Silk is one fabric that is loved equally by everyone and when it comes to women’s ethnic wear especially every woman loves their silk sarees, silk kurtas, dupattas. But is it confusing sometimes from the varieties of fabric available to choose the silk you are looking for? Do all these terminologies used to confuse you about how does one silk differs from others? In this article, we will discuss:
What is Silk?
Silk is the natural protein-based fiber produced by silkworms. Silk is composed of 80% fibroin, a natural protein, and 20% sericin, silk gum. Silk fabrics are lightweight, have a natural luster with a soft and smooth texture. Silk hand feel is different from synthetic fabrics which are more slippery. It is one of the strongest natural fibers mainly due to the continuous length of fibers however loses 20% of its strength when wet. Silk fabric is highly breathable and has good moisture-retaining properties making it comfortable to wear in warm weather. Silk also has good resilience and does not lose its shape.
How is Silk produced?
The silk is produced by the process known as Sericulture. Sericulture is the process of extracting silk by cultivating silkworms ( known as Mulberry silk-moths in Latin or scientific name Bombyx Mori) and harvesting their cocoons. These silkworms are fed on different kinds of leaves like mulberry leaves, arjuna tree leaves, and other plants.
Female silk-moths can lay up to 300-500 eggs each time. These eggs are incubated in a controlled environment and in around 10 days these eggs hatch into larvae or caterpillars. These silkworms feed continuously on the huge amount of mulberry leaves and in 6 weeks they become large, sloppy, and magnified to the size of about 3 inches. Now they stop eating and raise their head a protective shell around them known as cacoon. The whole process takes around 3-8 days where silkworm spins their cocoon by rotating their head in figure 8 movement around 300,000 times. This thread solidifies as soon as it comes in contact with air and is held together by natural gum known as sericin. Each silkworm produces just a single strand of silk measuring about 100 meters long.
After the cacoon formation, silkworms enclose themselves inside it. Since hatching from the cacoon destroys the thread, the silk thread is extracted by placing the cocoons in boiling water to soften and dissolve the gum. This is a critical step in the thread extraction process since it has to be ensured that no damage is done to the continuity of the thread. Each thread is carefully reeled from an individual cacoon and wound on the reel. These threads are washed and degummed with soap and boiling water to remove any left out sericin.
The silk threads are bleached and dried before the dyeing process. Silk threads are either dyed using traditional dyeing methods and using natural dyes from indigo leaves and plants or by using advanced technology using acid or reactive dyes.
Types of Silks
Four types of silks are commercially produced. The silk term is mostly used for mulberry silk as these types of silk contributes to 90% of silk produced worldwide.
It is produced by silkworm, Bombyx Mori L, which feeds on leaves of the mulberry plant. This is considered as highest quality silk. It is more refined than other qualities of silk with fibers pure white and smooth long fibers and natural luster. Mulberry silk contributes to 79% of silk production in the country.
This type of silk is copperish and is produced from wild silkworms, belonging to the genus Antheraea. There are many varieties- Indian Tasar silkworm Antheraea mylitte Dury, Chinese silkworm Antherae pernyi Guerin and Japanese silkworm Antheraea yamamai Querin which produced green tussar silk threads. The Indian silkworm feeds on leaves of plant Terminalia whereas Chinese and Japanese silkworm feeds on leaves of oak trees. The fibers produced from these cocoons can be reeled into raw silk threads. Tasar silk threads are tough to dye therefore are normally available in natural color.
Produced by silkworms belonging to two species namely Samia ricini and Philosamia ricini. Castor silkworm ( P. ricini) feeds on leaves of castor oil plant and produces silk threads white or brick red with matt texture similar to that of cotton or wool. The threads of Eri silk can not be reeled as they are not continuous and smooth textured, therefore, the moths are allowed to emerge by piercing the cocoons.
This type of silk is produced only in the state of Assam and is produced by silkworms,Antheraea assamensis. The silkworms feed on the aromatic leaves of the soalu plant. This type of silk is golden yellow which is very strong. The quantities produced of this type of silk are quite small and are used for making traditional dresses (Mekhela chadar) in the state of Assam.
This type of silk is produced in the central and southern parts of Africa. The fabric produced from these threads is elastic and stronger than mulberry silk and is used in velvet due to their soft nature.
It is produced in states of the Indo-Australian region, China, and Sudan. This type of silk is produced from silkworms, Attacus atlas L. and is light brown.
Did you know?
The USA is the largest importer of silk in the world.
