50 types of Silk fabrics to make your clothes

types of silk

Do you know that it is difficult for even the experts to identify the quality and type of silk with naked eyes – they need a magnifying glass to inspect the quality of their silk . So you are excused for being confused by all the silk available , as I surely am. When buying fabric to make clothes I am overwhelmed by all the different types of silk fabrics.

Silk is a fabric as well as the fiber it is made of. You have heard the tale of the Chinese empress who first found the silkworm which gives those fine lustrous fibers that make the most luxurious fabric on earth – I believed  that only silkworms gave us silk, for a long time since learning about this in school. But later found out that it is like believing that only cow gives us milk.So what do camels, goats and buffalos do, you may ask and you forgot soy.

You have to take into account other silk fabrics made from Spiders and Mussles. Infact spider silk is said to be one of the best fibers ever discovered. ( Checkout this post on Newyorker which says in future we will all wear spider silk ) Then there are the different species of silkworms other than the renowned Bombyx mori sillkworm – all competing to make the best of the best fabrics. 

So now  you know where the silk comes from and what it is made of, lets go on to our business – that of making clothes with it ; for that you need silk fabric -yards and  yards of beautiful silk.

But do you know that not all silk are made equal. Silk is categorised  according to many factors – But I am mainly concerned about how the fabric looks and how it drapes and its suitability to make different garments/accessories.

Broadly silk from silkworms are categorised as follows 

Pure silk

This is silk fabric which is made with silk fibers which has been cleaned off the gum but to which no additives are added to compensate for the weight lost in boiling and cleaning the fibers. It is the purest and finest of silk

Wild silk

This is silk made from wild  silkworms that live on oak leaves instead of mulberry leaves. This is coarser in nature.  The alternate name for this silk is TussahTusser

Mulberry silk

Obviously silk made  from fibers given by the domesticated silkworms species knowns as Bombyx mori fed exclusively on Mulberry leaves 

The more specific silk fabrics are as follows

Silk Charmeuse ( Silk Satin)

Silk Charmeuse is a soft medium weight silk fabric with a satin-ish and lustrous face and a dull back. This is the fabric which comes to your mind as you say silk.

I suppose this  is the most preferred fabric for dressmaking because it looks wonderful, is beautifully supple and drapes well on the figure. You can make lingerie, gowns , loose blouses, scarves etc with this.

This fabric is a favourite for making wedding clothes- it is suitably heavy sleek, satiny and creamy.

Sewing this fabric is not without its challenges as the fabric is quite slippery and you have to be extra vigilant when sewing it.  It is made with a satin weave, hence the shiny look. Some may not like this satiny look and hence skip this one. It is also slightly clingy.( as per the tips given in this post on dressing tips to make one look thin you had better avoid it if that is what you aim for) . One other problem is charmeuse creases easily.

But all said, silk charmeuse is silk in all its glory. So it is most preferred to make all kinds of garments

You can also choose a Stretch Silk Charmeuse, which features 5% spandex which gives it stretchiness in addition to its sheen and softness and suppleness. Then there is the Sand washed Charmeuse which has a toned down satin surface.Sueded charmeuse has a light crepe texture

When sewing and washing take extra care as it snags and puckering of thread is a common problem on the face of the fabric. If  you have a silk charmeuse gown which is very much cherished I would carefully handwash it or dry clean it to be safe.

Chiffon Silk

Chiffon silk is a soft sheer fabric with a slight rough feel (matt). Chiffon comes in all colours and prints. It is suitable for making loose flowy clothes. The slippery, flimsy and thin  feel of the fabric makes it a very difficult material to sew. Checkout some of the tips on the sewing with sheer fabric for how to deal with this problem. Remember that you will need to add a lining when making clothes, unless you want the transparent effect.

Silk Dupioni ( Duppioni or Dupion)

This is a medium weight reversible silk fabric with a nubby texture and loose plain weave. It doesnot crease/ wrinkle easily and is quite strong.

This fabric is made by weaving two colours of yarns (said to be from two cocoons nested together) and hence has a dull luster and sheen when watched in light – you will find it has different shades. You may see black specs in this fabric- those are part of the fabric and removing them may weaken the fabric.

This fabric  is a favourite for sewing clothes, especially as a wedding dress material; it is easier than charmeuse or chiffon to sew with as it is more  sturdy. The lustrous vivid colours of the dupioni silk and its shimmery look makes it a very attractive fabric . You can make  beautiful semifitted (tailored) as well as loose fitting clothes with this fabric

Prewash dupioni silk before cutting and sewing. Hand wash with extra care ( because sometimes the sheen and texture  maybe lost in washing); usually it is recommended for dry cleaning.

You can see that most bridal gowns are made in this fabric because of its sheen as well as the fact that it is inexpensive. You get embossed dupioni silk as well as embroidered , beaded and printed dupioni . This fabric doesnot fray much at the cut edges but the loose weave may cause seams to unravel. The surface also pills easily. Also be aware that it has no stretch.

