If you know the difference between different types of silk, you can quickly find the right one while buying silk products.
Charmeuse, light and elastic, is a familiar method of weaving silk fibres. Charmeuse weave is perhaps the most versatile type of silk fabric. Charmeuse offers a natural combination of features that makes it difficult to beat for many purposes, and it can be used from clothing to sleeping masks to bedding. You can look at charmeuse if you’ve ever seen silk with one shiny side and one dull side. Note: not all charmeuse is created equal. Charmeuse weave silk, created with a traditional narrow loom, offers a deeper, more luxurious fabric than modern and less expensive “seamless” charmeuse weave silk.
While charmeuse is not a type of silk, it is a familiar method of weaving silk fibres. Light and elastic, the charmeuse weave is perhaps the most versatile type of silk fabric. Used for everything from clothing to sleep masks to bedding, charmeuse offers a natural combination of features that makes it difficult to beat for many purposes. If you’ve ever seen silk with one shiny side and one dull side, you’re probably looking at charmeuse. However, remember that not all charmeuse is created equal. Charmeuse weave silk that is created using a traditional narrow loom offers a deeper, more luxurious fabric than modern and less expensive “seamless” charmeuse weave silk. If you like the traditional charmeuse weave and are looking for something truly luxurious, you’re going to want to look at.
Mulberry silk, named for the mulberry leaves the uniquely bred silkworms to feed on, is still charmeuse silk technically. The difference in silk quality comes from a unique kind of silkworms, cultivated for over 5000 years. Mulberry silk is the most sought and the finest silk in the world because of the careful breeding, strict diet, and attention to detail.
Mulberry silk is the long silk fibre produced by matured and domesticated silkworms when they secrete liquid silk, also known as “natural silk fibre”. It is the earliest animal fibre used by human beings as well as the most genuine silk fibre for all kinds of silk clothes, which is lightweight, soft, and absorptive of moisture. In addition, mulberry silk contains over 18 amino acids and protein fibres which is healthy for human skin and hair. For example, the hygroscopicity of the mulberry silk comforter is 1.5 times higher than that of cotton comforters. Besides, mulberry silk is pretty hypoallergenic, and as a consequence, many dermatologists recommend silk bedding and apparel for aged and sick people. Compared to other silk fibres, mulberry silk is more luxurious and breathable. It may not be that durable, but who’s going to use the same bedding for life?
If you know your high-end luxury goods, you know mulberry silk, named for the mulberry leaves the uniquely bred silkworms to feed on. Technically, this is still charmeuse silk, but the difference in silk quality comes from a unique kind of silkworms, cultivated for over 5000 years. The careful breeding, strict diet, and attention to detail makes this the most sought-after silk in bedding, and arguably the finest silk in the world. If you’re willing to invest in the finer things in life, mulberry silk is what you should aim for.
Habotai, medium-quality silk, sacrifices the durability of mulberry silk for a major cut in expense. Sand-wash a lower grade silk until it achieves a softness comparable to higher quality silks, making habotai silk. This process will damage the silk fibres. Thus, habotai lacks durability.
It is also known as China silk, Habutai, Pongee. The “classic” silk fabric, was first used to line kimonos, with plain-weave fabric. Its weight can range from 5 mm to the heavier 12 mm. Most scarves are made of 8mm Habotai. Soft and lightweight, Habotai silk is a kind of smooth fabric and has a beautiful drape and smooth surface.
This is medium-quality silk, sacrificing the durability of mulberry silk for a major cut in expense. The method behind producing habotai is quite simple; lower grade silk is sand-washed until it achieves a softness comparable to higher quality silks. This process damages the silk fibres, however, hence the relative lack of durability.
Duppoini is strong and pretty silk. But it is harsh to the touch. Duppoini silk is used as decorations. Duppoini lacks insulation quality, offering little protection against the elements.
