Silk Information for Dyeing and Printing

Information on Silk Fabrics – Types, Terms, Weaves,

Fabric Terms

There are many types of silks. Listed below are a few of the more popular ones found in the US. To assess a silk one needs to consider three factors. They are: Silk Type, Silk Weight, and Silk Weave. Silks of the same type might have different characteristics because of different weights or weaves.

Silk Fabric Description Weight
Broadcloth, Habotai same as China Silk except heavier; wrinkles less; good for shirts medium (10 mm) up
Chiffon a soft plain wave fabric made with twisted yarns Sheer – Light to Medium
China Silk, Fuji Silk Spun Silk, best for lining and crafts; inexpensive, often called washable silk, wrinkles 8 mm up (light)
Crepe de Chine Popular for clothing; lustrous fabric; superior drape; made from twisted yarns 14 mm popular but inferior; 16 mm is good blouse weight, heavier available
Organza plain weave; sheer silk made of tightly twisted, fine yarns; use for interfacing, veils, under gowns Crisp, Sheer
Charmeuse crepe backed satin; rich luster; drapes beautifully medium; 16 or higher
Pongee a variation of tussah; slight rib and texture; inexpensive light weight; traditional summer fabric
Brocade Jacquard design often with metallic thread, usually contains some rayon; good for jackets heavy
Taffeta hand woven is best; crisp fabric that rustles medium to heavy weight
Shantung slubbed silk, duppioni yarns many weights from light to suit
Velvet pile fabric often containing some rayon; gorgeous drape medium to heavy
Peu de Soie skin of silk; satiny face heavy
Damask jacquard woven silk of elaborate patterns light to medium
Noil (raw silk) spun silk with nubby texture; appearance of soft cotton or wool; easy care, wrinkle resistant; travel well medium to heavy
Tussah (wild silk) wild silk, generally from India, loosely woven heavy, nice for suiting
Washable Silk see: China Silk, Fuji Silk above
Silks are woven fabrics. Fabric weave helps determine such characteristics as strength and durability of the fabric as well as beauty. Since silk is so strong naturally, less durable weaves may be used to achieve a particular look not capable in other fabrics.

Weave Explanation Comment
Herringbone most durable; diagonal rib switch back and forth creating rows of parallel lines which slope in opposite directions often seen in noil silk suiting
Twill a dense fabric (double thread) with appearance of fine diagonal lines; very strong and soil resistant an expensive weave
Rib variation of plain weave in which the yarns in one direction are heavier than the other creating a rib effect a strong fabric weave
Plain yarns runs alternately over and under one another; most common weave appearance is changed by looseness of weave
Dobby made with a special loom that creates small, geometric figures usually expensive fabric
Jacquard intricate weaving creating complex designs in the fabric popular
Satin uses floating yarns to create the luster of a pearl; imitations and copies: shine; beautiful!. can snag easily
Leno open weave using twisted fibers weak weave

Term Definition
momme silk weight; a silk of 6 momme (mm) is very light; a silk of 22 mm is very heavy (suit weight);
sericin the gum that protects the fiber in its natural state
Spun Silk short silk threads that are spun together to form a longer filament; a lower quality silk often seen in the so called “washable silk” class
Raw Silk refers to spun silk that has been brushed to give a cotton effect; popular; easy care; inexpensive
Dupionni other related terms: dupion, douppioni, shantung; fabric containing slubs, uneven; forms when two silk worms make their cocoons at the same time thus joining together.
Washable Silk This is a term of recent creation. It normally refers to a light weight silk such as “China Silk” (see above) and is not considered suitable for outer garments. It lacks the qualities of a long filament silk. However, it is popular for artist who hand paint scarfs and clothing. (Note: most silks are generally considered washable.

Thinking of Blue and Getting Maroon-ed

It was a mild winter and spring is early. My woad stayed green so I will have a bumper crop this year. I thought it best to use some of the leaves stored in my freezer.  A funny thing happens with woad when heat is used. The indigotin present in the leaves turns shades of pink and maroon.  When a dye vat is made with woad it is a beautiful blue. This was the blue dye plant in Europe before trade routes opened to the orient for other indigo sources.

2 upcycled silk blouses were layered with frozen woad leaves, then processed in the pressure cooker. The strong dye (indigotin) penetrated all layers of the bundles leaving full and ghost prints. I love the depth created with the leaves this way. Be sure to right click for an enlarged image to see the detail.

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Lichen experiment on wool

A local tree gave up dead limbs from a recent storm. I noticed they were covered with lichen so It was time for an experiment before they were carted off.  I am always amazed at how nature continues to give to us.

The tiniest bit of lichen in boiling water immediately began giving color. The cup in the foreground is image image

the color within seconds of adding boiling water. You can see the color in the back cups after resting overnight. The left cup had a dash of bakng soda added, the right cup had a spash of ammonia added. The hanks are 1 yard of white homespun wool left overnight.

I can see that lichens are deserving of a dyer’s respect and further experimenting along with eco printing. However, a warning I keep reading about is to never remove these from a standing tree or rock. Only take windfall that might otherwise be headed for the burn pile. I don’t fully understand their part in our ecosystem but it is wise to be kind to nature.

The Result of Patiently Waiting


Wool eco printed fabric

Isn’t this glorious???? More than a year ago , and if I’m honest probably two, I eco printed this large piece of wool challis. And it was miserable. Meh! So it was stuck on the back of a shelf and forgotten. Moving into the new studio space I found it again. Can you believe I nearly tossed this out before? It was patiently waiting to be the star of the show.