About Thai Silk Fabric | How Thai Silk is Made | How to Clean Silk | How to Care for Silk | History of Thai Silk

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About Thai Silk

Orange and magenta smooth, soft, two-tone, hand woven Thai Silk!

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What is:

Who discovered silk?
Why is Thai silk so shiny and lustrous?
How does World of Thai Silk produce its fabric?
How can I recognize 100% pure silk?
Is the "Silk Road" or "Silk Route" in Thailand?
What is S.I.L.K?

What is Thai silk?
Silk is the natural filament produced by the salivary glands of silkworms which are a type of moth that feeds on the mulberry bush. Silkworms are caterpillars, not worms. They spin their cocoons using a complex set of mechanisms within their bodies when they change from larva into pupa. Thai silk is produced by Thai caterpillars raised on Thai mulberry leaves by Thai weavers in Thailand, primarily on the Korat Plateau in the country's northeast region. Chaiyaphum is just north of Korat province.

Raw silk is bumpy and irregular. The completed cocoon is pulled from the mulberry bush and placed in a vat of boiling water, which separates the silk thread of the cocoon from the caterpillar inside.

The silk from Thailand's caterpillars varies in color from light gold to very light green. A cocoon is comprised of one thread that is 500-1,500 meters long. A single filament is too thin to use alone so many threads are combined to make a thicker, more practical fiber.

Our weavers wash these raw silk threads, bleach them, then soak them in vats of hot dyes. Afterwards, they wash the silk thread again, stretch it, and put it through a final dying process. When that is finished, they wind the threads onto spools or drums in preparation for weaving using traditional hand operated looms.

What's the difference between machine woven and hand woven Thai silk?
Every piece of hand woven Thai silk is a timeless, unique work of textile art from the hands of a rural Thai woman. Since it is art work produced by a human, it forever carries an imprint of the character, thoughts, emotions, feelings, spirit and life of the weaver. It's imperfection is the heart of its beauty and the proof of its human creator. Machine woven silk is a wider, monotonously “perfect” industrial fabric that can be produced to ISO standards and is more suitable than hand-woven silk for some purposes. We sell both types, wholesale and retail.

What's the difference between Thai silk and that of of other countries?
Thai silk is usually soft but has a relatively coarse texture with uneven, slightly knotty threads. This quality makes it extremely suitable for weaving by hand. Thai silk has a magnificent, rich, exotic beauty and, with proper care, can last a century or more.

Chinese silk tends to be smooth and satiny. Indian silk tends to be softer but more crinkly and uses richer colors. Italian silk tends to strive for a refined and elegant look but this can easily be accomplished anywhere using mechanized weaving.

Why is Thai silk so shiny and lustrous?
Thai Silk has triangular fibers which reflect light like prisms. It also has layers of protein that gives it a natural sheen and makes it lustrous and smooth. Silk is an insect fiber and superior to any animal or plant fiber. Thai silk fiber is strong but lightweight, elastic but supple.

What is smooth Thai silk?
Smooth Thai silk has a shiny, satin-like finish. It's suitable for all purposes, particularly clothing and interior decorating. The “standard” width was formerly about 37 inches/94 centimeters and is available in 2-ply and sometimes 4-ply. Starting in 2003, our Thai weavers began producing silk at a standard width of 40 inches. (Click here for sample!)

What is rough Thai silk?
"Rough" Thai silk is beautiful and textured but not really coarse or rough. It is soft. It's also sometimes called “nubby” Thai silk but as of mid-2006 we begain calling all these weaves Thai dupioni. It's highly suitable for silk drapes and silk curtains -- and silk upholstery fabric if cotton backing is affixed. It's also great for other interior design applications but it's a fantastic fashion fabric currently popular with designers of luxury apparel & bridal gowns! The standard width used to be about 37 inches (94 cm) but starting in 2003, our weavers began producing silk at a standard width of 40 inches. Two-ply dupioni Thai silk is extremely appropriate for scarves. Four-ply dupioni is more commonly woven and excellent for silk drapes and silk curtains. All colors and designs are available. Here's an example.

