From Brocade to Tussah – the properties and benefits of silk fabrics
How well do you know your silks? At Patra, we’re often asked by many of you about the qualities of the different silks we use and why some are more suitable for certain activities than others.
We’ve therefore provided a mini guide to help you with your shopping. We hope you find it useful – please tell us if there is anything else you would like to know!
The long and colourful history of silk
From antiquity until the present day, silk has dominated not only fashion, but also history and politics. From the ancient Confucian legend of princess Xi Ling Shi, to the resurrection of the ‘Silk Road’ with the first direct train from Yiwu, China to London, UK and back. And even now, in 2017, silk continues to have a special allure. Throughout the years it has been prized as a fabric for clothing and home furnishings.
Types of Silk
Elaborate and rich fabric, initially woven with gold and silver threads
Sometimes adorned with precious and semiprecious stones and embroidery
Used in upholstery and draperies
Also used for special occasion dresses and costume pieces
Strong, hard-wearing and luxuriant
Charmeuse (Silk Satin)
The silk we have in mind when we think of ‘traditional’ silk, also known as silk satin
The front of the fabric is in a shimmery satin weave
The back of the fabric is a flattened crêpe
Charmeuse has more drape than crêpe de chine and works well for scarves, blouses and lingerie
Literal translation from French means “rag” – although in our context it’s far from it!
A light, matt fabric made from fine twisted yarns, spaced out to make the fabric transparent
Dimension is added to garments by the creation of billows of fabric
Unless it is used for scarves, garments with chiffon normally require lining or backing
Chiffon is very lightweight making it ideal for special occasion dresses, scarves, even linings
Crêpe de Chine
A lightweight fabric made by fibres, where part of them are twisted clockwise and others in a counter-clockwise direction. These fibres are then woven in a plain-weave fabric
The twisted fibres give crêpe its distinctive ‘pebbly’ look and feel
Comes in many different varieties – crêpe de Chine, Moroccan crêpe and crêpe georgette
Ideal for dresses, suits and evening wear
Literally means crepe (fabric) of China
Floaty and soft
A strong double-thread silk, usually resulting in a rough yarn and irregularity in sheerness or weight
Black specks which occasionally appear in the fabric are part of the original cocoon of the silk worm Removing them would both weaken the fabric and destroy part of its beauty and character. They are inherent to Dupion silk fabric and should not be considered as defects in weaving
Strong and lustrous
Shot colours, the use of two different coloured threads in weaving, work well with Dupion silk. This gives the fabric different shades in the light
Medium-weight fabric, woven from spun silk fibres
Has a soft lustre and a lavish feel, reminiscent of high quality suede
Has a fluid drape
First made in Japan
Sheer, translucent fabric in loose open-weaveLightweight, lighter than chiffon and organza
A fine type of silk known as ‘gazzatum’ was imported in medieval Europe around the 13th century
Used for skirts and dresses
Floaty and soft
Fine, lightweight, plain weave fabric
Grainy texture and sheer feel
Less lustrous and heavier than chiffon
Named after French dressmaker Georgette de la Plante
Used for blouses, dresses, evening gowns and scarves
Doesn’t hold creases
Also known as China silk, Habutai, Pongee
The “classic” silk fabric
Was first used to line kimonos
Its weight can range from 5mm to the more heavy 12mm. Most scarves are made of 8mm Habotai
Soft and lightweight. Habotai silk is a sheer fabric and has a graceful drape and smooth surface.
Great for scarves.
