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
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
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 Tussah/ Tusser
Obviously silk made from fibers given by the domesticated silkworms species knowns as Bombyx mori fed exclusivelyon Mulberry leaves
The more specific silk fabrics are as follows
Silk Charmeuse is a soft medium weight silk fabric with a satinish and lustrous face and a dull back. 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 etc with this
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 charmuese is silk in in all its glory. So it is most preferred to make all kinds o f garments
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 charmeuese gown which is very much cherished I would carefully handwash it or dry clean it to be safe.
Chiffon silk is a soft sheer fabric with a rough feel.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
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.This fabric is made by weaving two colours of yarns (said to be from two cocoons nested together) and hence has a dull lustre and sheen when watched in light
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 is a sheer, thin lightweight open weave silk fabric with a floppy feel and beautiful sheen
This is most often used for sewing as facings, interfacing or lining. This fabric is not difficult to sew with.
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 is a low sheen and slightly bulky silk fabric with a nubby texture. It is also mistakenly called raw silk which is not correct. The short fibers with several knots are used in weaving this fabric – this results in slubs on the surface ofthe fabric which results in the nubby texture. This fabric has a good drape and dosenot wrinkle easily. It is easy to sew; 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
This is a medium weight to heavy weight fabric with a crisp feel. It is very shiny.
This is a silk fabric with a textured surface and has a sheen. This fabric has a soft drape.
Silk organza is a sheer crisp lightweight 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
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
These are silk blend fabric with Jacquard patterns woven on a heavyweight twill base. This is mostly used in home furnishings .
Crepe de Chine ( pronounced Krape dee sheen)
Crepe de china is a lustrous silk fabric with a smooth and slippery surface and great drape.
Silk crepe is a lightweight textured silk fabric with a good sheen
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 to maintain 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.
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.
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
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 charmeuese 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
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
China silk is similar to Habutai in all aspects other than that china silk is smoother. It is a somewhat thin silk.
This is a silk fabric made with very short fibers; Hence the surface is rough and feels like cotton
This is silk with a design woven into the fabric . The design looks like a watermark on the fabric
A tightly woven silk fabric from Thailand.
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 (also Tussar) silk is a medium to heavy weight silk with a rough uneven surface with distinct crosswise ribs. It is said to 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 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 tuusah 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.
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 is not yet fully explored.
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
This is a blend of cotton and silk; It has less sheen than silk and is very inexpensive when compared to silk
This is an artificial silk made from rayon fibers which looks like silk; With the sheen of silk but with less drape and durability. This is a very inexpensive alternative to silk