Is it really pure silk? How on earth do you tell if the fabric/outfit you are interested in is really pure silk? And, does it really matter anyway? Trust me, it’s not rocket science….
I’ll do my best to explain…
There are really not as many fabrics out there as you may think. Firstly, a brief outline…
Cellulosics (made from plants)
- Cotton (easy one from a fluffy cotton plant)
- Linen (from the flax plant)
- Hemp (popular at the moment)
- Rayon / viscose / cuprammonium / polynosic / modal (all one family made from wood pulp)
- Lyocell / tencel (also from wood pulp but in more environmentally friendly process)
Protein fibres (made from animals)
- Wool (another easy one, off the sheep’s back)
- Silk (unravelled cocoons from the silk moth)
- Fur / leather (hides and skins from animals)
Synthetic fibres (mostly from petroleum)
- Polyester (its a plastic!)
- Nylon / polyamide (another plastic, a bit stronger than polyester)
- Acrylic (another plastic that can be made fluffy)
- Acetate (started out as a cellulose, but is so synthesised is considered synthetic)
- Elastomeric / spandex / lycra (stretchy fibre)
- Kevlar & Nomax (technical fibres used by NAASA, and for fire and bullet prevention)
And, that is about it. Believe it or not!!
But what difference does that make when we are choosing clothes?
The properties of the fibre become the properties of the cloth. So, a shirt made of cotton will allow body moisture to move through it (breathe). A shirt made of polyester is like wearing a plastic bag, and does not let moisture release from the body. Polyester also holds the odour within it’s cells.
The same can be said of silk and nylon. Silk is comfortable to wear in warm conditions due to it’s absorbency, and yet keeps air close to the skin when it’s cold. Silk being made of protein from the cocoon has a smooth, soft texture that is not slippery (like nylon).
I absolutely adore the properties of silk. The sheen is amazing, it feels lovely, and for wedding gowns, is, in my humble opinion, quite simply the best. It is said that, in the Golden Years of Hollywood, they lined all their gowns in silk because an actress would walk differently with silk against the skin. I couldn’t agree more. It is not a big expense to line a wedding gown with silk, it is the bit that the bride feels with every step. Who wouldn’t wan’t to feel delicious? (And for the sake of an extra $50, why is a plastic even considered?)
And, silk doesn’t have to be shiny. It has a natural lustre, but, can be woven into weaves with matt finishes.
So, how to do we identify an unknown piece of fabric, or a garment without a label?
Cut a piece of fabric from the cloth, or an inside seam on the garment. Hold the fabric with pliers/tweezers or some such thing. Put a match to the fabric. Watch the fabric burn. Smell the fumes from the burn and check out the residue. It will tell you much…
Silk does not like to burn so it will not easily ignite. It is a protein fibre, so it smells like burnt hair. The ash is dry and powdery.
Most synthetics ignite quite quickly. They melt, shrivel and drip (just like plastic). And they smell like burnt plastic (funny that). The residue is usually hard and plastic like.
Cellulosics ignite more easily that silk. They smell like paper or wood burning. The residue is just like paper ash.
The fabric under test may be a combination of fibres, which may make identifying the source a little more of a challenge, but invariably, it is quick and easy to tell. It sounds daunting, but it’s not really. If in doubt, give it a whirl!
ps this stunning photograph is by Ginger & Mint Photography.