a High-Stretch fabric for aerial yoga is not recommended because it will make it difficult to adjust height for different students, and will not be as supportive in static poses.
Medium-Stretch and High Stretch Fabrics
Medium-Stretch and High-Stretch fabrics are more often used by experienced aerialists, because it provides extra bounce for drops. This cushions the impact of movements. It is not preferred by all advanced aerialists however, because it's more physically challenging to climb, harder to grip, and cinches tighter in knots. But the extra stretch provides a great bounce for larger drops and certain skills. It's certainly not a necessity to use medium or high stretch fabrics for drops, but many enjoy the fluidity of the high stretch silks, and they will certainly train you quickly to be a stronger aerialist.
What size do I need?
Are you using the fabric for aerial silks, a yoga hammock, or both?
When purchasing fabric you’ll want enough to go from the floor, to the ceiling, and back down to the floor with a few feet of extra fabric on the ground. A good benchmark for Aerial Silks is to find your rigging point (or ceiling) height, multiply by 2, and add 2 meters or 6 feet, so that you have about 1 meter or 3 feet extra on the ground.
Both Aerial Silks and Yoga Hammock!
If you want to use the same fabric for both uses, you'll need to get the amount needed for Aerial Silks, since Yoga Hammocks require less.
Yoga Hammock or Aerial Hammock
For a Yoga Hammock, you'll want to determine what height of hammock that you need. If you like both low-hammock and high-hammocks, you will want to have enough fabric that the hammock will hang 1 foot above the ground at the lowest. For higher height hammocks only, you'll want to have the hammock hang about 3 feet above the ground at the lowest, or at hip-height which could be higher or lower depending on the student's height.
Take the ceiling height, multiply by 2, subtract how many feet you want the hammock to hang from the ground, and add an extra 2 feet, that will cover the fabric that you will lose in the hammock knots. Keep in mind any additional equipment that you will be using to rig your hammock (carabiners, daisy chains, and swivels) can provide up to several extra feet of length). When in doubt, it's best to order extra. Here's a helpful guide from Aerial Yoga Gear on the recommended fabric per ceiling height for both high and low hammocks:
What if I have taller ceilings?
For Aerial Silks, the taller the ceilings the better, since the extra height enables you to perform more advanced tricks and wraps.
For Aerial Yoga, really tall ceilings can make it difficult to adjust hammock height, which is important if you are teaching students of a variety of heights. In this case, you have a few options. You can use extended Span Sets to make up some of the difference. You can use extra long daisy chains. Or, you can use swing set chains to lower the rigging point for the daisy chains. Caution though, if you choose chains, we recommend getting plastic coated ones so that the metal doesn't make clanking sounds as the students move! Always check with your professional rigger about the best option. Perhaps a suspended truss system or weight bearing pipe installation is a better option for you as they can make it easier to move the hammocks from one place to another.
Do Double Point and Single Point Hammocks/Slings require different fabric lengths?
As far as the fabric needed, there's almost no difference between double point vs single point hammocks. You do get a little extra length when the two top knots are closer together, but it's usually so little that it's not really worth considering when purchasing the fabric.
What about rigging equipment?
We have so much to share about rigging equipment, from finding a professional rigger, selecting the right hardware, and common mistakes to avoid. The first place to ask about this is your professional rigger, but we will provide more resources in our upcoming Aerial Times issues!
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Aerial arts are a relatively new art form, but its skills and knowledge are passed just like all the performing arts: from person to person over time. This blog focuses on what you can expect in the process of finding someone with the right expertise and skill set to help you grow as an aerialist.