Silk Gauze

Silk gauze is a sheer, thin lightweight  open weave silk fabric with a soft feel and beautiful sheen. It is lighter than chiffon and organza.

This is most often used for sewing as  facings, interfacing or lining. This fabric is not difficult to sew with.

Fuji Silk

This medium weight silk has a soft luster and great drape. It also wrinkles less. 

Raw Silk

Silk fiber as it comes from the cocoon is coated with a protective layer called silk gum, or sericin which is very stiff.  Raw silk is fabric made from this fiber without removing the gum

Silk Noil

Silk Noil is a low sheen and slightly bulky silk fabric with a nubby texture (matte surface and rough finish). It is also mistakenly called raw silk which is not correct. It is made from the short fibers left after combing and carding, which is why it does not have the shine of other silk fabrics

The short fibers with several knots are used in weaving this fabric – this results in slubs on the surface of the fabric which results in the nubby texture. They also have subtle specs on it which are cocoon remnants.

This fabric looks like cotton but is soft like silk and has a good drape and does not wrinkle easily. It is easy to sew and easy to care forr; The cut edges fray easily; This fabric is not as durable as other silks. 

Silk noil is prone to shrinkage in wash so prewash. It is hand washable

Silk Shantung 

This is a medium weight to heavyweight fabric with a crisp feel. It is a very shiny, coarse but delicate fabric. It is lightweight and airy and donot wrinkle much. A wild silk made from silkworms fed on oak tree leaves. The Indian  silk shantung is called Tussah silk

 

Silk Organza

Silk organza is a sheer crisp lightweight strong and durable silk fabric with a loose weave and smooth texture, made of non-degummed plain weave silk. It looks like silk gauze but silk organza is heavier and more stiff. The fine yarns that make this fabric makes it see through. This fabric creases easily

It is nowadays mostly used for making linings. You can also use this to make facings for sheer fabrics. This fabric is also the base for embellished fabrics (embroidered applique pieces, beaded fabrics etc)

Silk Broadcloth

Silk Broadcloth is a soft, lightweight silk fabric with a smooth surface and dull lustre. It is suitable to make tailored clothes with the fabric as it holds creases well and has a tight weave

Silk Brocade

These are silk blend fabric with Jacquard patterns woven on a heavyweight twill/satin base. This is mostly used in home furnishings, for making wedding gowns and costumes.

Crepe de Chine ( pronounced Krape dee sheen)

Crepe de china is a lustrous silk fabric with a smooth and slippery surface and great drape. The sheen of this fabric  is subtle and is heavier than a silk habotai fabric. It is a very comfortable fabric but wrinkles easily. Crepe de chine comes in many different varieties like  Moroccan crêpe and crêpe georgette

Silk Crepe

Silk crepe is a lightweight  textured silk fabric with  a good sheen

Four-Ply Silk

This is  medium to heavy weight silk fabric with a crepe finish  and beautiful lustre. Infact this is a heavier version of silk crepe. The heavy weight version of 4 ply silk is the most coveted silk fabric for dress making. The fabric is called 4 ply because 4 individual yarn strands are twisted to make the single yarn of his silk.

This fabric can be handwashed but it is preferable to dryclean it tmaintain the sheen and lustre.

Silk/metal tissue

Silk/metal tissue is a rather stiff, crinkly and translucent and lustrous gauze made with silk and metallized threads. Very difficult to maintain as it can’t be dry cleaned nor handwashed as it shrinks very much.

Silk Gabardine

This is  dressy smooth twill weave silk  fabric with a distinct diagonal line on the fabric. Faintly lustrous, it has a beautiful drape; The fabric  resists wrinkles. Durable and crisp, it is most often used for making skirts, slacks and suits.

Handwash (shrinks more than most), drip dry.

Silk Georgette

This is a sheer and strong silk fabric with a dull creped surface and a grainy texture. It is a durable fabric but when sewing you have to be extremely careful as it snags easily.  The flowy thin nature of the fabric makes it difficult to sew with. It is also less lustrous and heavier than chiffon and is great for dressmaking.

Silk Taffeta

Taffeta is a plain weave silk fabric with a crisp texture . It has a fine  crosswise rib pattern and is reversible. It can be soft or stiff according to its make and has a rustle

Peau de Soie (Duchess Satin)

This is a medium weight smooth and silky fabric with a satiny, lustrous finish. This fabric looks a lot like sillk charmeuse but Peau de Soie has a moderately stiff drape.  This fabric is also very easy to sew with. It is a preferred fabric for making gowns  ( also nicknamed bridal satin)

Dry Cleaning is preferred to keep the sheen

Habutai Silk / Habotai Silk

Habutai is a soft and lustrous  lightweight  silk fabric with a great drape. It doesnot crease easily and sews easy enough. It is also known as Parachute silk. It is usually used for lining garments. Very similar to China silk ; both are breezy, lightweight and inexpensive.

