Silk Fabric Type & Care

Silk Fabric Type & Care


The finest silk fibers, and most of what we use today, are produced by "cultivated" silkworms grown in a controlled environment. The worms are fed a diet of mulberry leaves and increase their body size 10,000 times in their short life span. Once the cocoon is spun and before the worm hatches through the silk into a moth, the cocoon is soaked in hot water then unraveled, producing filaments that can be up to a mile long in size.

The raw silk is then processed to remove the sericin - the natural "gum" that protects the fibers and causes them to stick to each other as the cocoon was spun.

Silk is a protein fiber, similar to wool or to human hair. It is only natural for silks to have some irregularities sometimes called "slubs". This is the nature of the 100% silk fabric.

Silk that has been processed can be woven or knit into a variety of fabrics. Silk will shrink, so if you are using it to construct clothing, be sure to preshrink it. Silk often has a wonderful feel, (referred to as a "hand"), and an almost iridescent sheen that makes us think of luxury.

The weight of silk is shown as "mm" pronounced "mommy" and varies within the different types of silk. The following list of various types of silk may help you understand some of the qualities of each:

Silk Chiffon

Often the lightest weight and most diaphanous of the silks, Silk Chiffon is also the most see-through. It creates the "billows" of fabric that add dimension to garments, but generally requires some kind of lining or backing unless it's used for scarves.

Silk Habotai (china silk)

Silk Habotai is a lightweight, sheer, plain-weave fabric. It's sometimes referred to as habutai, or habotai, or pongee. It is one of the less expensive and more commonly available silk fabrics.

Silk Habotai can often be found as light as 5 mm and as heavy as 12 mm. Most of our scarves are made of 8 mm Silk Habotai. When purchasing for clothing construction, or purchasing ready-made clothing, this fabric is not recommended for fitted garment styles because the seams will tear from the stress.

Silk CDC (Silk Crepe de Chine)

Silk Crepe de Chine or Silk CDC is a lightweight fabric made by twisting some fibers clockwise and others counterclockwise. The twisted fibers are then woven in a plain-weave fabric, but it's the twisted fibers, not the weave, that gives crepe its distinctive "pebbly" look and feel rather than a shiny luster. Both sides of the fabric look and feel the same.

Many scarves are made of Silk Crepe de Chine, often in the 12mm to 16mm range. When purchasing ready-made clothing or considering this fabric for sewing, avoid using it in tailored styles because the fabric is too soft to hold a structured shape.

Silk Crepe de Chine doesn't ravel as easily as other silk fabrics, but it will tear if not handled gently.

Silk Charmeuse

Generally, when we think of traditional silk fabric, this is the fabric we have in mind. The back of the silk fabric is a flattened crepe while the front is a shimmery satin weave.

Silk Charmeuse has even more drape than crepe de chine and works well for scarves, blouses and lingerie. Occasionally we will offer scarves in Silk Charmeuse.

Silk Jacquard

Silk Jacquard silks offer various woven patterns, using matte and reflective threads to create a light and dark effect in the fabric. This effect is similar to brocade, although the Jacquard is originally created in one color. These are generally heavier weight and more densely woven. Patterns are often florals and paisleys.

This added dimension (pattern) makes this silk fabric perfect for abstract for free-form dyeing.

Silk Dupioni (Silk Shantung)

Silk Dupioni or Silk Shantung is a plain-weave fabric with slubbed ribs. It has a stiff, taffeta-like hand and is usually dyed in bright colors.

Silk Dupioni is often made into elegant evening gowns or semi-fitted vests and garments. But make sure the style isn't too fitted, because the fabric doesn't stand up well to stress and ravels easily.

It's often recommended that Silk Dupioni be drycleaned to resist abrasions. However, as with most silk fabric, you can generally wash dupioni with positive results. Just be sure to serge the raw edges first to prevent raveling. Washing will make the fabric lose some of its stiffness, which may be your preference, and the color will soften as the excess dye is washed away.

Silk Noil

Silk Noil is made from the short fibers left after combing and carding so it doesn't shine like many other silk fabrics. Silk Noil looks similar to cotton, but has the soft feel of silk against the skin. It also drapes better than cotton and resists wrinkling, so it's the perfect choice when traveling.

It can be machine washed on gentle and dried on low, but this will cause a faded, "weathered" look. If you prefer bright colors, dry-clean or hand wash.

Raw Silk

Raw Silk is any silk yarn or fabric that hasn't had the sericin - the natural "gum" that protects the fiber - removed. The fabric is stiff and dull and the sericin tends to attract dirt and odors.


Silk is protein fiber, more similar to wool than to cotton. It is very similar to human hair. Remembering this will help when you think about how to wash or clean it.

Silk is extremely strong, but repeated exposure to the sun will erode the fiber. As a result, silk fabrics are poor choices for curtains and draperies.

In general, silk can stand heat (it is subjected to very high temperatures when the gum is removed, and most silk dyes are steam set), but does not do well in extreme changes of temperatures, or in overheating through excessive drying.

Some silk yardage and clothing can he hand washed if done carefully. For best results use a mild detergent (like Woolite, or even shampoo) and lukewarm water, then roll the fabric in a towel to absorb the water. Do not twist just as you wouldn't twist or pull your hair. Iron dry on a low setting. If you're unsure about washing, check with the manufacturer when possible. Many manufacturers will tell you to dry-clean because it is simpler and yields better results. Where ever possible, you may want to check a swatch first.

Structured silk garments and fragile fabrics should be dry-cleaned to prevent damage. Multi-color prints or hand-dyed scarves may need to he dry-cleaned to prevent running. You may wish to dry-clean your garment the first time. The steaming process used at the dry-cleaners many also help to further set the dyes.

Moths will attack silk, as well as wool. Store your silk clothing appropriately. As with all fine fabrics, if you plan to store for a long time, you will do best to store in a cotton pillowcase or otherwise surround the silk with a fabric that can breathe. Avoid storing in plastic since this can trap moisture, which can lead to yellowing or the accumulation of mildew.

Never use chlorine bleach on silk. It will yellow the fiber and may cause it to breakdown more quickly.

The colors in your silk will undoubtedly fade over time, even when permanent dyes have been used and they have been professionally set. Reds are particularly sensitive to running and fading. Store your silk away from exposure to light, especially direct sunlight. Washing silk may also cause excess dye to discharge. When in doubt, dry-clean the garment or item.