Silk- a term that immediately sparks visuals of a smooth and shiny fabric with a rich and regal appeal. One of the oldest fabrics known to mankind, silk is woven form yarns which are obtained from the cocoons of silk moths. It is a natural protein fibre and is extensively used in making apparels, accessories and artefacts.
Silk yarns can be obtained from a number of species of moths, out of which mulberry worms yield one of the finest raw material. Also, the yarns may be coated with a sticky layer like sericin and glycoproteins and therefore may have to be chemically treated before weaving them into fabric. Depending on the type of silk moth, the type of yarns used and the S and Z-weave combinations, these are some of the popularly used silk variants.
On the basis of silk moths/ base material:
This fabric is woven from yarns obtained from B. Mori moths which survive on mulberry leaves. The process involves well planned sericulture and the fabric is extremely soft and smooth. Mulberry silk saris are one of the most expensive silk saris. This raw material is also used in weaving Banarasi silk saris and Kanchipuram silk saris, which are famous globally.
Bombyx Mori worms that yield mulberry silk are commercially reared. Apart from this species, there are a number of other worms that yield silky yarns like Antheraea paphia, Treminalia tomentosa and many more which are found in the forest. Silk obtained from such worms that grow in natural surroundings is called Wild Silk. Tussar silk, Muga silk and Eri silk are some of the most popular wild silk variants produced in India.
While sericulture involves killing the larvae by boiling the cocoons, Ahimsa silk is growing as an eco-friendly replacement. This variant is slightly rough and less shiny as compared to the fabric that is obtained suing conventional methods, yet it has a considerable number of patrons and is used in making high end designer suits, tunics, sarees and fusion wear.
On the basis of yarns used
Pure silk is woven after treating the yarns chemically which removes all sticky protein layers. Raw silk is woven from untreated yarns which contain sericin. In its most natural form, the yarns are quite uneven and that gives the fabric a slightly coarse yet smooth texture with a gorgeous sheen. Raw silk is used extensively in making high end designer gowns and loose silhouettes like palazzo suits and lehenga cholis.
This fabric is thicker and more tightly woven. The surface finish of dupion silk has nubs which are formed due to weaving of 2 or more entangled yarns. These nubs render an iridescent or two-tone effect to the fabric. For example, a pink dupion silk saree may look reddish or purplish from different angles. This fabric is also extensively used in making saree blouses as well as upholstery. In India, Varanasi is one of the major producers of this fabric.
Taffeta silk is crisp, smooth and plain with a satin-like finish. It has highly pronounced iridescence and a contemporary look. Yarn-dyed taffeta is stiffer and is also called paper silk. Taffeta silk is widely used in making bridal gowns and wedding lehengas and festive floor-length Anarkali suits. The even fall and opulent appeal of this material has made it a designers’ favourite!
This is a form of wild silk which has shorter fibres as compared to mulberry silk, hence it is less durable. Non-dyed tussar silk has a yellow-brown tint. Bhagalpur is one of the major places in India that produces tussar silk saris and salwar suits.
While all of the above mentioned fabrics are made from natural protein fibres, artificial or art silk is made from rayon, nylon, bamboo fibres and synthetic yarns like polyester. Art silk is an economical replacement for pure silk fabrics. Banarasi art silk saris and Kanchipuram art silk sarees are quite in trend these days for festive and wedding celebrations.
On the basis of fabric weaves
The same silk yarns, woven with different S and Z or weft and warp combinations, result into absolutely different looking fabrics.
One of the smoothest fabrics with a highly luxurious appeal, pure satin has silk yarns woven with a combination of 4 weft yarns over 1 warp and 4 warps over 1 weft yarn. This gives rise to a well reflective surface, rendering a mesmerizing shine to the material. A grey or black floor-length satin Anarkali suit worn with dazzling diamond jewellery can be a complete stunner ensemble for an evening party.
One of the most sensual variants of silk, chiffon is light weight, translucent- sheer and gauze-like with alternate S and Z crepe yarns. It is also very delicate and so works for light and contemporary wear like maxi tunics as well as add-ons like scarves and dupattas that. Plain chiffon sarees are a Bollywood favourite and can be spotted in a number of romantic songs!
Pure georgette is made from silk, with alternate S and Z twisted yarns- a weave similar to that of chiffon. The major difference between the two is that georgette is thicker and crepe- that is- more crinkled due to highly twisted yarns. Georgette sarees are widely used for regular wear and casual wear, especially during summer because this fabric is a good sweat absorbent.
This is an extremely thin and sheer material. It is a plain weave made using fine silk yarns and is usually used for making delicate looking fabrics. Layered bridal gowns, contemporary lehengas, party-wear sarees and designer dupattas are some garments which can be conveniently made with organza fabric.
Tissue is a type of organza fabric woven in India. It is a sheer gauze-like material with silk yarns woven in one direction and metallic yarns woven in the other. Tissue saris are a total yes for skinny ladies since these drapes tend to balloon up when worn, giving a more voluminous look.
On the basis of Geographical Indication
Banarasi silk is pure mulberry silk produced in the pious city of Varanasi located on the banks of the river Ganga. Banarasi silk sarees are famous globally for their ostentatious appeal. Shimmery golden zari yarns are woven with silk to form flowers and Mughal inspired buttis over the garment.
Muga silk is one of the popular types of Assam silk. It is made from the cocoons obtained from wild moths. The most interesting fact about it is that Muga silk becomes shinier after every wash. The other forms of Assam silk are Pat silk and Eri silk.
Bhagalpuri silk saris are of the well-know varieties of tussar silk saris. Bhagalpur is also known as the silk city of India and mulberry yarns are used for making this material. The queen of all silks- Bhagalpuri silk saris and suits are widely preferred for festive occasions.
Pure mulberry silk, this fabric is typically made in the looms of the Kanchipuram region in Tamil Nadu. Kancheepuram silk saree are heavy and are characterized by temple designs and striking scenery from mythology and South Indian architecture.
Lightweight, translucent and crispy- Chanderi silk is a sheer fabric woven in Chanderi which is located in Madhya Pradesh. Chanderi silk suits and sarees are a trending favourite of globally located Indians. The material has a very rich feel and a slightly firm fall.
Made with 100 polyester Chinese silk is an art silk variant which very closely resembles pure silk fabric. Chinese silk is used all over the globe for making commercially sold garments and add-ons.
Thailand produces fine quality matte Eri silk and glossy Mulberry silk. While mulberry silk is produced through sericulture, Eri silk manufacturing is a peaceful process and is it hence also called Ahimsa silk.
In this post, we have covered most of the popular types of silk. These days, there are a lot of innovative fabrics and blended variants coming up like cotton-silk, satin-georgette and so on. With time, we can only expect this assortment of silk variants to keep expanding!