Mid-range silk of another sort, dupion is strong, pretty, but harsh to the touch. This makes it useful for a broad range of applications where you don’t need to be in direct contact with the silk; decorations and the like. Duppoini also lacks in insulation quality, offering little protection against the elements—some companies produce duvets made of dupion silk, but these are largely decorative, not functional.
Duppoini silk is produced from two silkworms that spin a cocoon together. This makes strong double-thread silk, usually resulting in a rough yarn and irregularity in sheerness or weight. Black specks that occasionally appear in the fabric are part of the original cocoon of the silkworm. Removing them would both weaken the fabric and destroy part of its beauty and character. They are inherent to dupion silk fabric and should not be considered as defects in weaving. Hence, dupion silk is durable and lustrous and resists wrinkles to some extent.
Crêpe de Chine
A lightweight fabric that is made by mulberry silk fibres, where part of them are twisted clockwise and others in a counter-clockwise direction. These fibres are then woven in a plain-weave fabric. The twisted fibres give crêpe its distinctive ‘pebbly’ look and feel. It comes in many different varieties – crêpe de Chine, Moroccan crêpe, and crêpe georgette. It is comfortable and breathable and wrinkles easily at the rate of 8%.
A light, matt fabric made from fine twisted yarns, spaced out to make the fabric transparent. It is exceptionally soft and elastic, highly breathable and comfortable.
Dimension is added to garments by the creation of billows of fabric. Unless it is used for scarves, garments with chiffon typically require lining or backing.
A type of weave which mimics silk and provides an extremely soft touch. Sateen sheets can be made with many types of fabric, but cotton is the most popular.
Often called satin (which is, in fact, a type of weave used for many fibres, including silk), artificial silk, or art silk, this group of products includes rayon and nylon. While many are very comfortable, they do not have the same qualities as real silk.
Tussah silk, also known as ‘shantung,’ is a type of wild silk, that is produced by silkworms that feed on oak and juniper leaves.
As the worm is not grown in a controlled environment, the moth hatches from the cocoon and interrupts the filament length, resulting in short and coarse fibres, instead of long and lustrous ones. Usually, it is widespread in China and other Asian countries like India, difficult to dye and most often available in its natural colour, a creamy tan.
It is also lightweight and airy, as well as dressy, giving cool comfort to the wearer. Moreover, it does not wrinkle easily, which makes it suitable for travelling.
Tussah silk, collected from the wild, lacks consistent quality. However, on average, tussah silk is a harsher, less durable silk.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from mulberry silk, we find tussah silk—silk produced not by captive-bred silkworms but collected from the wild. This doesn’t mean tussah is necessarily bad silk, but rather that it lacks the consistent quality you’ll find from more careful production on silk farms. On average, this is going to be a harsher, less durable silk.
Why choose silk?
However, silk is the strongest natural fibre used for bedding, making it more durable than both cotton and linen. It’s so strong that it was the material of choice for parachutes up until World War II.
Long-strand silk is even more long-lasting: by carefully unravelling the silkworm cocoons so as not to break the individual strands, manufacturers can offer a premium fabric with fewer tear points. Synthetic fibres are slightly stronger than silk, but they will never be able to match silk’s other extraordinary qualities.
Despite its durability, silk can feel almost insubstantial and glides effortlessly on the skin. (Unlike sateen weaves and synthetic silks, real silk does not catch on feet, hands, or dry patches.) This quality makes silk part of many people’s beauty routine — its unique softness, and potentially the amino acids it contains, are kind to both hair and skin. Flyaways and frizziness are reduced, and curls are protected overnight when you use a silk pillowcase, and your skin will thank you for silk’s moisture-protecting and irritation-reducing qualities.
One reason why silk is a good choice for sensitive skin is that it is naturally hypoallergenic. Silk has been used for centuries in medicine as the thread to suture wounds because so few people react negatively to it.
Silk resists dust, fungus, and mould. Silk is also the fabric of choice for eczema and topical dermatitis sufferers, offering both cool comforts on the skin and less potential for irritation.