What is two-tone Thai silk?
Two tone iridescent Thai silk is way cool and extremely pleasant to the eyes. Depending on the angle at which it is viewed, the fabric color changes! We produce this iridescent effect by using two different colors when we weave the cloth. Our 550% enlargements of actual fabric used for our page backgrounds clearly shows the contrasting colors of the warp (vertical thread) and weft (horizontal thread). You can choose the the colors of the weft and warp to produce your own unique two-tone Thai silk. (Click here for sample!)

What is striped Thai silk?
When we talk about “striped” we do not mean “stripes" produced by color variations as as in a normal material design (although this is also possible). This is a weaving technique. We produce striped Thai silk by alternating between smooth Thai silk and rough Thai silk during weaving to produce a physical pattern in the material. This can be used in conjunction with a color pattern as well. Many patterns are available and “striped Thai silk” may not actually result in “stripes” at all. An infinite variety of designs are possible and you can commission your own. We are flexible and can weave your own designs. It's very suitable for home decoration, curtains, furniture coverings, interior design applications, wall coverings, and even clothing! (Click here for sample!)

How Thai Silk is Made?
All our silk is made in Thailand using a rather complicated process. Although there are now many enormous, automated factories making silk fabric all over the world, all the material sold by World of Thai Silk is created by individual, independent, women weavers at their homes in Northeast Thailand using traditional methods and their own looms. This is why widths of the cloth varies and each bolt of cloth is a unique work of art.

The process begins by raising silkworms on mulberry leaves. When they are mature, the silkworms spin silk cocoons. The cocoons are then degummed by the weavers using special chemicals.

They boil the degummed silk with various natural or chemical dyes at 90 degrees Celsius, constantly stirring the silk to get uniform color. The dyed silk thread is then dried.

The dried and dyed silk is then spun into yarn on wooden or plastic tubes. The women use this yarn to spin the fabulous Thai silk fabric we sell.

How to Clean Silk?    How to Care for Silk?
Dry cleaning is the best way to keep Thai silk in good condition and  maintain its original beauty, luster, and texture. You can also hand wash it in lukewarm water using the mildest soap. Add a table spoonful of clear white vinegar added to the final rinse.

Never wring your Thai silk! Dry it in the shade, preferably where there's a mild breeze, and be sure it's well supported.

Iron Thai silk on the inside of the garment while it is still slightly damp. If already dry, apply a damp cloth on the outside and iron through the cloth. Properly cared for Thai silk can easily last a century and be passed on to your children and grandchildren. For more info see this page.

How can I recognize 100% pure silk and imitation silk made from polyester? How can I test silk?
The four basic methods for determining true silk are by 1) considering the price; looking carefully at the 2) weave and 3) luster; and 4) by burning a piece!

1) Pure real silk costs 6-10 times as much as imitation silk made from polyester.

2) Our real pure Thai silk weave is completely hand made and the filament is a natural fiber with clearly visible small flaws and joins in the thread along the warp and the weft. Imitation silk made from polyester is a machine-made fabric and has a perfect surface with no flaws or bumps. 

3) Luster also shows whether a fabric is real or imitation. Our pure Thai silk is made with one color for the warp and another color for the weft. This produces the sheen and luster of our silk and creates the unique two tones and blends which change depending on the angle of light. Imitation polyester silk shines white regardless of the angle of the light.

4) If you burn Thai silk (a thread or two is enough) with a flame, it leaves fine ash and smells like burning hair. When you take the flame away it stops burning. If you burn imitation polyester silk with a flame, it drips, burns with a black smoke, and continues to burn after the flame is taken away . The three different sizes of digital images for each silk swatch on the World of Thai Silk web site make it easy for you to see the unique qualities of real Thai silk so you probably won't need to resort to the burn test.

