How do I tell if my silk is genuine or artificial?

There are a number of ways you can use together to try to determine if a fabric is genuine silk or a synthetic man-made fabric that looks like silk.

Price

No doubt about it – genuine, high-quality silk will always be relatively expensive. Synthetic fibres like polyester can be made to look like real silk to the untrained eye. Although synthetic fabrics can be deliberately priced high, low prices usually indicate the fabric is not genuine silk. Real silk usually costs at least ten times as much as synthetics to produce.

Lustre

Thai silk is renowned for its lustre. It is a result of the combination of threads of different single colours in each of the weft and warp. This "shot" effect gives a surface that "shines" and appears to change colour as the angle of light on it changes.

Synthetic fabrics shine white, no matter what the angle of the light.

Weave

Silk can be hand-woven or machine-woven. Hand-woven silk has its own individual characteristics. Each piece is unique. Look for slubbing, and slight, very minor variations in the evenness of the weave. These are natural and to be expected – they are what give each piece its individual value.

Machine-woven silk will have a perfectly even weave with no flaws ... and very little character.

Synthetic fabrics will mostly also look perfect, although a very few artificial fabrics are made to look very realistic, including slubbing and slight imperfections.

Pattern

Genuine silk with a printed pattern (not the same as a woven pattern) will have the pattern visible on one side and an outline of the pattern on the reverse side.

Synthetic fabrics with a printed pattern will have the pattern visible on one side and a plain colour on the reverse side.

Genuine silk with a woven pattern will have the pattern visible on both sides but the pattern on the reverse side may appear slightly "fuzzy".

Wedding Ring Test

This test does not apply to all silk, since some silks are much heavier than others. Nevertheless, genuine silk of lower ply can usually be easily threaded and pulled through a wedding ring, demonstrating just how silky smooth and flexible real silk is.

Synthetic fabrics tend to scrunch up, making it very difficult or impossible to pull them through.

Burn Test

This is not a standard test you should perform on silk! However, it is a fairly definitive test.

Take a few threads of the fabric and put a flame to them.

Genuine silk will burn with a smell like burnt hair and will produce a black, powdery ash. It will only burn while the flame is being applied – take the flame away and the threads will stop burning.

A synthetic fabric will burn with a smell like burning plastic and will drip, form a black ball of residue (not ash), and produce black smoke. It will continue to burn even after the flame is taken away.

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