Introduction to Silk, Behaviour of Silk and Different Types of Silk fabrics
-Prepared by -P.Lakshmana kanth, Senior Faculty – IFTK


 

Silk is a "natural" protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. A fine lustrous fiber composed mainly of fibroin and produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons, especially the strong, elastic, fibrous secretion of silkworms used to make thread and fabric Silk is often referred to as "the queen of the fibres. The shimmering appearance for which silk is prized comes from the fibres' triangular prism-like structure which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles. Silk is also the strongest natural fiber known to man

Life Cycle of Silkworms

• The life cycle of the silk worm begins with eggs laid by the adult moth. • The larvae emerge from the eggs and feed on mulberry leaves. • In the larval stage, the worm is the caterpillar known as the silkworm. • The silkworm spins a protective cocoon around itself so it can safely transform into a chrysalis. • In nature, the chrysalis breaks through the cocoon and emerges as a moth. • The moths mate and the female lays 300 to 400 eggs. A few days after emerging from the cocoon, the moths die and the life cycle continues. • The cultivation of silkworms for the purpose of producing silk is called sericulture.


Breeding silkworms  Only the healthiest moths are used for breeding.  Their eggs are categorized, graded, and meticulously tested for infection. Unhealthy eggs are burned.  The healthiest eggs may be placed in cold storage until they are ready to be hatched.  Once the eggs are incubated, they usually hatch within seven days.  They emerge at a mere one-eighth of an inch (3.2 mm) long and must be maintained in a carefully controlled environment.  Under normal conditions, the eggs would hatch once a year in the spring when mulberry trees begin to leaf.  But with the intervention of Seri culturists, breeding can occur as many as three times per year.


Feeding the larva  The silkworms feed only on the leaves of the mulberry tree.  The mulberry leaves are finely chopped and fed to the voracious silkworms every few hours for 20 to 35 days.  During this period the worms increase in size to about 3.5 inches (8.9 cm).  They also shed their skin, or molt, four times and change color from gray to a translucent pinkish color.

Spinning the cocoon
 

When the silkworm starts to fidget and toss its head back and forth, it is preparing to spin its cocoon. The caterpillar attaches itself to either a twig or rack for support. As the worm twists its head, it spins a double strand of fiber in a figure-eight pattern and constructs a symmetrical wall around itself. The filament is secreted from each of two glands called the spinneret located under the jaws of the silkworm. The insoluble protein-like fiber is called fibroin.

 

The fibroin is held together by sericin, a soluble gum secreted by the worm, which hardens as soon as it is exposed to air. The result is the raw silk fiber, called the bave. The caterpillar spins a cocoon encasing itself completely. It can then safely transform into the chrysalis, which is the pupa stage.

Stoving the chrysalis

The natural course would be for the chrysalis to break through the protective cocoon and emerge as a moth. However, sericulturists must destroy the chrysalis so that it does not break the silk filament. This is done by stoving, or stifling, the chrysalis with heat.

The Filature Sorting and softening the cocoons

The filature is the factory in which the cocoons are processed into silk thread. In the filature the cocoons are sorted by various characteristics, including color and size, so that the finished product can be of uniform quality. The cocoons must then be soaked in hot water to loosen the sericin. Although the silk is about 20% sericin, only 1% is removed at this stage. This way the gum facilitates the following stage in which the filaments are combined to form silk thread, or yarn

Reeling the filament

Reeling may be achieved manually or automatically. The cocoon is brushed to locate the end of the fiber. It is threaded through a porcelain eyelet, and the fiber is reeled onto a wheel. Meanwhile, diligent operators check for flaws in the filaments as they are being reeled. As each filament is nearly finished being reeled, a new fiber is twisted onto it, thereby forming one long, continuous thread. Sericin contributes to the adhesion of the fibers to each other.

Packaging the skeins

The end product, the raw silk filaments, is reeled into skeins. These skeins are packaged into bundles weighing 510 pounds (2-4 kg), called books. The books are further packaged into bales of 133 pounds (60 kg) and transported to manufacturing centers.