Who discovered silk?   History of Thai Silk.
Empress Si Ling Chi of China is credited with discovering silk. While sitting under a mulberry tree in a palace garden having tea, a silkworm's cocoon reportedly fell out of the tree into her cup. While removing it from her tea, she discovered the fine silk filament of the cocoon beginning to unravel.

The Chinese guarded the secret of silk for millenniums by putting to death anyone found guilty of smuggling silkworm eggs, cocoons, or mulberry seeds. Silk became the cloth of emperors and royalty and a great source of wealth. However, about 1900 years ago a Chinese princess who married an Indian prince is reported to have succesfully smuggled silkworm eggs out of China in her headdress and then fed them with the leaves of Indian mulberry trees.

Since then, silk production has spread to other Asian countries and archaeologist have found silk 3,000 years old in the ruins of Baan Chiang, Thailand, which many of them consider the earliest civilization in Southeast Asia. Thais have developed a type of silk that is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world. They use a unique manufacturing process and have unique patterns and colors.

What is hand woven ikat silk fabric (mudmee)?
Hand woven Mudmee Thai silk (also know as “ikat") comes from the northeast of Thailand which is called “Isan” and comprised of 17 provinces and situated on the Khorat plateau. The Mekong River borders the whole region on its eastern and northern frontiers with Laos. Its western and southern frontiers are mountain ranges that form the rim of the plateau.

The intricate traditional geometric and zoomorphic motifs of mudmee Thai silk have been handed down for centuries. The designs and patterns in mudmee are created primarily by using various colors in the weft (left to right threads) of the fabric. The people who migrated into the central and Mekhong River Basin area of northeast Thailand from Pakse and Savankhet Laos brought their weaving skills with them. In the 19th century, Thailand's King Rama V introduced advanced technology which created the foundation of the country's large silk industry.

Mudmee fabric is usually half a solid or two-tone color and the other half the mudmee pattern.

Thailand's northeast was not always the arid area that it is today. As recently as 1960, forests were lush and abundant and natural resources for dyes were plentiful. Jim Thomson introduced the permanent chemical dyes that are now so common.

Traditionally, everyday dress was practical and usually quite plain. However, a great deal of time and expense was spent to weave the fabric for weddings, temple ceremonies, funerals, meeting high ranking officials, and spirit appeasing ceremonies, resulting in spectacular quality as well as complex techniques and designs.

What is taffetta?
Taffetta is a silk fabric made from white silk cocoons. It varies from country to country. Here's more information.

What is dupion silk?
Dupion is an interesting textured Thai silk fabric made using a mixture of silk from both long, smooth, white cocoons and short, rough, yellow cocoons. Many other terms are used to refer to this silk fabric and more detailed information is found on our page “Dupioni Thai Silk Fabric”.

What is the difference between white and yellow cocoons?
White cocoons are smooth, white and about 60-100 meters long. A yellow cocoon is short, rough, yellow and about 20-30 meters long. However, every cocoon of both types also has three parts which vary in quality and character. The silk threads of the outer part are large, short and more textured filaments. In the next part of the cocoon, the filaments are smoother and longer than the first type but not as fine or expensive as the third type which is best.

Is the "Silk Road" or "Silk Route" in Thailand?
German academic Ferdinand von Richthofen is credited with inventing the term "Silk Road" or "Silk Route" which was actually neither a road nor a route but rather a trade network. It started in China and stretched across South Asia to Middle East Asia and the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It probably bypassed Thailand. Few merchants or travellers went from one end of the complex network of passages and routes to the other. Silk, spices and other low-weight, low-volume, high-value luxury items were traded in relay-fashion along the Silk Road from one trader to the next.

What is S.I.L.K?
Sorry, that has nothing to do with silk fabric or Thai silk whatsoever. It is the acronym for "Scout In the Linux Kernel".

Click on your choice of silk color or click here for mudmee patterns

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