No one cares to be duped. Ever since the boy sitting next to me in my 3rd grade told me made-up stories about his adventures in the high sea I have been wary of everyone.
Still, I was duped. On my trip to buy silk, when a silk seller held up a cigarette lighter I had this feeling in my bones. And I ended up buying 2 meters of silk fabric that had nothing about silk in them. I had been duped into buying Artificial silk which looks very similar to real silk, but which is really made from comparatively inferior man-made fibers like rayon, polyester, nylon.
It seems I could have learned how to recognize real silk and got home with the purest silk out there if only I knew certain facts.
But Do you need real silk?
You can get real pure 100% original silk – But is it what you want?
You may only want the artificial silks/fake silk/silk-like synthetic fabric that pose as pure silk – because of one main reason -Cost. You can buy artificial silk at 1/10th the cost of the original pure 100%silk. And they can look a lot like silk superficially.
Real silk is very costly – considering that it takes about 10000 cocoons to produces about 5 meters of silk fabric and the other costs involved in the production, and the exclusive, luxurious look and feel of the fabric, the high cost of silk is justified. Ethical concerns of the silk production process come beyond these.
If you want a similar feel and look of silk without costing too much, many fabrics are available today with polyester and rayon fibers which can pass off as silk to the unaware.
But if you really want silk, then what?
First and foremost thing is to buy from reputed manufacturers and retailers. They will have their own quality checks and they would not risk their reputation selling fake silk to you.
10 questions to ask to recognize Real Silk vs fake silk
1 Does it feel soft? Is it drapey?
There are many kinds of silk but superior quality pure mulberry silk made with long fibers will be very soft and drapey. A piece of soft lightweight silk fabric will feel really soft under your hands.
Test the feel of the fabric by touching the surface with a soft hand- the fabric will feel silky, soft and slightly waxy against your hand, with a slight pulling. You will feel as if you have kept the hand on soft snow
Look at the yarn at the edges of the cut edge of the fabric – is the fiber soft or springy. Touch it and see – if it is soft it can be real silk. Fake silk may look like real silk but fibers will feel hard. Silk fibers are soft and flexible.
Crepe de china, Charmeuse, Chanderi, Habutai silk (China silk/pongee) are very soft to touch.Dupioni silk is soft but is also slightly stiff, with a taffeta-like hand.
But this touch test is not a definitive test as all silk is not this soft. Raw silk is any silk yarn or fabric that still has the sericin ( a gum in silk fibers) on it. This gum makes the silk stiff and dull and also it may attract dirt. Silk Shantung has a firm, semi-crisp hand. Low grade silk can feel as rough as Cotton.
In Tussah silk (made from the wild silkworms) the fibers are short and coarse instead of long and lustrous. As a result, the fabric is coarser and heavier. Silk Noil, Silk Shantung are fabrics made with Tussah silk (also called wild silk). Hand made silk may have imperfections and slubs as you touch it.
Silk may be added with metallic substances during the dyeing process. Actually, silk that has been weighed like this (weighted silk) is not as pure as real silk. It reduces the life of the fabric. You should look for silk with pure dyes. Pure-dye Silk is silk that is coloured with dye and which may sometimes be finished with water-soluble substances such as starch, glue, sugar, or gelatin. Pure-dye silk is considered superior to weighted silk.
Keep the silk fabric over your arm – is it drapey and supple? Artificial silk will be slightly stiff.
Silk will feel crispy when they are rubbed together.
2 Does it look lustrous?
Most of the silk fabric look lustrous. If it is a synthetic silk/fake silk, it will not have the dimensional look of silk- the fabric will look flat.
High quality Silk fabric made of long fibers will be more lustrous than silk made of short fibers.
Silk fiber has the capacity to reflect light because of its structure hence they shimmer. When you look at silk from different angles/directions the fibers will appear to change colour.
3 Does it burn slowly and leave powdery ash?
Burn test for testing real silk Vs fake silk – Silk experts will always use this test to check silk authenticity. When you go to buy silk (be it a scarf, wrap, shawl or a sari) do not hesitate to ask for this test if you have some doubt about the authenticity of the fabric.