Forming silk yarn

Silk thread, also called yarn, is formed by throwing, or twisting, the reeled silk. First the skeins of raw silk are categorized by color, size, and quantity. Next they are soaked in warm water mixed with oil or soap to soften the sericin. The silk is then dried. As the silk filaments are reeled onto bobbins, they are twisted in a particular manner to achieve a certain texture of yarn. For instance, "singles" consist of several filaments which are twisted together in one direction. They are turned tightly for sheer fabrics and loosely for thicker fabrics.

Combinations of singles and untwisted fibers may be twisted together in certain patterns to achieve desired textures of fabrics such as crepe de chine, voile, or tram. Fibers may also be manufactured in different patterns for use in the nap of fabrics, for the outside, or for the inside of the fabric. The silk yarn is put through rollers to make the width more uniform. The yarn is inspected, weighed, and packaged. Finally, the yarn is shipped to fabric manufacturers.

Degumming thrown yarn

To achieve the distinctive softness and shine of silk, the remaining sericin must be removed from the yarn by soaking it in warm soapy water. Degumming decreases the weight of the yarn by as much as 25%.

Finishing silk fabrics (weighting)

After degumming, the silk yarn is a creamy white color. It may next be dyed as yarn, or after the yarn has been woven into fabric. The silk industry makes a distinction between puredye silk and what is called weighted silk. In the pure-dye process, the silk is colored with dye, and may be finished with water-soluble substances such as starch, glue, sugar, or gelatin. To produce weighted silk, metallic substances are added to the fabric during the dying process.

This is done to increase the weight lost during degumming and to add body to the fabric. If weighting is not executed properly, it can decrease the longevity of the fabric, so pure-dye silk is considered the superior product. After dyeing, silk fabric may be finished by additional processes, such as bleaching, embossing, steaming, or stiffening.

Kinds of Silk (Silk refers to cultivated silk)

Wild or Tussah Silk

The silkworms that hatch from a wild species of moth live on oak leaves instead of mulberry leaves that form the food of the cultivated species. This coarser food produces an irregular and coarse filament that is hard to bleach and hard to dye. The tannin in the oak leaves gives wild sill: its tan colour. Wild silk is less lustrous than cultivated sills, as only a low percentage (about 11%) of sericin is removed in the degumming process. Wild silk fabrics are durable and have a coarse, irregular surface. They are washable and are generally less expensive than pure-dye silk.

Doupion Silk  Doupion silk comes from two silkworms that spin their cocoons together. The yarn is uneven, irregular, and large in diameter.  Raw Silk  Raw silk refers to cultivated silk-in-the-gum. Raw silk varies in colour from gray-white to canary yellow but since the colour is in the sericin, boiled-off silk is white.  Reeled Silk  Reeled silk is the long continuous filament, 300 to 1600 yards in length.  Spun Silk  Spun silk refers to yarns made from silk from pierced cocoons and waste silk. Waste Silk  Waste silk is comprised of the tangled mass of silk on the outside of the cocoon and the fibre from pierced cocoons.

Silk Fabrics

      

Brocade Charmeuse Chiffon Crepe Crepe de Chine Douppioni Habutai Matelasse

      

Matka Noil Organza Pongee Shantung Surah Taffeta Tussah

 

 

A rich, elegant fabric with a complex pattern woven on a jacquard loom with an extra set of yarns. The fabric has a stiff, heavy hand and a high /low relief pattern, usually of satin or twill floats, woven into a twill, satin or plain background weave. The floats snag easily and the fabric is subject to abrasion. Brocade is usually woven with yarns of more than one colour and is medium to heavy in weight. It was originally woven in China

Brocade has a stiff drape that falls into wide cones. Fabric holds the shape of the garment and does not pleat or gather well. It works best in styles that are shaped to eliminate bulk. A lining protects loose floats from getting caught. Choose close fitting, fitted or semi fitted styles to make jackets, skirts, and evening wear. The fabric will not tear easily, and it is moderate easy to sew.


