What is Raw Silk?

A guide to raw silk as a specific type of silk fabric that is unique and eco-friendly.

raw silk

Silk is one of the most finest, shiniest and smoothest fabrics known to man. But not all silks. Raw silk is a 100% pure silk fabric which is somewhat crips and has a nubby texture because of slubs (lumpy, uneven yarns), which are part of its weave. But it is one of the expensive silks – there in lies the irony. A not-so smooth silk getting all the attention. I love the subtle shine and uneven texture of my raw silk dress than any soft silk.

It is available in different weights and textures. China and India are the largest producers of Raw silk.

Different types of raw silk

There are 2 types of raw silks – one is the regular mulberry silk called Silk Noil (noil being the name for the short, broken-fibers). It is made from the the short fibers from fragmented cocoons of the mulberry leaves eating silk caterpillar. This is the softest and finest raw silk.

The other type of raw silk is made from cocoons of other types of moths which eat other leaves than mulberry leaves. This is called Tussah silk (wild silk)

Mulberry raw silk is made from the larvae cocoons that feed on mulberry leaves. Dupioni silk is a raw silk that is much in demand as a wedding dress material. Read more on Silk Dupioni here

Tussah silk or Tussar raw silk is taken from wild silk caterpillars that feed on the leaves of Jamun and oak trees. The silk fibers are usually short because cocoons are collected after the silk caterpillars has chewed its way out of it. It has a rich texture and deep gold color. Tussar raw silk can be dyed to any color.

Eri raw silk is made from the cocoons of silk caterpillars that feed on the leaves of castor plants. The Eri silk is mostly cultivated in the Indian state of Assam and some parts of China and Japan. It has a coarse yet fine texture.

The Muga raw silk is made from the cocoons of the Assam silk moth. They feed on the aromatic leaves of Som and Sualu plants. This silk has a natural gold tint and a shimmery and glossy texture.

Names for Raw silk in Different parts of the world

Chinese word for raw silk is shēngsī (生丝) (Pronounced “sheng-sih”). xiāo, su and jing are other words used for raw silk in China. In India silk is called “Patt” or resham and important raw silks are called Muga, Eri and Tusser. In Japan, the raw silk is called nama-kinu, where Kinu is silk. Tsumugi, omeshi and Kinu-ji are important raw silks in Japan. Seta-grezza is Italian for Raw silk. Soie brute is the French term for raw silk.

Qualities of Raw Silk

The raw silk is made from lustrous fibers taken from fragmented cocoons or waste silk left in a cocoon. It has not been boiled (degummed) to remove the natural gum extruded by the silkworm. The resultant fabric is somewhat crisp but has a good enough drape for making all kinds of clothes. It is a 100% natural fabric with high breathability and comfort. 

Raw silk is a very popular fabric among all those who sew because unlike other slippery fabrics it is an easy fabric to sew. It is easy to cut, easy to sew, and has a good drape (especially after washing), good medium-weight and a classy appearance with a subtle luster. It is somewhat opaque, and has the look of linen. And all other good qualities of silk.

Difference between spun silk and raw silk

Spun silk is made of short fibers left behind after the raw silk filaments are reeled off. The short fibers are then carded, spun, and twisted to form spun silk yarn. Raw silk is made of unprocessed silk filaments. Spun silk is soft and smooth. Raw silk has an uneven texture.

Silk filaments from the middle section of the cocoon is used for spinning silk fibers to make silk fabrics – the rest of the filaments are used up for making raw silk. In making of the raw silk, the binding gummy material called sericin is not removed until the yarn or the fabric stage. Afterward, the sericin is removed by boiling the silk with soap and water. The raw silk made by this process is soft and lustrous. It will have a slightly nubby texture. This is the most natural form of silk and can be woven into different fabrics and garments. China is the largest producer of raw silk, followed by India.

Is raw silk pure silk?

Yes, Raw silk is pure silk. It is silk in its purest and most natural form as it is made of silk filaments taken directly from the cocoons spun by silkworms, which has not undergone any processing or treatment, preserving their natural characteristics and properties

Problems with Raw silk

How good is Raw silk as a dressmaking fabric?

Raw silk has a very elegant look that makes it a good dressmaking fabric. It has a subtle shine and an interesting texture that almost looks like a pattern. It also has a good drape. As raw silk is pure silk, it is breathable and comfortable. What more do you want? You will have to use a suitable lining material as some raw silk material may have a looser weave or maybe thin. And a lining protects the silk.

Because of its somewhat loose weave and interesting texture, you would want to hand wash or dry clean as machine washing can destroy the nice texture of the fabric. And do not wring the material to remove water.

The deep rich colors of raw silk can run in the wash – it may lead to fading. You can heat set the colors the first time you wash it – use a hot iron(set to iron heat setting) on it when damp; this will set the colors. Dry as usual afterward

Can you wash raw silk?

I wouldnot wash raw silk at home – not at all in the washing machine. But there are people who wash silk at home by hand with soft baby shampoo. The problem with raw silk is that there is a natural starch in raw silk that may be damaged when you wash raw silk. In my opinion, it is better given to a professional dry cleaner with special instructions. But you can try to wash raw silk at home by gently hand washing without soaking it and without using too much agitation, wringing. Read more about washing raw silk fabrics here.

Next problem is its somewhat stiff nature, when you first buy it. But this has a simple solution.

How to make raw silk soft ?

Usually, raw silk has a crisp texture and is a little rough when it is first bought. If you do not like this, you can hand wash the material several times to soften it. You can wash it in slightly warm water with a a pH neutral detergent. This will remove the natural oil and also open up the fibers and make it very soft and pliable.It gets very drapey after washing like this. 

Raw silk is somewhat loosely woven and may come apart at the seam line. What I mean is, it can unravel at the stitching line, especially if you are using it for very tight fitting clothes. You can use seam tape to reinforce the seam or use underlining.

Related posts : Different types of silk fabrics; How to know you have real silkHow is silk made? ; What is slub in fabric texture

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

1 thought on “What is Raw Silk?”

  1. Raw silk is the only way to obtain this beautiful fabric without the needless boiling of silk worms; only today I have learnt this and I am so very, very sad that this is acceptable.

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