Most of us aware that Silk is popularly known as the “Queen of Fibres. But do you wonder why is it so expensive? Do you also wonder what's the difference between Raw Silk fabric, Natural silk & Wild Silk?
Today, due to the uses of silk & its increasing demand, manmade silk are also available in the market which is produced synthetically. Artificial Silk may be cheaper than natural silk but the latter is superior in myriads of way. let's find out what makes natural silk so much better and about its multiple varieties.
There are some legends surrounding the silk origin. It is popularly believed that it was first discovered in China around 27th B.C by an empress in a garden.
In India, we can trace the existence of silk back to the Vedic period which is around 5000 B.C. But around the 17th century, the East India Company introduced an advanced variety of silk reeling in Bengal in the district of Murshidabad called Bengal Silk.
The natural silk fibre is obtained from silk cocoons produced by the larvae of certain insects like silkworms. Farming or cultivation of silkworms for the production of natural silks is called sericulture.
These fibres are then used to produce natural silk fabrics.
India is the only country known for its wide variety of natural silks. These can be widely classified as-
Cultivated Silk – These are cultivated in a specified condition controlled by humans. Hence, the resulting fibre is of long length, smooth, more lustrous and white in colour, (silk characteristics that most associate silk with). e.g. Pure Mulberry Silk
Wild Silk – Here, the silkworms live semi-autonomously in forests and they are able to find their own food e.g. Tussar fabric. Hence, the resulting fibres are irregular, less lustrous and come in varied shades like brown, beige and gold.
There also exits Ahimsa Silk which can be both cultivated or wild variety. In the ahimsa silk process, the silkworms are allowed to hatch out of the cocoons to complete their metamorphosis into the moth stage. The remnants are the now empty broken cocoon. Hence, the resulting fibres are shorter in length and it is spun. Eg- Eri silk fabric, Ketya Peace Silk, Matka Peace Silk.
Raw Silk is simply every natural silk in the raw stage before the process of "degumming". The natural silk strand in this stage consists of two triangular silk filaments (fibroin) covered by a protein layer which is called sericin. The presence of sericin makes the raw silk uneven and gives a coarse handle. Hence, it is processed to remove the sericin. The process of removing the sericin from raw silk is called Degumming. It is also known as silk scouring. There are various ways to degum silk-like using soap, boiling water, enzyme, alkalines, acids etc. This not only helps with the texture but also helps to improve the dye uptake capability and lustre.
India is one of the major silk producers in the world and has the distinction of cultivating all commercially known varieties of silk- Mulberry, Tussar, Eri & Muga. Besides these, one can also find varieties like Ketya and Matka which are produced by upcycling waste from other silk. Here are some of the many properties of silk as per different varieties:
Silk has reigned supreme in the family of fibres.
Natural silk clothing is very popular for festive and luxurious wear. Silk ball gowns, prom dresses etc are the perfect choices for special occasions.
A variety of silk can be seen used today in the apparel industry depending on the silhouettes. For flowy dresses or scarfs or kimono shrugs, the silky mulberry is preferred whereas, for a structured silhouette like a jacket, Tussar is chosen.
Tussar is also widely used in home furnishing and interiors, while Eri Silk is famously used for making Chhadars. But is not limited to it. The thermal properties of eri silk make it a suitable fabric for shawls, jackets, blankets, and bedspreads. Dress materials and baby dresses are also made from eri silk fabric because of their soft texture and moisture absorbent quality. It is also widely used in home furnishing like curtains, bed covers, cushion covers, wall hangings, quilts, etc.
Muga Silk has been used in making hats, caps, scarf’s, wraps, stoles, quilts, bridal wear & upholstery.
Due to the properties of silk fibre, the fabric also finds purpose as industrial textiles like medical sutures, sewing threads, embroidery threads, homeware etc.
Artificial silk or art silk is any synthetic fibre that resembles silk, but typically costs less to produce. However, when it comes to synthetic silk vs natural silk, natural silk fabric is far more superior for several reasons:
Good for Skin & the Environment - Natural silks are quite absorbent and comfortable to wear. Natural Silk fabric take up natural dyes very well.Natural silk fabric helps prevent allergies.
Lustre - Natural Silk exhibits a soft elegant lustre and occasional sparkle. Artificial silk, however, is comparatively dull and does not shine in the light.
Tenacity - Synthetic silk can be easily torn into pieces while natural silk is really tough to tear as its threads are very strong. It is even stronger when wet.
Tactile Surface Texture - Natural silk is always gentle and soft to the touch.
Dimensional Stability- One of the properties of silk is to exhibit good resistance to stretch or shrinkage when laundered or dry cleaned. It is also quite crease-resistant & maintains its sheen even after multiple washes.
Sericulture is a rural/cottage and agro-based industry of cultivating food plants (for silkworms), rearing silkworms, conducting silk reeling, twisting, dyeing, weaving of Silk fabric, finishing & processing of silk waste. As it is a labour-intensive process it provides a lot of employment to rural areas. This sector provides continuous employment to 6817 thousand people in India. Thus, it is a source of sustainable livelihood.
Silk does require some special attention like the use of gentle detergent and cold water for washing. But there are several benefits of silk when it comes to its care. It doesn't lose its sheen after multiple washes and maintains its structural integrity thanks to the fibres dimensional stability. Here is a detailed care guide for Natural Silk.