Charmeuse is a soft, elegant fabric with a softly lustrous face and a dull back, made with a satin weave, tightly twisted warp yarns and crepe or spun filling yarns. It has a firm , supple hand and a beautiful drape, but it snags and creases easily. Once regarded as a luxury fabric , it is now one of the most common silks, available n weights ranging from 10mm to 18mm. Heavier versions are especially luxurious and usually more expensive. Silk charmeuse has a beautiful drape that falls close to the body in soft flares. It can be gathered into a soft fullness. The fabric tends to cling and its lustrous, reflective surface may make the wearer appear heavier.

 

Choose semi fitted, loose or very loose, voluminous styles of blouses, dresses, evening wear, nightgowns and lingerie. It is sometimes used for lining. Use a very fine needle with no nicks or burrs to reduce snags. Lustre may require a ‘with nap’ layout. Dry cleaning is recommended. The fabric is slippery and moderately difficult to sew.

 

 

Chiffon is French for rag and is the ragdoll of silk fabrics. This elegant, sheer fabric is quite limp, with a soft, beautiful drape. It is made with a loose, plain weave and tightly twisted yarns in both directions. It has a soft, supple, thin hand and a flat crepe like texture. Chiffon is very fine to light weight (4mm- 6mm), but is strong. Chiffon is thinner, softer and has less crepe as compared to georgette.

Chiffon has a graceful drape that falls into soft, languid flares and ripples. It can be gathered or shirred into a limp fullness. The fabric is extremely difficult to cut and sew; it is slippery and snags easily. Facings, and hems can be seen from the finished side of the garment. Used to make special occasion dresses, scarves, and nightgowns or for linings or under linings. Dry cleaning is recommended. Loose fitting and very loose fitting silhouettes are suggested. Draped and bias cut garments are also recommended.


Crepe is an expensive, luxurious fabric with a dull sheen and slight crosswise ribs, formed by fine warp yarns and slightly heavier filling yarns. Crepe is usually made with a plain weave and alternating S and Z twist crepe yarns in both directions. The soft pliable fabric has a crinkly, pebbled texture that can be almost smooth or rough. Crepe is heavier and more textured than crepe de Chine , but not as slippery. Silk crepe has a beautiful drape that falls into wide flares. It can be gathered into a moderate fullness, but pleats and tucks won’t hold a crease.

 

The fabric is moderately easy to cut and sew, but tends to unravel and it stretches in the crosswise direction. Silk crepe is durable and wears well. Choose fitted , semi fitted or loose fitting styles to make dresses, slacks, skirts, light weight suits , bridal gowns and evening wear. dry clean or wash by hand ...crepe fabrics tend to shrink a lot.

Crepe de Chine

Crepe de Chine which in French means ‘crepe from China’ is a light weight , soft, silk crepe made with a plain weave and alternating S and Z twist yarns in both warp and filling. The fabric has a fine firm hand and a somewhat smooth , lustrous, slippery surface. It is available in several weights : 14 mm is common, 16mm is more luxurious and drapes beautifully. Crepe de chine was once considered to be a luxury fabric , but us now one of the most commonly available silks. Nowadays a synthetic version is very common.

Crepe de Chine has a soft, graceful drape that falls into limp, soft ripples and flares. It can be gathered, tucked, or shirred. Heavier versions may be pleated. Use a very fine needle with no nicks or burrs to avoid snags. Fabric tends to wrinkle, but smoothness is easily restored with a warm iron. Use to make semi fitted, loose fitting or very loose styles of blouses, shirts, lightweight dresses and lingerie.dry clean or wash gently by hand.

 

Douppioni is an elegant fabric woven with a slubbed yarns or douppioni silk. The classic douppioni cloth is made with a tight plain weave, fine warp and slubbed filling yarns that form prominent , irregular crosswise ribs. Fabric is medium weight with a crisp, scrunchy hand, a rough uneven texture and a dull lustre. Douppioni has a moderately crisp drape that falls into wide cones. It can be lightly gathered into lofty fullness, but too much fabric creates bulk.

