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How to identify real silk

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Fashion - Ask Questions Get Answers' started by Strumpets Bazaar, Apr 24, 2012.

  1. Strumpets Bazaar

    Strumpets Bazaar Registered Guest

    I have a Liberty of London dress ready for my shop and really can't decide whether it is silk or not. Anyone got any foolproof ways of identifying real silk? I've read a little about the burn test but before I see whether there's a bit of fabric I can snip out has anyone got any other ways of telling? Thanks, Jayne.
  2. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

    I would have to say that your best bet is the burn test.
  3. vivavintageclothing

    vivavintageclothing VFG Member

    If you have a steamer, steam for a second or two and then smell the fabric. I can always tell real silk by the particular smell that it has when it is warm from being steamed...no burning necessary if you recognize it. Maybe you can compare with an item that you know for certain is silk?
  4. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

    Amy, that's an interesting point...can you say what you find it smells like...sweet, etc?
  5. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix VFG Member

    I agree that the burn test is the best way. You only need a teensy tiny snippet of fabric or even a few threads from the inner selvage....just don't use a match as that adds another scent to the smoke and can alter your nose's ability to discern the burning hair aroma from the silk. I use the gas flame from my stove burner, or a clean unscented candle or lighter. If you don't have a good nose, try the steam or another method. I like the seam method too, but take care not to get the silk water spotted or water marked. Good luck.

    Is this an antique gown and when is it from?
  6. I was going to say exactly the same thing!!

    It has a very distinct smell. Hard to explain, but it's a dry smell that kind of tickles the back of my throat. It's always very apparent to me when I'm steaming either wool or silk.
  7. EndlessAlley

    EndlessAlley Alumni

    Gosh, I never thought about the smell created from a match flame effecting the results when doing a burn test. No wonder I could never discern the smell of wools, silks, etc. Great information... thank you.:)
  8. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

    I know what you mean about the wool smell, Amber...I will have to check out the silk steamer thing though, now I am very intrigued.
    So we should also have a "steam smell chart" too!
  9. vivavintageclothing

    vivavintageclothing VFG Member

    A "smell chart" for vintage might include some less than lovely things...

    Amber, I can't put the particular scent of silk into words very well either, but I will say that vintage silk smells "better" to me than modern silk--not sure why though? :)
  10. Another vote for the burn test but other methods I use are by feel: it's cool to the touch, sometimes "slimy" depending on the type. I agree that comparing it to something that I know is silk can also help.

    There are so many types of silk, and some are easier than others: satin, twill, fuji, peachskin, raw and shantung are all weaves I find easy but georgette is hard. I've been meaning to set up a folder of fabric swatches because if I can't always tell, my staff and customers will be in trouble too!

    I always tell wool from the smell: I slightly wet a bit (using a spray gun or tissue), the smell is so strong. It also comes out when you iron it, as do most fabrics.
  11. Strumpets Bazaar

    Strumpets Bazaar Registered Guest

  12. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

    Jayne, that is a lovely dress and from the photos it looks like a watered silk / moire silk.
  13. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix VFG Member

    Hi again,

    I am in love with that dress. I don't see moire, I see a printed silk, but it is really beautiful and the construction is top notch. If only I had my waistline back.....
  14. Linn

    Linn Super Moderator Staff Member VFG Past President

    Beautiful dress! I agree with Barbara, I'm not seeing moiré, either - it looks like printed silk. I love the strip to avoid running your stockings!
  15. I see silk taffeta! Beautiful frock.
  16. MyVintageCocktail

    MyVintageCocktail VFG Member

    Yes, lovely dress! And I agree with Amy on the odor you get when you steam silk (wool, too).

    Also, I find that with older fabrics, silk is much easier to discern than with more modern ones. On those, with enough practice and handling of different types of silk, you'll generally be able to tell just by the feel and sometimes the look (for example, the slubs in a shantung or a raw silk will be much more irregular than in a shantung-look synthetic). Today, high-quality woven polyesters can be hard to tell from contemporary run-of-the-mill silks, but generally not so when you're dealing with 60s & 70s silk vs. woven poly. While rayon and silk can, depending on the weave, feel and look very similar, and a burn test is the "best" way to tell if you're not sure, you often can tell by feel and texture (especially in conjunction with the "steam" odor test!).
  17. thespectrum

    thespectrum VFG Member Staff Member

    To me, silk smells a little sweetish when steamed, it's hard to describe, but that's how I test if I can't do a burn test or if a burn test is inconclusive.
  18. Strumpets Bazaar

    Strumpets Bazaar Registered Guest

    OK - I've snipped a little scrap of fabric and done the burn test. It smelt of burning hair and the ash crumbled. No melting or bubbling. When I held the fabric just a little into the flame and removed it straight away it stopped burning by itself. Would you all agree this is how silk would react?
  19. Retro Ruth

    Retro Ruth VFG Member Staff Member

    Yes, that all says silk to me. The burning hair smell is the most characteristic aspect of silk in a burn test. The flame self-extinguishing is also typical.

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