Known as ‘raw silk’
Made from the short fibres left after combing and carding, so it doesn’t shine like many other silk fabrics
Very versatile fabric
Has a matte surface and rough finish – has a ‘nubby’ feel
Doesn’t show pin holes
Off-white in colour. It is easily distinguished from other types of silk for the subtle flecks on it, which are natural particles of the cocoon
Looks similar to cotton, but still feels soft against the skin
Drapes better than cotton and resists wrinkling
Easy to care for
Great for travelling
Should be handwashed. Will look better after every wash than with dry-cleaning
Lightweight, sheer, thin, open-weave fabric with smooth, flat finish
Used for veils and base for embellished fabrics
Curtains, screens and netting over beds
Strong, stiff and durable
Typically needs to be carefully steamed and not pressed (so it does not create water spots)
Also known as ‘shantung’
A type of wild silk, that is produced by silkworms that feed on oak and juniper leaves
As the worm is not grown in a controlled environment, the moth hatches from the cocoon and interrupts the filament length, resulting in short and coarse fibres, instead of long and lustrous ones
Usually comes from India or China. The India silk generally has more lustre to it
Feels coarse and is delicate and stiff
Difficult to dye and most often available in its natural colour, a creamy tan
Both lightweight and airy, as well as dressy, giving cool comfort to the wearer
Does not wrinkle easily
Good for travelling
A blend of the two luxury fabrics – pure silk and the fine wool that comes from the undercoat of the cashmere goat
The natural crimp it contains aids the fibre to interlock during processing. This enables it to be spun into a very fine and lightweight fabric
The number of crimp correlates with the fineness of the spun yarn and the softness of the finished product
The fabric retains the small air spaces trapped between fibres which makes it warm without being heavy
Luxuriously soft and lightweight with good insulation quality
Does not scratch like other wool
Difficult to weave together in order to keep the separate fibres from unraveling
As warm as silk, but of a heavier weight
Thicker than silk on its own
Has a superior substance and body to plain cotton
Less slippery than silk due to its heavier weight
Used to create finer fashions and premium apparel
Much like our other silk mixes, the feel and drape of pure cotton linen is improved when blended with pure silk
Pure wool on its own does not necessarily feel wonderful against your skin, but blending it with silk will create such a fabric
Patra uses Merino wool in its garments, the finest sheep wool fabric in the world, famed for its superior shine and softness
Merino wool has natural elasticity
The addition of Merino wool means that this mix has the maximum absorbent quality and has great breathability. It absorbs moisture and transfers it to the air, creating a dry layer next to the skin, as well as absorbing odours from the body
Resistant to dirt and wrinkling
Has the ability to hold dye
Provides warmth without adding weight
Has a higher level of UV light protection
Have we missed anything?
If you are interested in silk and have any questions about this fabric, just get in touch and we’ll do our best to help you.
Silk clothing, accessories and bedding
At Patra we put our knowledge of silks to good use, making sure that every item is made of just the right type of silk to benefit you. Here are a few of our favourite silk items:
9 thoughts on “The Different Types Of Silk”
Hi, not sure if this is the correct place to ask?
Normally I boycott China and only buy Fairtrade.
So, men’s shirts?
India and Fairtrade? China and Fairtrade? Or, where does the silk come from? Many thanks for an early reply as a silk shirt seems to be on the cards for Christmas!!
Thank you for your comment. We will be replying to your comment by email. You should receive it shortly.
What is the difference between the silk you use and Mulberry silk. I understand a thread count of 400 or more is more suitable for bed linen. Thank you.
Dear Mrs Crisp,
Many thanks for your comment. You will receive a reply by email shortly.
Great post, my mother in law is making me a slim silk wedding dress with pleated tulle over the top. We are looking for a fluid, shiny silk that is not too see through. Would I need to double up on the layers, and what would people recommend?
Thank you so much,
Thanks for your comments – glad you liked the blog. You might want to take a look at Pure Silk Satin. It has a crepe-de-Chine finish on the back but is fluid and shiny on the front. To stop the white fabric being see-through it would probably be best to double up on the layers as the usual weight is 19mm-24mm. Working with pure silk is difficult as it slips and is a delicate fabric, but if you get it right it can look absolutely stunning.
Congratulations and good luck for your big day. We are sure it will turn out beautifully.
The Team at Patra
Hi im making a very bilowy and drapy wedding dress. its going to have a lot of gathered fabric and needs to feel light weight but i dont want to much of a shine. what should i use?
Hi, Thanks for getting in touch.
Billowy and drapy together is a little difficult.
Silk satin is not suitable as it is too shiny unless used on the reverse side. Probably a crepe-de-Chine, used on the reverse if less shine is wanted or a light weight Habotai silk. If there is a vast amount of fabric then silk organza (the fabric used for veils) could be considered, possibly on top of the silk crepe-de-Chine. It’s difficult to know without seeing the style etc. and of course is a very personal choice. Best of luck and good wishes!
Thanks very interesting blog!