The fabric is sturdy and substantial, but not very durable. Crosswise yarns fray and ravel badly. Fabric is subject to seam slippage, so it is wise to avoid close fitting styles that put stress on the seams. Choose semi fitted or loose fitting styles to make blouses, dresses, skirts, and light weight suits.


Georgette is a harsh fabric named after Madame Georgette de la Plante, a French milliner. It is made with alternating S and Z twist crepe yarns in both directions of a loose plain weave. Fabric has a grainy, sheer texture and a thin, very dry hand. The fabric is usually made with ply yarns and is often dyed or printed.

Silk georgettes drape beautifully and falls into languid flares and ripples. It may be gathered, shirred or pleated into limp fullness. Seams, facings and interfacings can be seen from the finished side of the garment. The fabric is durable, but it snags easily and is extremely difficult to sew. Choose loose, full styles to make blouses, bias cut , flared skirts and dresses, evening wear and scarves.


Matelasse is French for ‘cushioned’ or ‘padded’. True matelasse is a type of double cloth, made by joining two distinct layers to produce a puffy, raised effect on the face. The original version, made of silk, was padded between layers and quilted. Today’s matelasse is not padded and is much lighter. It is usually woven on a jacquard loom with two extra sets of crepe yarn. The layers are woven with different tensions and shrunk after weaving, causing one layer to tighten up and the other to puff up.

Matelasse has a soft spongy, springy hand. Its puffiness is exaggerated when the fabric is gathered. Choose semi fitted or loose – fitting styles to make blouses, dresses, suits and evening wear. The fabric needs little or no ironing.

 

 

Matka is a coarsely woven fabric made in India, on hand looms. It is made with thick, irregular yarns in a loose plain weave or basket weave. It is heavier than most silks and has an uneven, homespun appearance , often with a dull lustre. It varies in weight, usually from medium to heavy. Mostly sold as solid colour, but sometimes woven with multi coloured yarns. Good quality matka is even, but cheaper qualities may have thick and thin spots.( matka is sometimes called silk linen )

Matka does not pleat, tuck or gather well. It falls away from the body and will hold the shape of the garment. Choose styles that eliminate bulk, such as tailored, fitted, semi fitted suits, jackets and skirts. Fabric resists wrinkles and the spun yarns are subject to abrasion and looser weaves tend to snag and unravel. Dry cleaning is recommended, especially if the garment has plenty of inner construction.


Noil is a dull, slightly nubby fabric with random dark or light flecks and slight crosswise ribs. It is made from silk noils, very short waste fibres from the inner parts of the cocoon that are spun into yarn. The fabric looks more like cotton than silk. A typical noil is made with a balanced plain weave and looks the same on both sides. It is often called raw silk , but this is inaccurate-the silk waste will have to be degummed before it can be spun into yarn. (raw silk is any silk that has not been cleaned of its sericin and is rarely used in this form)

Silk noil has a moderately gentle drape that maintains a soft silhouette of the garment. It may be lightly tucked, pleated or gathered, but too much fabric creates bulk. Noil resists wrinkling, but is not as strong as other silks and does not wear well. Use to make fitted, semi fitted or loose fitting styles of skirts, shorts, slacks, dresses, lightweight suits and casual jackets.


Organza is a very sheer, crisp fabric made with a plain weave and tightly twisted yarns that have 10-20 turns per inch. It is fine to lightweight, strong, stable, and durable with a firm delicate hand and a flat, smooth texture. The fabric will crush, but will iron out. Organza is not very expensive, and is usually embroidered or flocked.