Famous Silk Sarees of India
Muga Silk Sarees: Amongst one of the popular traditional wear of Assam. Produced by Garo community of Assam from silkworms fed on aromatic leaves of Soalu and Som plants. The authentic Muga silk product can be identified via the GI ( Geographical Indication) logo. The silkworm lifecycle varies from 50 days in summers to 150 days in winters. Known for their natural yellowish-golden color and durability. Muga silk saree weaving takes 7-10 days. These sarees are characterized by yellow-golden base color with intricate embroidery and zari designs. Typical traditional motifs used are Jappi- Assami topi; kabutar- pigeons; Miri Gos Buta- miniature tree motifs- in geometrical shapes.
Paat Silk Sarees: Also known as Pat silk or mulberry silk as the fabric is produced by silkworms feeding on mulberry leaves. Originally these sarees are woven in a white or off-white color, now they are available in various bright colors as well. These sarees are lightweight and highly durable. The motifs on sarees are woven in gold threads and are inspired by nature with floral, animal, and other ornamental motifs.
Eri Silk Sarees: Also known as the Poor man’s silk. These are produced by silkworms feeding on castor oil plant. As Eri silk threads are short, these are comparatively less lustrous and have a rough texture.
Art Silk Sarees: Artificial silk or also known as bamboo silk, is produced from synthetic fibers resembling silk. Art silk fibers are nylon, polyester, or rayon based. the fabric is more slippery unlike natural silk and is comparatively cheaper.
Banarsi Silk Sarees: Bansarsi silk sarees from Varanasi or Banaras are known for their intricate designs and intricate look. These saris involve hand weaving of intricate floral or other motifs and the use of silver and gold zari threads. There are four varieties- Katan – pure silk; Kora- organza; georgette and shattir. it may take from 15 days to 6 months to weave a Banarsi saree depending upon the design.
Baluchari Silk Sarees: Also known as Baluchuri sarees, these come from the small village Baluchar in Murshidabad, Bengal. These are characterized by woven mythological designs on the pallu of the saree. These are woven from silk threads and are polished after weaving. It takes approx. one week to weave one such saree.
Bomkai Silk Sarees: Originates from Bomkai, Orissa. Also known as Sonepuri saree, produced by ‘Bhulia’ community of Subarnapur district. These are handwoven in bright colors with motifs like fish, tortoise, lotus, peacock, birds on the saree borders, and pallu.
Raw Silk Sarees: Also know as ‘Resham’ or ‘Paat’. This is made from short mulberry silk threads giving it a textured look. The raw silk has a soft hand feel and lustrous look.
Pochampalli Silk Sarees: Originates from Pochampalli district, Andhra Pradesh. Characterized by cotton and silk are woven together in ikat weave. The ikat patterns are in geometric and zig-zag designs together with traditional motifs of elephants, floral, peacocks. These are worn by south Indian brides.
Patola Silk Sarees: Originates from Patan, Gujrat. These sarees are characterized by double ikat weave, each saree taking from 6 months to 1 year for weaving. Each thread of saree is dyed before being woven, making it very tedious to make patola sarees. Woven primarily by the Salvi community, consists of 4 different types- Sarees with animal and floral woven pattern used mainly by Hindu community, sarees with geometric, floral patterns are worn by Muslim communities, Maharashtrian Brahmins wear plain, darker color patola silk sarees.
Organza Silk Sarees: This plain weave, sheer fabric is woven from silk threads traditionally. Present days it can be a mix of synthetic, polyester and nylon, and silk threads. Organza fabric comes from the material- Organzine, where strong fibers of silk were twisted into yarns and then woven into the plain weave to give luster and texture to the fabric. Organza tissue silk sarees are lightweight with lustrous fabrics. These sarees come in varieties of designs with digital prints or woven designs.
Paithani Silk Sarees: These originate from Paithan town in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These sarees are characterized by pallu in vibrant colors with woven motifs inspired by Ajanta, Ellora caves, peacock, and floral patterns. The saree borders are designed with oblique square patterns. These sarees involve the work of real gold, silver threads with pure silk. Pure Paithani silk sarees range from Rs 60,000 onwards. Semi Paithani sarees range from Rs 25,000 onwards.
Sambalpuri Silk Sarees: These sarees originate from Sambalpur in Odisha, India. The warp and weft are tie-dyed before weaving into motifs based on phula (flora), animals, shankha, chakra (wheel), and other Indian mythologies like Ramayana, Krishna Ras Lila. These sarees takes weeks to be woven as yarns are before tie-dyed and woven by a process known as ‘Bandhakala -Ikat process’. The yarns are tied as per the design and then dyed. These dyed yarns are known as ‘Baandha’. This unique feature enables identical designs on both sides of the saree. These sarees are normally in black, white, and red colors. These sarees are famous for their extra-ordinary design motifs on pallu and borders in contrasting colors. Sambalpuri sarees come in five varieties- Sonepuri, Pasapali, Bomkai, Barpali, Bapta which are quite popular. The price of sambalpuri silk sarees varies depending upon the intricacy of patterns designed.
