How to Identify Silk

So you’re browsing around in a thrift store, looking for some high quality silk at a bargain price. You come across a few satin pieces. They feel soft and shiny, and they kind of look like silk.

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But how can you be sure? Well there’s a few trusty ways to look out for the genuine silk pieces.

What Does the Label Say?

You’d expect the label to say something like ‘100% silk’ ,’Pure Silk’ or something like this. For the most part, these labels should be genuine, given they’re from a reputable brand.

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If they’re not in the usual place on the inside side seam, then all the labeling will be on the back of the collar. Look out for these things, particularly on more high-end clothing.

How Does it Feel?

This can be a tricky one to go by. If you go by texture alone, you can often get this right with experience. Even with experience, I find that in thrift stores I can still get it wrong and mistake viscose or polyester for silk.

In the smoother pieces, it will be very very soft. Not like polyester, with it’s slightly rigid finish and an uncomfortable roughness when you run your hands across it. With satin viscose, it’s very hard to tell, but I find viscose satin even softer and finer than satin silk.

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In the chiffon-like silk pieces, they are usually very fragile. Polyester chiffon in comparison is again a lot stronger, rougher and more durable feeling.

Because silk actually has a lot of various different forms, it is very hard to identify it to a tee. But for the most common types, you can often find a pattern. However if this becomes difficult, there is always another way,

Burn Test

So what do you expect to see when a sample of silk is put to the flames?

Well first of all, put it into a flame and pull it away. When you do this, the silk sample should burn fairly slowly, and will go out when you take it out. It won’t instantly ignite – it will take a few seconds to start burning under the flame.

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When it burns, it will smell a bit like a barbecue, like meat is roasting. It might also smell like other natural fibers that burn, like burnt hair or something similar.

And visually, it will produce little balls of burnt silk remnants, which when touched will be crushed and reveal dried, dark pieces of ash.

Those little tips should help you identify your garments. If you can do it safely and it has no label, I would suggest a burn test is the most accurate method of identifying your fabric.

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