 

Organza has a crisp drape that falls away from the body in wide cones It may be gathered or shirred into puffed fullness. Special sewing techniques are required for seams, facings and hems because they can be seen from the outside of the garment. Use alone or under or over a second fabric to make fitted, semi fitted or loose –fitting styles of blouses, dresses children’s wear and evening wear. Use to make facings, interfacings and/or linings for light weight or sheer fabrics. Use as an underlining to add crispness and /or weight to thin fabrics or to stabilise loose weaves. (Gazar is a sheer, crisp silk fabric that is shiny on one side and dull on the other and looks like heavy organza)


Pongee is from the Chinese word ‘penchi’ meaning ‘woven at home’ or home loom. It is a natural tan or cream coloured fabric with a lightly textured surface, made with a tight, plain weave from reeled tussah or other wild silk. The fabric has a sheen and a firm, soft or crisp hand. It usually has slight random slubs in both directions.

 

Pongee has a soft drape that falls into moderately soft flares. It may be shirred, gathered or pleated into a soft fullness. Pongee is durable, stable and resists snagging, but it may shrink and/or unravel. Choose semi -fitted , loose fitting or very lose fitting styles to make blouses and light weight dresses. Dry clean or hand wash-the fabric tends to shrink


Shantung is a medium –light to heavy , plain weave fabric with a slight cross wise ribs and slubs. First woven in the province of Shantung, China from hand reeled tussah silk. Today’s version is usually made with fine warp yarns and heavier filling of douppioni silk. The fabric has a firm, semi crisp hand and may be lustrous or dull depending on the quality of the yarns. Shantung is usually heavier than pongee but lighter than douppioni. Shot versions are common.

Shantung has a semi –crisp drape that falls into moderately crisp flares. It may be gathered or pleated into a crisp fullness. Fabric is stable and resists snags, but tends to unravel and is subject to seam slippage. Avoid close fitting styles that put stress on seams. Choose semi fitted, loose fitting or very loose fitting styles to make blouses, dresses, suits and slacks.


Surah is a soft, light weight silk twill fabric named for Surat where it was first made. Surah is woven with slack twist yarns giving the fabric a semi dull lustre. It has a fine, soft supple hand and a flat, smooth, slippery texture. The diagonal can be seen on both sides of the fabric. Surah is often printed with paisley designs, but may also be checked, striped or in solid colours. It is also called silk twill.

Surah has a beautiful drape that may be gathered, shirred or pleated into soft fullness. The fabric tailors well, but does not wear well-it snags and scuffs easily and wears out along seams, folds and hem lines. Choose fitted, semi fitted or lose fitting styles to make blouses, dresses, tailored shirts, scarves and men’s neck ties. Surah is sometimes used for linings, but is not very durable.


Taffeta -Silk taffeta is one of the oldest luxury fabrics, woven in the early part of the 3rd century by Persians who called it ‘taftah’ or taftan’. Today it is a fine, smooth, tightly woven fabric with fine crosswise ribs , made in plain weave, with fine warp and heavier filling yarns. Taffeta looks the same on both sides, the fabric is flat with a distinctive rustle and a dull lustre. It may be soft or stiff and light to medium in weight

Silk taffeta ahs a crisp drape and may be gathered into lofty fullness. Pleats hold a sharp crease. The fabric is moderately easy to cut and sew, but pins and needs may leave holes. Choose close fitting, fitted or semi fitted styles to make petticoats, dresses, bridal wear, evening wear and linings. Taffeta is very difficult to iron.( taffeta is often given a moiré finish)


Tussah is a medium to heavy, plain-weave fabric made from uncultivated or wild, tussah silk worms. The classic tassah has a coarse, thick hand and a rough, uneven appearance with distinct crosswise ribs formed by irregular, slubbed filling yarns. It is difficult to dye so it is usually natural in colour, ranging from tan to gold to brown.

 

Tassah is a firm, stiff fabric that does not drape, pleat or gather well. It has very little to give, making it difficult to ease sleeves and curves. It is strong but subject to snags, abrasions, and seam slippage. Crosswise yarns unravel badly. Choose fitted or semi fitted styles with no extra bulk. Use to make jackets, skirts, suits, tailored dresses.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful