Understanding Silk

The cut and color may vary, but a silk blouse is an essential piece for nearly every style, but before we get started shopping, we need to understand the fabric. The quest had me asking just How do we measure silk’s quality?

Measuring Silk Quality

Momme Weight

When measuring silk quality and comparing pieces, the first term we might hear is addressing the weight of the silk (much like the thread count in your sheets).

Silk’s unit of measurement is momme (pronounced “moe-me”). The momme weight is how many pounds 100 yards of a silk fabric weighs. For instance, 16mm means 100 yards of silk weighs 16 pounds. The higher the weight the more durable the fabric tends to be and that might seem like a simple unit of measurement: a higher momme weight more desirable- done!

Sadly, it’s not quite that straightforward. For instance, raw silk as it tends to be heavier, but one glance will tell you it’s not the highest quality silk you’ve ever laid eyes on. Which brings us to our second consideration…

Type of Silk Fabrics

Raw silk still contains the gummy protein sericin which lends a lot of weight to the material. While the material might be 30mm-45mm, it will possess less of a sheen and a rougher texture when compared to a charmeuse of only 16mm. It has great uses as a scarf- I adore my raw silk scarf for its texture, but I cannot imagine wearing it as a blouse.

There are too many types of silk for me to list here (and I am not familiar enough with each of them to tout opinions), but I can say that charmeuse is one of the most popular and is probably what comes to mind when you think “silk” with a back of flattened crepe and a shimmery satin weave in the front. Crepe de chine and china silk are delicate but readily available in a number of ready-to-wear clothing pieces that aren’t too tailored (as its delicacy can lead to tears should your pieces be too fitted to form) are also very popular. While organza and chiffon can be commonly found in bridesmaid or evening dress styles.

Wild vs Cultivated Silk

Another term you might hear being tossed around when discussing silk quality (and honestly not something I have seen advertised in my search for the perfect silk pieces) is wild vs cultivated silk. These terms tell us about the silkworms. Cultivated silk comes from worms that were fed mulberry leaves. They produce very long continuous strands of silk yarn. In comparison, with wild silk, the worms are fed a more varied diet. The material from wild silk is woven from short or broken threads making it rougher to the touch and less shimmery than it’s cultivated counterpart. In addition to the different texture, the wild silk filaments have a more beige color when compared with the almost translucent silk of a cultivated worm. It makes the wild silk more difficult to dye and thus, you’ll often find wild silk in more natural colors.


Lastly, we can consider the origin of the silk. While China is leading the world’s silk production, it’s said that the finest materials come from France and Italy. Of course, determining where your silkworms were actually raised can be a bit difficult (check here for a 2015 article on the silkworms return to Italy).  It is my experience you can find a quality silk blouse or scarf made with Chinese silk (and it can be much easier to do so as they seem to be everywhere) if you opt for a higher weight and consequently more expensive material.

Closing Thoughts

Silk quality varies wildly across weights, types, and origins. However, deciphering what we’re buying isn’t terribly complicated once we know what to look for and the questions to ask- because believe me if you want the information, there is a good chance you will be asking. Often, I see material simply listed as “100% silk” with no further details. A little digging must be done, but that is a story for another day.

Do you wear silk? How do you go about finding quality pieces? Do you have any go to brands or labels for your silk pieces (if so, please share!)

Until next time- Ciao!

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