Finally, silk is a natural temperature regulator. Just as the silkworm’s dislike of mould benefits us, so too does its need for a cocoon which remains at a stable temperature. As bedding, silk is the best option for all seasons: cooling during the summer, and insulating during the winter.
Though it doesn’t have the “cozy” roughness of flannel, silk wicks away moisture and breathes easily while remaining at a perfect temperature against the skin, in cold weather, simply swap your summer duvet out for a warmer option.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Silk Sheets?
Pros of Silk Sheets
- Offers a lustrous, almost incandescent sheen which is unmatched by synthetic silk or other natural fibres. While sateen weaves look beautiful in their own right, silk has a glow other fabrics lack.
- Takes well to dyes, including both light and dark shades, and holds colour without fading when taken care of properly.
- They are made from natural fibres which are hypoallergenic and resistant to ambient allergens like dust, fungus, and mould.
- The strongest natural fibre used for bedding, beating both cotton and linen in tensile strength tests. Only slightly less durable than synthetics.
- Uniquely soft against the skin, reducing skin irritation and moisture loss. Also helps prevent bedhead and protect hairstyles due to hair not catching on the smooth fabric.
- Temperature-regulating, with good breathability and the ability to wick moisture from the skin. Remains cool in the summer while insulating well in the colder weather—an ideal all-season fabric.
- Can be machine-washed at home using cold water and the delicate (or gentle) cycle, though hand-washing is the better option for longevity.
- Does not shrink when used and cleaned correctly.
Cons of Silk Sheets
- Costly to manufacture (3000 cocoons must be carefully unwound to make one pound of silk fibre), making silk sheets one of the most expensive choices for bedding.
- Despite lasting for years, the high upfront cost can place them out of budget for many people.
- Since silk is produced by the domesticated silkworm, it is not considered a vegan product. Vegans, as well as vegetarians who avoid animal fibres, should consider our choice for the best silk alternative sheet set.
- Despite not being as difficult to care for as some people believe, silk still requires more care and attention than other fabrics. For example, it must be air-dried for best results and requires silk-safe detergents.
- Stains easily, and many common stain removal products are unsuitable for use with silk.
- Fades in the sunlight, and over time light colours may develop yellowing.
How to find the right silk sheets?
Unlike sheets made from sources like cotton, silk sheets do not come in a wide variety of weaves. Instead, most silk sheets have a similar texture and similar qualities, with the differences primarily in silk type/quality and momme weight. Along with these, here are some further considerations in choosing the right silk sheets for you.
Momme Weight Rating
Unlike other natural fibres, which are usually rated by thread count, silk uses what is known as the momme weight rating. A momme is a weight in pounds of a length of silk 100 yards long and 45 inches wide. This weight corresponds to the momme (mm) so that a 14-pound length of silk would be rated as 14mm.
While lighter momme weights are fine for clothing, bedding usually requires a higher rating. 19mm is considered the best weight for affordability, feel, and durability and all of our choices for silk sheet sets are 19mm.
As the momme rating increases, silk becomes more opaque, but silk sheets — particularly undyed ones — will always be slightly sheer. This is a feature of the fabric and does not affect its durability.
Fit, Color, and Pattern
Silk sheets do not shrink easily when taken care of properly. Silk sheet maintenance is covered in more detail below, but it’s important to know the three things to avoid in order for your silk sheets to stay the right size:
- Do not soak your sheets before washing. Doing so causes the individual fibres to change shape, losing some softness and leading to shrinkage.
- Use only cool water when washing your sheets.
- Hang to air-dry. Silk dries quickly, but if you live in a humid area, it’s worth having a different sheet set to use while your sheets dry.
Most sheet sets come in a range of standard sizes, so fit yours to your bed size. The main concern when choosing a fitted sheet is the depth of the “pocket”, which affects the mattress height it will fit. All of our choices above have extra-deep pockets, but before you make your purchase, it’s worth measuring your mattress to be sure.