You may take out your cigarette lighter, or look carefully when the shopkeeper does. You need to take out a few threads from the silk fabric, rather than burn the whole piece of silk. Take out the warp and weft threads, if you can.
Real silk fibers will not catch fire easily like other fibers. When they catch fire they will burn with little or no smoke and with the smell of burning hair. It will leave a small dark bead which can be crushed easily into a fine powder. Pure silk burns slowly and stops burning on its own ie if the flame is not near the silk, the flame will self extinguish.
What about fake silk? Artificial Silk is actually made of Rayon fibers which are man-made. Rayon flares up and melts when touched with a flame. They do not leave any residue. Usually, it can smell of nothing or of burning paper as it is made of cellulose fiber.
Other fake silk may be synthetics (Polyester/Nylon) based on petroleum products – they burn or melt rapidly in intense flame, and give a smell of burning plastic, with black smoke. You will get a hardball (sticky) as a residue, which will not crumble like the residue of real silk. You can assume that the fabrics you have are polyester or nylon.
4 Does the fabric spring back from creases?
If Silk fibers are crushed, they will recover from the creases formed as soon as you straighten it. Fake silk do not recover easily – they retain the creases.
5 Does it cost a lot?
Artificial silk is made from viscose or polyester – they are made in a factory with inexpensive raw materials and with fast churning machines.
Whereas Silk is made with a lot of time and effort- whether made with the machine or handwoven. Sericulture, rearing of silkworms to produce silk is a costly business. Silk will be expensive.
If you are getting beautiful looking silk at very cheap prices, you have to question Why?
Related Post : What is Silk and How is it made.
6 What can you say about the fibers/threads of the fabric ?
Silk fabric is made of very fine threads but the fibers are strong. Artificial silk fibers are very weak, if you compare with silk fibers with the same thickness
Silk may be of many thicknesses. It is said that the Softest silk can pass easily through even a small ring but thick silk fabrics are also popular.
You can know the thickness of the fabric by looking for information on the ply of the fabric. The ply of a yarn denotes the weight of the yarn. It usually refers to the number of threads used to form the yarn. In case of a 3 ply yarn, 3 threads strands are twisted to make a single yarn of silk. These threads are woven into the fabric. Greater the ply heavier the fabric. A 2 ply fabric will be finer and softer to touch than a 3 ply fabric.
A 3 ply silk is heavy silk. It will feel more textured and will be heavier than 2 ply fabric. There are 4 play silk fabrics as well. But whatever the ply, silk always drapes well on the body.
7 Do you see the outline of pattern on the reverse?
If you look at the backside of printed silk you can see the faint outline of the print. With a synthetic fabric the back side will be of a plain color.
8 What is the Grade and weight of your silk?
The silk is classified according to their tenacity, evenness, clean and neat appearance, size etc . They are then given different grades – A, B & C. Grade AAA Mulberry silk is considered to be of the best quality.
Silk momme weight is a standard way of measuring the weight of silk and another yardstick of quality. One momme = 4.340 grams per square meter. Different silk fabrics have different momme weight.
Higher the momme weight, silk is considered to be of better quality because the weave will be more durable, it will be more long lasting and suitable for rough use and the fabric will feel smooth. But higher momme weight also means more opacity. So if you want translucent sheer silk, go for silk with lesser momme weight.
9 What does the tag say?
Did you look at the fine print? Most often the cloth tag will have details of the fabric. Grade of the silk may be indicated on the fabric tag of your silk, as well as the country of origin, ply, etc.
Authenticity certificates – do you know some silks have them. And you get 100% pure silk with a guarantee. The Silk Mark Organisation of India, a registered society under the Central Silk Board (ministry of textiles, Government of India) gives such a certificate.
Here is a Wikipedia article on silk mark certification in India.
10 Is the golden thread work in your silk original
This refers to the beautiful patterns woven on silk fabric with a golden colored thread called zari.
Original zari is made with silver thread plated with 22K gold. This is made by covering red thread in silver and then dipping it in 22 K gold. But imitation zari work abounds. So you have to be wary. Imitation zari loses its color soon and turns black and ugly.
If you want to know whether the zari work on your silk is original take a zari thread from the edge and loosen up the top layer of the thread with your nail. If a red thread is visible it is original zari. If the thread looks white or some other colour it is adulterated zari