Silk has a reputation for being a strong and versatile, high-end fabric. Everyone knows that clothes and home goods made from the perfectly smooth surface of silk scream luxury and comfort. Another bonus? It’s a material made from natural fibers. While this is all relatively well-known information, what may not be such common knowledge is the vast array of types in which silk can be found.
Each type of silk has its own characteristics that make it best suited for different uses. Natural silk is versatile – beautiful yet practical, soft, breathable and has an elegant drape. From wedding gowns and sleepwear to lavish curtains, bedding and everything in between, there is a type of silk with just the right properties for each item.
In this article, we will go over 17 different types of silk fabric and their characteristics. We will cover what each type of silk is best suited for and the highest quality silk you can find. Finally, we will cover what you can use in place of silk – if you’re looking for something soft and lustrous but perhaps want something less sensitive to heat, wrinkling, or with a lower price tag.
- 17 Different Types of Silk Fabric
- What Is the Highest Quality Silk Fabric?
- Which Type of Silk Is the Softest?
- Best Silk for Dresses
- What Is a Heavy Silk Fabric?
- How Much Does Silk Cost?
- Silk Like Fabrics
17 Different Types of Silk Fabric
1. MulberryThe most classic choice – when you think of silk, you are most likely thinking of mulberry silk. Produced by the mulberry silkworm – Bombyx mori, mulberry silk accounts for the majority of natural silk on the market.
These are almost never-ending fibers – a single strand can be up to a mile long! – can be composed into a broad range of fabrics that come in many different weaves and knits. This domesticated silk produces a final product that is very highly regarded. It is useful in many applications and very versatile. Mulberry silk encompasses all types of material made from the fibers produced by the mulberry silkworm.
2. CharmeuseSilk charmeuse is a satin weave fabric with the highest of sheens. This luxurious fabric has a high shine on one side and a duller matter surface on the other. It is a lightweight material that is extremely smooth to the touch. It drapes beautifully and has great insulating properties.
The extra luster in silk charmeuse gives it an opulent feel making it a popular choice for nightgowns, lingerie and dresses. It also has properties that help your skin and hair maintain their natural moisture – unlike cotton, which is very absorbent – and is why you will often find bedding and pillowcases made from this material.
3. ChiffonThe lightest of them all – silk chiffon will billow elegantly with a slight breeze. A very fine fabric that flows like no other is soft, smooth, silky, and sheer.
Chiffon has a wonderful drape and is ideal for layers – skirts and dresses – and is a preferred choice for wedding veils, trains and scarves, and dainty, sophisticated necklines and sleeves.
4. Crêpe-de-chineA slightly heavier weighted silk with a lustrous, matte finish. Crépe-de-chine is a plain weave fabric that uses twisted crépe yarn in the weft – making it technically a half crépe.
These twisted yarns lend a subtle sheen and texture to the finished product. The weightiness and texture give this material a supple feel that drapes exceptionally well.
Crépe-de-chine can be applied to many different uses. It is smooth, comfortable and airy and works especially well for dressmaking and other garments with movement and flow. Its subtle sheen makes it a great choice for casual and dressy options.
5. Dupion (Dupioni)Dupion is another fabric that comes from mulberry silk fibers in a loose plain weave – but with a distinct look due to being woven with yarns of differing thicknesses. The warp and weft yarns varying from very fine to very thick create a unique furrowed texture that can range from barely noticeable to quite remarkable.
This silk fabric is reversible and has a beautiful, lustrous sheen, often woven in yarns of different colors, creating an intriguing iridescence. Dupion silk is quite strong, does not wrinkle as easily as many silk fabrics, and comes in a wide range of colors – making it a favorite for garment sewing and home décor.
6. GeorgetteSilk georgette is another fabric of the thin and sheer variety. But unlike silk chiffon – which is smooth to the touch – georgette is woven of twisted crépe threads, similar to crépe-de-chine.
This gives the fabric a matte-looking finish with a distinct pebbly texture that feels grainy and slightly rough yet pleasant. Silk georgette is very lightweight. It drapes and flows nicely. Similar to chiffon – its most popular uses include garments with layers, wedding accessories, elegant details and scarves.
7. Habotai (Habutai)Silk Habotai, also called China silk, is a very light material that, despite its name, can be traced back to Japan – where it was originally used to line kimonos.
