Is it possible to make clothes with ethical silk?

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You want to create a product using silk but you have many questions about this material? You’re right, is it possible to create garments with silk when the vast majority of silk is created by boiling silkworms in their cocoons? We have found solutions to help you!

The following article is written in a rather special way, it cannot be called an article but more a status of research on silk. The idea is to gather these researches with your own, do you want to? The process is as follows, add in comments what you know about silk, and the #update of this article will come as it goes along. Suppliers, info: the community takes it all in! Thanks for them!

What is silk thread?

Silk thread is a trilobal thread, which means that light is reflected from all three sides of the thread (image 2 “Trilobal”):

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There are 200 varieties of silkworms in the world, but only the Bombyx murier produces a “round”, “smooth” and “fine” thread. Each cocoon produces 1500 metres of filament in two to three days. Also, one hectare of trees represents 11 tonnes of leaves which can feed 200 cocoons which will produce 40kg of raw silk. Historically, silk comes from China, but also from India and the Middle East.

Here are the different denominations of silk, often linked to the country of manufacture, to the technique of assembling the thread or to the technique of extruding the filament :

  • Ahimasa silk
  • Eri silk
  • Muga silk
  • Tussah silk : it is the wild silk
  • Pattu or Resham silk : silk from India
  • Mashru silk : Indian silk with silk warp and cotton weft woven in a satin weave which offers a smooth face and a cotton back

The unit of measurement for silk is the momme :
1 momme corresponds to 4.306g per m2 of fabric (e.g. a 17 momme fabric weighs 73.2g/m2). The density of the fabric varies according to the type of weave:

  • Habotai 5 to 16 mummies
  • Chiffon 6 to 8 weft
  • Crepe de chine 12 to 16 weights
  • Gauze 3 to 5 wefts
  • Raw silk 35 to 40 wefts
  • Organza 4 to 6 webs

How to get a thread from a cocoon? The most common method here :

  • COCON COOKING – Boiling water to soften the sericin
  • UNFOLDING – Silk filament extracted from the cocoon, unwound
  • TWISTING – Twisting of the filament according to the final use (warp, weft, embroidery, dyeing knitting, it will be either single thread, organza crepe twist or weft twist)
  • DECREASING (washing step to remove sericin (silkworm glue). This decreasing can be complete or partial. this partially decreased silk is called raw silk

The finest fabrics are woven with a thread obtained by assembling the filaments of four cocoons.

Silk thread is either:

  • SINGLE THREAD: A single yarn is a single filament twisted in one direction (lower quality) – the least strong
  • YARN FOR CREPE TWIST: Silk crepe is made up of several yarns twisted at 2000 to 3000 turns per metre (wool, cotton and linen crepe = 1500 turns/metre)
  • ORGASIN YARN: An orgasin yarn is a yarn that is spun from filament to obtain a yarn that will be used for warp. The orgasin thread is made up of 2,3,4 threads of greige twisted separately on themselves and then joined by a twist.
  • THREAD FOR WEFT TWIST: This is a technique of turning filament to obtain a yarn which will be intended for weft use. A weft twist is a twisting of two filaments in the weft direction and seems to be the strongest of all.

Different qualities of silk, which define the use of silk yarn – (#1 best intrinsic quality)
#1 Raw silk: one third of the original length of the thread for a clean, shiny finish.

#2 Schappe silk: Silk floss, waste from reeling. After scouring, the web is divided into ribbons of about 15 cm.

#3 Silk floss: Very short fibres, yarn with large knots visible to the naked eye and to the touch.

#4 Wild silk or tussah: As the cocoons are pierced, the thread is no longer discontinuous, it is less fine and more irregular. Although this silk seems to have the least intrinsic qualities, it is this silk that seems to be the most ethical when one thinks of silkworms.

How to dye silk?

There are two methods of dyeing silk. The “yarn” dyeing, used for taffetas, duchess satin weave from patterned silk to combine multiple colours. And there is the “piece” dyeing for crepes, and twill (you can find some in Lyon).

There are many different finishes to choose from, depending on the feel and look you want :

Let’s take the softness criterion as an example:

  • The fabric passes several times through 2 heated steel cylinders, varying the speed of the twist, the pressure applied and the temperature, to obtain different degrees of shine and softness
  • There are also: resin finishing, rerouting, steaming, pressing, polishing
  • Washed silk = emerised or suede silk: washed silk is a silk which is machine washed with tennis ball sand in order to obtain a surface with little peachiness and an aged appearance. Beware, this washed silk becomes less resistant!

In short, what are the properties of silk?

  • High strength (stronger than wool or cotton)
  • Ability to absorb moisture (therefore good dyeing performance)
  • Natural elasticity of almost 15%.
  • Beware of static electricity
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Also, silk is sensitive to :

  • Dust (it becomes brittle and is destroyed)
  • The sun (it becomes brittle and is destroyed)
  • Humidity (it loses its elasticity)
  • And beware of stains and grease
  • The material can be attacked by insects

Finally, where can you find silk?

  • Italy / France (Lyon Côme). You will find reputable fabric manufacturers
  • Mostly Europeans import raw silk from Japan
  • Here are the places where you can find suppliers of silk at the most competitive rates on the market:
    • In India, Pakistan or Thailand (Isan region) Silk with Ikat (or mudmee) weaving and with the spacer dyeing technique (dyeing the same yarn in different colours for a striking colour result). 
    • The “ThaiSilk Company” is very famous (Thailand) 
    • There are big factories in Bangkok, but these are cheap fabrics
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Thai Woman Take Off Ties from Mudmee Board Weaving or Ikat Thai Silk Pattern Weaving on Small Red Weaving Mill After Finish to Tie and Dyed in Thailand Translated with (free version)

Sources :

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