Swarnachari Silk Sarees: These originate from Bishnupur, West Bengal, India. These are similar to Baluchari sarees in weaving and design patterns however swarnachari sarees have a gold thread (zari) incorporated into weaving along with silk whereas Baluchari sarees are woven from only silk threads. This gives these sarees the unique rich shine. These sarees are normally dark in color with intricate pallu designs inspired by Indian mythologies of Ramayana, Mahabharatha. The saree borders depict motifs of flowers, animals, fish, etc.
Narayanpet Silk Sarees: These originate from the Solapur district in Maharashtra. these are woven in silk or cotton. They can be in pure cotton, pure silk, or a combination of both cotton and silk. In cotton silk sarees, the warp is pure silk yarn and weft is in pure cotton. The cotton is usually sourced from Vijaywada and silk from Bangalore. The zari is obtained from Surat in Gujrat. These are characterized by the contrasting border and pallu design with small geometrical zari designs on the border and silver-lined palla. These come in dark earthy shades and are lightweight and comfortable. These are usually used for daily wear. there is a border on both sides of the saree, along the full length of saree ranging in the size of 3-5.5 inches on both sides. The border is usually woven with temple design. The pallu does not have a border. The pallu has a distinct arrow design, pointed at both ends, known as ‘Theni pallu’.
The cotton sarees are woven with checks pattern in the entire body of saree with border and pallu in zari work.
Matka Silk Sarees: Matka silk is mainly produced in the states of Karnataka and Kashmir but spinning is done in Malda and Murshidabad, West Bengal. Matka silk is handwoven from the waste of mulberry silk without removing the sericin. The yarns are usually thick with a rough texture. The texture of the fabric gives unique look to the garments. These silk sarees are very lightweight, have good fabric strength, and economical when compared to other silk sarees.
Mysore Silk Sarees: These originate from Mysore, Karnataka. These are made in pure mulberry silk with a gold zari border. The silk is very soft, lightweight, and does not have much bling.
Kanjivaram Silk Sarees: Kanjivaram or Kanchipuram silk sarees originates from the Kanchipuram region in Tamil Nadu. As per legends, weaver of Kanchipuram are descendants of sage Markanda, the master weaver of gods. These are made from pure mulberry silk with the zari border, the silk comes from south India and zari comes from Gujrat. These sarees are woven using three shuttles. The border comes in a variety of motifs, inspired from mythology with temple design, checks, stripes, floral motifs. The body and border of Kanchipuram sarees are woven separately and then interlocked together using a zigzag stitch. The price of these sarees varies depending on the material used( gold threads), patterns, colors, and intricacy of work.
Chanderi Silk Sarees: Originates from Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. These sarees are known for their lightweight, smooth, soft transparent texture, and shine with great design work. characteristics by motifs like peacock, floral, coins, geometric designs. They are known for their zari work and brocade embroidery. they come in three types silk cotton, pure silk, chanderi cotton. Chanderi is produced by weaving silk and golden zari threads along with cotton, giving it the characteristic shimmery look.
Taking care of Silk Sarees
Washing the silk Sarees:
Use soft water to wash silk sarees. If water is hard, a pinch of ammonia or borax can be added.
Use a mild detergent after two or three plain washes. Do not keep the sari soaked in detergent for long.
Silk sarees should not be brushed as it would lead to tearing of the silk or zari threads.
Wash pallu and border separately in the beginning.
Do not bundle it or keep it wet for a long time.
Use cold water to remove stains. In the case of hard stains, the saree should be dry cleaned.
- Do not chlorine bleach the silk sarees as it will damage the silk and cause it to become yellow.
- for colorfastness, sarees may be steeped in cold water with a small amount of citric or acetic acid for 1-2 minutes before washing.
- Always remove the excess water by squeezing lightly by hand.
- Always dry your silk sarees flat and in shade.
Precautions during ironing:
- Silk sarees should be ironed at low-medium ironing temperature.
- Silk sarees should not be sprayed with water to dampen before ironing, it may cause water spots.
- Prefer ironing on the reverse side.
Storing Your Silk Sarees:
- Silk zari sarees should be wrapped in cotton cloth to avoid discoloration of zari.
- Should be stored in a clean and dry environment. Keep silica sachets in racks.
- If stored for a prolonged period, occasional airing and brushing should be done.
Did you know?
Silk has temperature regulating properties, it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Hoping this article helps you in recognizing the different silk sarees coming from various states of India and now you can look forward to adding them to your wardrobe.