Today, silk habotai remains a top choice for fine linings – thanks to its incredible breathability. Its soft and light characteristics make it pair perfectly well with other natural materials. In addition to being a preferred textile for linings, silk habotai can also be used on its own and works especially well for layered garments.
It is a popular choice for scarves too, as it takes very well to be painted or dyed.
8. Peace Silk (Eri, Ahimsa)Peace silk is one of the highest quality wild silks on the market. The reason behind this terminology is that during the process, the silk moths are not harmed – but instead are allowed to emerge from their cocoons and fly away free.
Peace silk is woven from spun fibers – much like cotton – unlike the never-ending strands produced from mulberry silk moths. It can be made into a wide range of fabrics, though plain, twill and broken twill weaves are most predominant.
Peace silk is of medium weight and drapes rather well. It has a subtler sheen than other silk types – partly due to it being made from spun fibers – and is matte rather than shiny. This material works great for dresses and tops – particularly ruched or flowing, and is a popular choice for scarves and other accessories.
9. OrganzaUnlike many other types of silk that flow fluidly, organza is light and thin but also quite stiff – due to the fibers being non-de-gummed before they are woven into textiles. It is a loose plain weave fabric made with exceptionally fine threads.
Organza is smooth to the touch with a matte finish. Amazingly – unlike many other stiff fabrics, organza will maintain its shape and feel even after being washed or soaked. It doesn’t even require additives or starch to do so!
Silk organza is a sheer material that does not drape but can be shaped, folded and bunched easily. This makes it a perfect choice for gathered or layered garments and is often used as a material for underskirts. Organza is a strong and popular material for embroidered details, beadwork and other embellishments.
10. ShantungSilk shantung is quite similar to dupion’s – with a rough textured surface. Historically, the difference was that shantung was woven from wild tussar silk fibers. However, these days there is less of a distinction. Often shantung is simply a synonym for a finely produced dupion.
Silk Shantung is rather thick and holds shape well, yet it is still lightweight. It is easy to sew and takes well to tailoring – specifically when sewing structural features like pleats, darts, and seams.
Shantung is a popular choice for wedding dresses, formal gowns, and many home décor items like drapes and accent pillows.
11. Silk BrocadeSilk Brocade is a heavier fabric that is woven with intricate patterns throughout. Classic and historical, this textile is timeless and opulent. Brocade textiles are more defined than other jacquard-type fabrics – the pattern is raised from the surface, lending another dimension in the form of its textural character.
Most brocades these days – even those made from silk – are composed of fiber blends, mostly rayon and/or polyester. However, pure silk brocade is still obtainable – at a higher price. Another note about brocade is that nearly all on the market today are not true brocades.
In the historical sense, a true brocade has the threads which make up the patterns woven 100% by hand, one row at a time. This makes it one of the most expensive fabrics available on the market – a true one-of-a-kind luxury item.
Silk brocade is a heavier weight; it is stiff and holds its shape well. It is a great choice for tailoring, which uses folds and darts, and for garments with some sort of structure. It is smooth to the touch but also holds the interest with the tactile feeling gained from the woven patterns. Silk brocade is a gorgeous material, often chosen for formal wear – ball gowns, wedding dresses, and lavishly styled interior decor.
12. Silk Cotton (blend)A silk cotton blend takes the best characteristics of each fiber and combines them into a single textile.
Adding cotton to silk adds strength and durability – sometimes even allowing for machine washing! – while adding silk to cotton makes it more lightweight and contributes a silky smooth and airy quality.
Silk cotton is soft and sturdy and has a better drape than 100% cotton. This hybrid fabric is breathable and extremely comfortable. Silk cotton is versatile; all items can be made from this cloth. Undergarments and baselayers, a wide range of apparel, scarves and other accessories – even cushions, upholstery and drapes can be found in silk cotton.
13. Silk JerseyGarments in jersey knit fabrics are the most commonly worn, but it’s probably not what first comes to mind when thinking of silk. Stretchy, easy to wear and versatile items such as T-shirts, leggings, and undergarments all come from this material. We all know jersey knit cotton is comfortable, but make it in silk and it’s a whole new ball game.
