Though Rayon started out as ‘artificial silk’ when it was first introduced, it has many qualities which are very different from silk, and very similar too. Rayon was invented as an affordable alternative to natural silk, so comparisons between them are inevitable.
In this article I will cover:
Similarities and Differences between Silk and Rayon
|Fiber Source||Silk coccoons||Cellulose from wood pulp, typically from trees like beech, pine, or bamboo|
|Origin of the fabric||China||Made by French chemist Hilaire de Chardonnet.|
|Fiber Characteristics||Natural fiber; Fine, smooth, and lustrous; natural protein fiber||Semi synthetic fiber. Soft, smooth, and semi-lustrous|
|Texture||Some may be crispy||Smooth|
|Drape||Soft ; Some varieties maybe not as drapey||Very drapey and fluid|
|Strength||Strong and durable||Not as strong or durable.|
|Comfort||Breathable and comfortable||Smooth and comfortable|
|Insulation Properties||Keeps warm in winter||Keeps body cool in summer|
|Moisture Absorption||Absorbs water well||Highly absrobent|
|Care and Maintenance||May need dry clean||Machine washable in gentle cycle but may wear easily|
|Use of fabric||Special occassion clothing; Office wear||Casual everyday clothes|
|Environmental impact||Requires resources like mulberry trees for feeding silkworms and water for cocoon processing. And use of chemicals in the process of degumming (removing sericin, a natural gum) and dyeing. Animal welfare concerns.||Semi synthetic fabric; Production involves chemical processes,|
|Allergy potential||Silk fibers are considered hypo allergenic in pure form||May have residual chemicals or dyes from production.|
The most important difference between Rayon and silk is that Rayon is man-made, and silk is a naturally occurring protein fiber.
Where silk fabric is made from a natural fiber, Rayon fabric is made from artificial regenerated fibers made of cellulose from wood and bamboo. It is a semi-synthetic fiber. Rayon is known by different names like viscose, Tencel, Modal, and Cupro. It has the same molecular structure as cellulose. The cellulose has to undergo a long process to produce wearable fibers.
The origin of silk can be traced back to 3000BC in China whereas the rayon was manufactured only in the 1880s by a French man named Count Hilliard de Chardonnet and came to be used widely by the 1910s. Rayon was available as a good quality dressmaking fabric only by the 1940s. At first it was used only to make underwear but today rayon and its many variations are used to make all kinds of products. It is considered a new age fabric.
Read more about how silk is made here.
Rayon cannot be as lustrous as Silk though it was called artificial silk when it was first introduced. It is comparatively lustrous, fine in texture, and soft to feel than say a cotton fabric. But it doesnot have the luster of silk.
Rayon fibers are uniform throughout as it is a man-made fabric so it has a very smooth surface. It can be as thin as you want. Rayon also resists wrinkling to an extent. Compared to this, silk wrinkle, though thicker silks wrinkle less.
Compared to rayon, silk is an expensive fabric. Even otherwise silk is costly. Some of the silks can be counted as the most expensive of all fabrics. Whereas Rayon is always inexpensive – all forms of it. It is used in fast fashion to make clothes which are good looking but are low cost. It is considered as a cheaper alternative to silk.
Rayon has a wider variety of applications than silk. Because of the low-cost production, it is far widely used as a dressmaking material as well as in the production of household items like towels and washcloths. It is also used to make table cloths, bedsheets. Rayon ribbons are cheap and are available in bright colors whereas silk ribbons are muted and expensive.
Rayon fibers have low abrasion resistance (the ability of fabrics to withstand abrasion). They are said to be weaker compared to silk.Silk is considered a strong fiber.
Though rayon is biodegradable, the production of rayon is not very environmentally friendly. The production leads to de-forestation. It also causes pollution as the production of rayon involves a lot of chemicals.
The production of silk on the other hand is not as harmful to nature, only as much as any fabric. If you consider harvesting of young silk larvae as inhumane there is this alternative ‘humane silk’ that uses cocoons only after the larvae turn into moths.
Suitability as a dressmaking fabric
Rayon is more comfortable on the body than some silks. Because it is cellulosic Rayon has high absorbency and is more breathable than silk. And like silk, it has a moisture-wicking property.
Rayon makes you feel cool in a hot climate. Some silks like raw silk can keep the body warm in a cold climate.
Rayon has static cling but then so does silk.
Rayon has better drape quality than a number of silk fabrics because rayon fabric is very fluid. Some silks can be crisp like silk taffeta. Rayon Jersey fabric has the best drape of all. But it is another matter that a fabric like silk georgette or habutai silk drapes very well.
Like silk, rayon fibers can be dyed in a variety of colors.
Rayon and silk shrink in the wash but Rayon does not shrink as much as silk and is somewhat resistant to stains. The silk is prone to shrink a little when wet and does not resist stains.
The disadvantage of rayon as a dressmaking fabric is that it can be damaged easily whereas good quality silk can last a lifetime and more.
Woven silk fabric can be torn to correct the grainline but this is not advisable with rayon.
Rayon is considered a delicate fabric. Compared to rayon you can call silk sturdy. Silk fibers are strong. Rayon should be pressed with a lower iron temperature than silk.
You should not use a steam iron with silk but this is not a problem with rayon fabric.