Silk Pongee

This is a silk fabric with a textured surface and has a sheen. This fabric has a soft drape. Pongee silk is very fine and light, even lighter than silk habutai.Usually  the names  silk pongee and silk habutai are used interchangeably

China Silk

China silk is similar to Habutai in all aspects other than that china silk is smoother. It is a somewhat thin silk. You can use it as a lining for gowns, rather than makig gowns with it.

Spun silk

This is a silk fabric made with very short fibers; Hence the surface is rough and feels like cotton

Watered silk

This is silk with a design woven into the fabric . The design looks like a watermark on the fabric

Thai Silk

A tightly woven silk fabric from Thailand. It is a lot like silk shantung but much better

Indian Silk

The following are silk fabrics made in India

  • Silk Matka

Matka is a heavy weight tightly woven silk handwoven from very thick yarns in India.It has a homespun look . The poor quality Matka silk may have an uneven surface. The fabric, which feels  somewhat like tweed,  is used for making for suits and jackets as it holds the shape well; sews easily.

Drycleaning preferred because of possible shrinkage in wash

  • Tussah

Tussah (also Tussarsilk is a  medium to heavy weight silk with a rough uneven  surface with distinct crosswise ribs. It is said to be made from wild silkworms and is usually coarser than cultivated silk. Tussah silk is available only in limited colours. This fabric sews easily, but may unravel at cut edges. Colours available are limited 

Tussar silk can be handwashed , but it does shrink ; drip dry.

  • Surah is a soft lightweight silk originally made in Surat. This is a very supple fabric with a dull lustre
  • Garad Silk – This is a very fine silk  with red border and small paisley motifs
  • Jamawar – Pashmina silk which contains a blend of cotton and wool. 
  • Matka Silk – A rough handloom silk fabric made from the waste Mulberry Silk without removing its gum (sericin) part
  • Banarasi/Benarasi Silk –  A fine silk evolving with gold and silver brocade and zari work
  • Bangalore Silk – Very pure silk produced in the silk farms of Bangalore.
  • Angora Silk  Soft silk made from the fur of Angora rabbit
  • Pochampally/Pochampalli Silk –  A special type of silk from  Pochampally, Indian
  • Mysore Silk – This is  silk fabric woven from hard spun silk yarn 
  • Sournachuri Silk This silk has gold thread woven along with the silk fibers 
  • Kosa Silk- This is a type of tussah silk fabric with a soft texture and dull-brownish look
  • Muga Silk this is a silk made from yellow silk fibers 
  • Eri Silk this is a beautiful golden yellow coloured silk
  • Dharamavaram Silk This silk fabric has gold plated borders
  • Narayanpet Silk – This is a silk fabric with a checked surface design with embroidery and the border or pallu have intricate ethnic designs
  • Pat/Paat Silk This is a durable and fine silk fabric in white colour
  • Kanchipuram-Beautiful shiny silk fabric made in Kancheepuram
  • Bhagalpuri Silk
  • Uppada Silk
  • Khadi Silk – This is silk fabric made from handspun silk yarns . Khadi silk is usually 50% cotton and 50% silk. It has a very crisp and neat look and a soft lightweight feel. 

Spider silk

The silk fibers spun by the spider is said to be as strong or even stronger than steel and very elastic. The commercial and industrial possibilities of spider silk are not yet fully explored. 

Sea silk

This is a silk fabric made from long silky filaments secreted by mussels. This silk fabric is said to be even finer than all other silks and keeps you warm

Silk blends 

Cotton Silk

This is a blend of  cotton and silk; It has less sheen than silk and is very inexpensive when compared to silk. It is not slippery like silk and is heavier.

Silk Wool

A blend of wool and silk fibers creates a fabric with most of the features of both the fibers like warmth without the added weight, breathability, moisture absorption, drape, resistance to wrinkles, suppleness. Silk wool is not as scratchy as pure wool.Silk cashmere, silk merino wool 

Art silk

This is an artificial silk made from rayon fibers which look like silk; With the sheen of silk but with less drape and durability. This is a very inexpensive alternative to silk

Reference :

Related posts :

Washing and caring for silk clothes

washing and cleaning silk

Sewing with Silk: 12 FAQ answered

sewing silk

Comments 3

  1. Hi ,
    This article is extremely informative and useful.
    Can you please provide the price range for these items as it would be more useful for the first time buyers like me for the silk varieties that I haven’t used?

    Thanks:)

  2. This is one of the exhaustive article on silks which’s truly very informative and useful. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    I would appreciate if you could kindly let me know the source from where I can get lightweight fabrics like chiffons/ crepes/ polyesters etc. in 45″ width in Canada.

    Thanking you in advance.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Sudha
      Thanks for taking the time to write this and for the kind words
      I am afraid I am not familiar with shops in canada – if I get to know I will email you
      Thanks

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