Silk jersey is softer, smoother and more fine than any other jersey could ever wish to be. It is incredibly lightweight, breathable, and absorbent. Another of its defining features is that it will keep you warm in cool weather and cool you off when it gets hot – making it a versatile and useful garment for many occasions.
Silk jersey can have either a light sheen or be matte on the surface, adding to its appearance versatility. The natural stretchiness that comes with jersey knits means loose and form-fitting clothes can be made from this material – though they will generally be of a more casual variety. Anything made from cotton jersey fabric can also be made with silk – T-shirts, loungewear, undergarments, dresses, etc. – only they will be on the next level.
14. Silk SatinPairing the perfectly smooth surface of silk fibers with a satin weave creates the epitome of luxury in a fabric. Silk satin is lustrous, sophisticated and has an incomparably fluid drape.
Unlike synthetic satin fabrics, silk provides a gentler sheen – nothing overly shiny here, just the perfect amount of luster. If you’re looking for even less shine but love the other characteristics of satin – sand-washed silk satin is a variation on this material that provides a soft, matte finish.
Silk satin is lightweight and airy and provides elegant movement like no other. The breathable fibers of silk make this satin not only eye-catching but comfortable. Silk satin can be found in different weights – from thin and sheer to very heavy – and is the ideal material for a wedding gown.
Silk satin is perfect for any flowing garment but especially dresses – since it has that one-of-a-kind drape – and it is also used often for nightgowns, sleepwear, lingerie, blouses and scarves.
15. Silk Wool (blend)A silk wool blend combines two beautiful natural fibers and creates a strong woven fabric with a silky sheen.
It is a medium-weight fabric that is durable and sturdy, holding its shape well while having a relatively good drape. Since silk and wool fibers are highly breathable, are good heat conductors and have moisture-wicking properties, this blend is an ideal choice for high-end sportswear.
Many other garments and home décor items can also be found in silk wool.
16. TaffetaTaffeta conjures images of ball gowns. While there are many synthetic forms on the market, none will compare to what silk brings to the table. Taffeta is a plain weave that is smooth and tight. It has a paper-like quality with a subtle sheen that works wonderfully in structured garments gathered or with folds or darts, and especially well in skirts and sleeves.
Taffeta is classified as a medium-weight fabric; it is smooth to the touch and, in lighter shades, can be slightly sheer. The signature crunchin rustle of taffeta can be found with no other fabric. Taffeta is the ideal material for an elaborate formal wedding dress or any type of formal gown.
17. VelvetWe’re all familiar with velvet, but silk velvet belongs in a class all its own – particularly when compared with its synthetic counterparts. Velvet is often thought of as hot and heavy, but silk velvet is unlike any other out there – it is supple, light and airy.
Where cotton velvet is thick and stiff – a great choice for a blazer – silk velvet flows fluidly, drapes beautifully and has a light-reflecting sheen that is truly like no other. Silk velvet is the height of luxury – and the price certainly reflects this fact. Finding pure silk velvet is a rare occurrence. Most often, when you come across silk velvet, it will be blended with rayon fibers.
This medium-weight fabric is the perfect material for rich, eye-catching garments. A pair of classy wide-leg pants or a floor-length dress with a dramatic low-back or deep cowl neck will be sure to turn heads.
What Is the Highest Quality Silk Fabric?
Mulberry silk is widely considered to be the highest quality silk fabric overall. Its immensely long single strands make it one truly unique fabric. Mulberry silk is pearlescent ivory in color and has a naturally rich luster and sheen.
The surface of the mulberry silk strands is perfectly smooth, creating an unmatched evenness and incredibly soft hand feel. That being said, mulberry silk is quite versatile. Many types of material can be made from mulberry silk strands, so this alone doesn’t automatically mean the material is of the highest quality.
The quality of the silk itself can be determined by measuring its density – referred to as the momme (written mm and pronounced “mummy”) of the silk. This measurement denotes the weight of the silk – more specifically, how many grams of silk the fabric contains.
A higher momme weight signifies that more silk was used when making the cloth, indicating a stronger fabric and a higher quality. This measurement is similar to the use of thread count when considering the cotton fabric, though thread count can also be used as a factor in determining the quality of silk.
