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Thai silk on display

Luxurious, Elegant:
Smooth as Thai Silk

Knowing How to Buy it.

SILK is a spun commodity that requires more knowledge and understanding than most people think, and the types of silk produced in different parts of the world have their own unique sheens and textures. If we take silk pieces from the four main world producers and place them side by side, we immediately see these differences. Chinese silk tends to be smooth and satiny, while Indian silk tends to be softer with richer colors and a more crinkly look. Italian silk has the refined and elegant look of high fashion, and Thai silk projects the natural blended textures and patterns that are so very Southeast Asian.

Many visitors to Chiangmai and the North are under informed about the various silk types. Some expect to see the Chinese type because that's what they're used to. Others are not familiar with the material types at all and have to rely on the advice of others when buying. Neither of these is really acceptable when looking for the fine silk of Thailand. It will help to know what silk is, how it's made, what kind of price ranges one should be looking for and some simple material tests that every consumer can apply themselves while in the process of buying.

Silk Production

The process of silk production varies a bit from country to country. The raw silk material is a natural product of the silkworm, which is a type of moth that feeds on the mulberry bush. When the silkworm moves from the larva stage to the pupa stage of development, it spins a cocoon like all other moths and butterflies. This cocoon comes from the larva moth's salivary glands and is woven through a complex set of mechanisms within the moth's anatomy. The finished 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 silkworms of Thailand are grown primarily on the Korat Plateau in the country's northeast region, although the majority of silk production takes place in the Chiangmai area. The silk thread of Thailand's silkworms is a natural gold color and one cocoon consists of one thread that is often as long as 500 meters. Each thread is too thin to use alone so many threads are combined to make a thicker, more practical fiber. The raw silk threads are washed and bleached before being placed in vats of hot dyes. The result is washed again and stretched before being put through a final dying process. After the final dying and drying, the threads are wound onto drums and sent to weaving shops where the silk cloth is produced.

At some of Chiangmai's silk centers in the Sankhampaeng factory district visitors have an opportunity to watch the process described above with a running commentary by one of the factory's staff. Some of the silk production centers maintain their own mulberry gardens where they grow silkworms, and a visit to one of these includes all aspects of silk production from the cocoon growing stage to the weaving of the finished product. At these, hand operated looms are often used and one weaver produces only four meters of silk cloth in a single day.

Thai Silk Products

The Thai silk product range includes everything from fabric lengths in 2-ply and 4-ply to small silk handkerchiefs. Within the range are shirts and blouses, scarves and neckties, bathrobes and kimonos, men's suits and ladies silk jackets, and bedcovers and furnishings. Prices vary, but generally the handkerchiefs and neckties are at the lower end while suits, jackets and bedcovers are at the higher end. Prices sometimes differ greatly depending on whether you buy at a factory site or in a shop or stall at Chiangmai's Night Bazaar.

In selecting silk products, shoppers should be aware that a new line of imitation silk is also sold in Chiangmai. This cannot be found at the silk factories and their showrooms, but sometimes it is seen at the various night bazaars and some of the smaller shops. Some visitors to Thailand, because they are not familiar with what real Thai silk is, have mistakenly purchased the imitation and later disappointingly found out they purchased Imitation silk. This happens because producers of the imitation product label it "Real Thai Silk" and the uninformed shopper is none the wiser. In order to determine the authenticity of the product for yourselves we'd like to provide you with some guidelines and a few simple tests to carry out on your own

Recognizing Real Silk

The question is, "how can you be sure that the silk fabric item you wish to buy is actuary 100 percent Thai silk and not the imitation, which is made of polyester?" There are five basic guidelines for determining the answer to this question. Consider the price, the weave, the lusters, and the print and what we call the Burn Test.

There is a big difference in price between the I 00-percent sills items and the imitation items. Generally for a 100-percent silk item you should expect a price of anywhere from 600 Baht to 2,500 Baht, depending on the item, whereas the same item in imitation silk will be priced at anywhere frown 100 Baht to 250 Baht. In both lines of course some larger and more extravagant pieces will be priced higher, but as a guide these ranges should be sufficient.

The weave is another area which will allow the shopper to immediately see the difference between the real silk and the imitation. The real silk weave is completely handmade of a natural fibre and thus clearly shows small flaws or joins in the thread along the warp and the weft. The imitation polyester, on the other hand, is a machine-made fabric and has a perfect surface with no flaws or bumps. This aspect can be most important to the unknowledgeable shopper in that what appears to be perfect in polyester is actually the imitation of real silk.

Luster is the third guideline feature, and a small light test shows whether a fabric is real or imitation. The 100-percent Thai silk is made with one color for the warp and one color for the weft. This is what gives Thai silk its natural sheen and luster and it's what makes Thai silk so unique in terms of color tones and blends. Thus, when you hold a piece of I 00-percent silk up to the light the overall color tone will change depending on the angle of light. With the Imitation, regardless of what light angle You hold it in, it shines white.

Whether a fabric is real silk or imitation is also easy to determine by looking carefully at the print. A 100-percent Thai silk piece will have the printed pattern on one side with only an outline of the print on the reverse side When both sides are held up to the light, only the full print side will change color. The colors are not evident on the reverse side. With an imitation print, the pattern print and colors can be seen on one side while a plain color can be seen on the reverse side; and, both sides shine white when held to the light.

The final feature here is the Burn Test. If you take a thread or two of 100-percent Thai silk and light them with a flame, it will leave a fine ash and smell like burnt hair. As soon as the flame is taken away the threads will stop burning. When the imitation silk is lit, on the other hand, it will drip, it will burn black smoke, and it continues to burn after the flame is taken away . This Burn test is really unnecessary if you're familiar with the other features discussed above. It is, however, a certain way to determine authenticity when in doubt.


Thai silk is one of the finest fabrics in the world. It has very distinctive features that are fundamentally different from the Chinese, Indian and Italian silks One could not say that any one of the four types is superior to the others, but the process of manufacturing, the patterns and colors used do make the silk types different. With the high regard in which Thai silk is held throughout the world, we hope the information in this article will assist shoppers in getting what they want. There are, to be sure, some who would prefer the lower priced imitation product because of its lower cost value; but for those who expect the real thing, we want to make sure you have the information to avoid disappointment.

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