It’s a miracle at all that a tiny little caterpillar and its cocoon could be the source of one of the most beautiful textiles we know. Cultivated for thousands of years, silk continues to be the paragon of elegance and refinement. It is also amazingly versatile, taking many forms. Silk threads can be woven into gossamer sheers or can be made into velvets; it is one of the only fabrics which has the capacity to keep you warm in winter but cool in summer. It is, because of its protein structure, it is the most hypoallergenic of fabrics.
The soft sheen which we recognize as unique to silk is a result of its prism like structure which refracts light entering and leaving it at differing angles…there is nothing like silk.
Today’s faux silks are remarkable for their ability to mimic both the appearance and the “hand” of fine silk. Seen by themselves, they are quite convincing and an economical and practical alternative for those with budgets or performance related issues.
The real deal however is not inexpensive. The relative high cost of silks are due to the labor intensive methods that must be used to cultivate them. It takes about 2500 cocoons to make one pound of silk; each cocoon containing one continuous thread measuring about 2/3 of a mile.
Working With Silk – Silk is the strongest natural fiber known to man, equivalent in tensile strength to steel. Ironically, exposure to sunlight is quite detrimental to silk fabric causing it to become brittle and experience “dry rot”. Therefore when working with silks as window treatments, they should not only be lined but also interlined. This is essential as it wouldn’t be very long before your un-interlined treatments would be ruined. Readily available from many catalog companies are silk panels for what seems like a very good price. These are never interlined, nor are they custom grade goods. It’s important to remember that they are ready-made quality.
The investment in silk would be money poorly spent if it weren’t honored by making it into something custom, complete with all the special techniques and handling that silk fabrics require. Workrooms demand a higher price for working with silk, hems and sides need to be hand finished as the fabric is too slippery to run through the machines, and yes, they need to be lined and interlined. Only the best stitchers in the workroom are allowed to work on silk. This is because the stitchers who are highly skilled do not make mistakes. Stitching a seam and having to rip it out is not a healthy thing for silk; it leaves a line of demarcation and you can see the prior needle marks.
Silk is not for everyone. Often my clients will ask for silk. As it is such a specialized textile, it is my obligation as a designer to advise them of the pros and cons of using silk in all sorts of home furnishings.
Firstly it is a lifestyle fabric…while silk is tremendously strong, it is also compromised by sunlight therefore, I don’t recommend it for south facing windows and/or rooms with abundant all-day lighting even if the treatments are interlined. The only exception is if there are some sort of light-filtering shades in the windows as well as the draperies. Silk is also is subject to spotting if it gets water on it so I will not use silk on any window where it may be subject to splashing or humidity.
Secondly, it is a natural fabric and inherent in it are all the irregularities which give it its character and texture. It is not perfectly smooth or uniform. It also wrinkles, not in the way that linen does but in the way that it sits or as we say in the trade, its “hand”. Silk has a stiffer hand and tends to fall in sculpted folds. This is unique to silk and treasured for that very effect. If you are someone who doesn’t like irregularities or “wrinkles” then silk is not for you! Puddled draperies in silk are the epitome of elegance; in fact I like to see silk draperies made with a generous allowance for such. While you certainly can make drapery panels without the puddled effect, I think that doing so is not taking advantage of one of the most beautiful characteristics of silk. Silk draperies, Roman shades or valances in a dining space…lights dimmed, candles lit…there is nothing like the unique quality of silk and the way that it handles light to create the most delicious atmosphere. It will enhance your dining and entertaining experience.
Silk can be for everyone If… The good news is that silk blends beautifully with just about most any other fiber so while 100% silk may not suit your lifestyle or sensibilities, perhaps one of the silk blends might. Silk/linen and silk/rayon blends perform beautifully and still manage to impart the special quality of light for which silk is known. Often fabrics will contain as little as 7-10% silk which is just enough to impart that special sheen. So if you think you can’t afford silk or don’t want to be bothered with its fussiness, ask your designer to show you some silk blend fabrics for your next project.