Silk is also categorized into grades – A, B, and C, with subcategories in between. Grade A silk can be further categorized from A up to 6A – the highest quality mulberry silk you can get. Made from the longest strands and nearly completely free from impurities, this pure mulberry silk is unrivaled in its soft, smooth feel while being lightweight and breathable yet sturdy.
Which Type of Silk Is the Softest?
Mulberry silk – with its perfectly smooth surface – also wins the category of softest silk. The highest quality mulberry silk on the market will be softer to the touch than any other material out there. Chiffon, habotai and silk satin are all types of silk that will provide an extremely soft handfeel. Each of these fabrics will be truly divine to the touch and provide a rich luster and incredibly even surface while flowing fluidly in the wind.
Best Silk for Dresses
In many forms, silk is the ideal material for dressmaking. You just have to decide what type of dress it is you desire. Unmatchable drape and fluid movement, what could be more elegant? Looking for texture and shape? Silk can provide that too.
Silk charmeuse, chiffon, crepe-de-chine or satin are all ideal choices for a dress that will drape flatteringly and provide a chic and sophisticated look. Even silk jersey or silk cotton will be a great choice if you want something casual and comfortable. If specifically in the market for a more structured option or a very formal dress, silk brocade will provide an elegant and timeless option.
The bottom line is – silk is versatile; it has a legion of desirable characteristics, making it the perfect material for dresses of just about any type.
What Is a Heavy Silk Fabric?
If you’re in the market for a heavier fabric, silk satin can be found in many differing weights – from very thin to heavily weighted. Silk velvet is also a supple and voluminous option. Heavy silk fabric can provide a very elegant and dramatic drape – a much different effect than something light, airy and flow.
You can also look at the momme count to determine the weight of silk material. Momme weight can range from just 6 mm up to 30 mm. Silk fabric that is 30 mm will be the heaviest, strongest and most durable – also considered to be of the highest quality. Anything below 16 mm will be lightweight and dainty, while numbers around 20 mm will be very high quality but medium weight. Any way you stack it, silk is a breathable and comfortable material, so it won’t be overbearing even in a heavyweight.
How Much Does Silk Cost?
In this article alone, we’ve discussed 17 different types of silk fabric, so it should be no surprise that there will be as many price variations. Even in its lower quality forms, silk is a natural material that takes time to produce and, at its least expensive, will still cost more than many other materials.
The price of silk can range anywhere from around $5 per yard to upwards of $100 – but many good quality options can be found in the $12 to $20 range. If we’re talking about those old-fashioned pure silk brocades reserved for royalty, however, you’ll be shelling out thousands.
Silk Like Fabrics
Though no synthetic fabric can replicate the truly unique features of silk, there are multiple reasons you may still want a substitute. Whether you disagree with the process of silk production and are looking for a cruelty-free vegan option or simply disagree with the price tag – here is a list of silk-like fabrics:
- Cotton Sateen – this material is made from mercerized cotton fibers in a satin weave, giving it a soft feel with a moderately shiny surface. Added bonus – it is sustainable and biodegradable and can even be found in organic options.
- Polyester – can mimic the look and feel of silk, specifically silk chiffon. A versatile material, polyester in this form can be lightweight and replicate the delicate feel of silk, though it will never truly compare in its softness and breathability. Something else to note – as it is made from plastic, polyester is never the best option when considering the environment.
- Rayon – a semi-synthetic, is often the preferred choice for an affordable silk substitute. It is a versatile fabric that can be used in many applications – from apparel to home décor. It is soft and drapes well and has a much lower financial commitment. Due to its method of production, however – being made from regenerated cellulose fibers – it is not an incredibly environmentally friendly choice.
- Viscose – another semi-synthetic sub-type of rayon – can have a similar drape and feel to silk. This makes it an appealing substitute at a much lower financial cost but comes at the same cost to the environment.
Other materials in a satin weave can also emulate some of the properties of silk – but the fact of the matter is: that nothing fully compares to the original.
Silk – with its multitude of forms – is in a textile category. No other material on the market can compare to its versatility. Its ability to produce so many different types of fabric that are all beautiful, breathable and functional is unmatched. From casual wear to formal gowns, comfy pajamas and scarves, drapery, pillows and bedding – silk is a candidate that – for the right price – can be a luxurious part of your life in so many ways.