Silk comes in a wide range of colours, as it takes dye well and complements it with a beautiful lustre. Some people prefer dark colours (which are more opaque and not prone to yellowing), while others like the cool sophistication of a classic white or other pale shades. Lighter colours are also less likely to fade from sunlight, so choose whatever fits your room and your aesthetic.
Patterns are uncommon in silk sheets, though some options are available. It’s more common to find sheets with embroidery on the edges, or the pillowcases only, though these tend to be more expensive than plain options.
All silk sheets are temperature-regulating and tend to be comfortable for cold or hot sleepers. However, some people do find that silk can be unpleasantly cool when first climbing into bed. If this is the case for you, consider also purchasing a heated mattress pad to use with your set.
Pure Silk vs. Blended Silk
While pure silk sheets are more common, blended fabrics are also available. Usually, primarily cotton with 25-30% silk, these sheets are usually less expensive and are closer to cotton sheets than silk. However, they are softer and tend to have a more flowing, less crisp texture.
Previously extremely pricey and difficult to find, organic silk is becoming accessible and more affordable as consumers begin demanding more environmentally-friendly bedding. You can still expect to pay a premium for high-quality organic silk, but by shopping around and waiting for sales, it’s possible to find a set to fit your budget.
Silk, whether artificial or organic, becomes friendlier when certified by Oeko-Tex. This is a standard certification that most textiles nowadays use. Any product that is at any processing stage can be certified by Oeko-Tex. An Oeko-Tex certification means that the fabric is completely free from heavy metals and additives.
The fabric does not use harmful flame retardants, and it’s 100% biodegradable. Moreover, the VOC emission is also minimal or non-existent.
What else should you consider when purchasing silk sheets?
Silk sheets are often quite similar, differing mostly in colour, weight, and silk type. So long as you choose a durable, high-quality sheet set, you can choose whichever sheets look and feel best to you. However, there are a few other concerns to keep in mind when shopping:
Number of pieces included in a set
Most silk sheets come as a set rather than individual pieces, and all of our choices include at least a fitted sheet and pillowcases. However, some sets do not include a flat sheet, and it’s important to double-check that you’re purchasing all the pieces you need.
Shipping and return policy
Although shipping is usually less for silk sheets than bulky items like a duvet, the additional cost can still come as a surprise. Check the shipping price before making a decision, and consider buying a set with free shipping if you’re close to the top of your budget. Return policies are also worth considering, particularly if you’re unsure whether silk sheets are right for you.
Since silk loses its finish/crispness after every wash, return policies can be pretty strict. Some manufacturers may allow returns if you have washed them once or twice. Other issues such as itching, rashes and the like all come under the return policy.
Shipping is no big deal. You can receive shipping in a clear cubic bag that contains all the pieces of Silk sheets wrapped up neatly. Since natural silk won’t off-gas, a break-in period won’t be necessary.
Some manufacturers and stores offer warranties on their silk bedding. Though most are limited, they still offer some peace of mind, given the cost of investing in silk. If you can’t find whether your choice of sheets comes with a warranty, look for the company’s help number or email to learn more.
Bed sheets made of silk generally have little to no warranty. As with returns, pieces that have been washed will not be accepted for refunds. Some companies provide a lifetime warranty on silk products. But those are pretty rare.
Silk blends and artificial silk has a longer lifespan. So these alternatives generally have a warranty extending two years or so. But if you stick to organic silk, then good luck, finding a decent warranty policy!
Silk is chosen mainly for beauty and aesthetic. However, some people with skin disorders use silk to reduce rashes and irritation. In the past, silk has always symbolized royalty and luxury. And even today, this costly material signifies abundance and richness.
One downside to using silk is that it can’t be dried in the tumbler or be left out in the heat for too long. And since it’s so glossy, any stains are pretty much visible. Now you know the different types and be guided in buying the right silk for you.