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How to Choose the Right Silk Yarn for Your Next Project

  • 8 min read
sik boucle swiss mountain silk
Image of silk boucle yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk yarn production originated in China around 2640 BC. China maintained their monopoly over major silk production for thousands of years. Eventually, after the opening of the Silk Road, silk production also started in other Asian counties, such as India, Thailand, and Korea.

Today, silk is produced in many parts of the world and is seen as the epitome of luxury because of its high production costs, incredibly soft feel, and effortlessly elegant appearance when woven or knitted into fabrics.

What are the Different Types of Silk Yarn?

There are several kinds of silk from different corners of the world. Different species of silk moths produce different kinds of silk and there are also many different types of silk yarn depending on its quality and how it was made.

mulberry silk yarn swiss mountain silk
Mulberry Spun Silk from Swiss Mountain Silk

Varieties of Silks

Silk is fibre from an animal that is in filament form and has been secreted from its body. Moths, molluscs and spiders all produce silk fibres. The most common silk fibres are derived from domesticated moths, the Bombyx mori(Mulberry silk). The chart below shows the different types of silks available along with the common yarn terminology.

Silk yarn explained
Chart showing the different silk varieties and silk yarn types. © Thread Collective

Mulberry Silk

Mulberry silk is the most common and considered one of the highest quality silk. Silkworms or moth larvae (Bombyx mori) are raised in captivity and are fed with mulberry leaves. As the silkworms grow, they spin threads covered in a natural protein called sericin. Once the silkworms reach their final size, they secrete the thread into their cocoons. The resulting cocoons are spun into raw silk fibres.

Tussah Silk

Tussah silkhas historically been considered a wild silk variety, however, the silk from the Antheraea moth has become more commonly commercially available. Tussah has more texture than Mulberry silk and comes in shades of cream and golden browns. Tussah is normally kept in its natural state and its stiffer properties are sought after by many fabric manufacturers from around the world.

Eri Silk

Eri silk is derived from cocoons made by the Samia Cynthiamoth. This type of silk is 100% natural and is actually one of the four major silks being produced today. Mostly found in northeastern India, it is also considered wild silk.

Muga Silk

One of the rarest and most expensive types of silk derived from moths in the world. Muga silk is produced from muga silkworms (Antheraea Assamensis), which are endemic to Assam, India. The moth larvae feed on Machilus and Litsaea leaves. The silk produced by muga silkworms is highly regarded for its glossiness, fine texture, durability, and beautiful golden hue. Historically, muga silk was reserved for the use of royalty.

Spider/Sea Silk

Whilst we are talking about silk, any fibre filament secreted from an animal is technically referred to as silk. Silk from spiders and sea silk (from Mollusks) is extremely rare, expensive and not commercially available.

What is the term Peace Silk mean?

Traditional silk involves the boiling of the silk cocoons, whereas ‘peace silk’ is harvested by carefully cutting open the cacoons allowing the adult moth to emerge prior to processing.

Types of Silk Yarns

Swiss Mountain Silk varieties
A range of yarns from Swiss Mountain Silk

Reeled/Filament Silk

Reel or filament silk is the single filament fibre that is sourced from the silk cocoon. Unlike other natural fibres (such as cotton/wool/linen) which are shorter in length, a silk filament is a single continuous thread. These single filament threads are very fragile and are plied together.
Reeled silk yarn comes in varying counts to identify its thickness. Reeled silk can be plied together (often with a very light twist.) The yarn count and the number of strands (e.g. Nm 16/2, Nm 20/2, Nm 6/3) are calculated in the same way as other silk yarns.

Spun (Schappe) silk

Spun silk comes from the leftover shorter silk filaments from classic reeled silk production. Basically, fibre from damaged cocoons or extra bits of fibre during production is spun to create yarn. This spinning process is similar to that of other natural fibres. While it is technically silk waste, the quality is considered extremely high quality.

Spun Schappe silk yarns are the most common silk yarns. Spun silk from the Swiss Mountain Silkmill is considered to be among the highest quality in the world. The term Schappe refers to the smooth finish that is associated with the term spun silk. Spun Schappe silk yarns offer durability, strength, and luscious shine. The term spun silk is now commonly used to identify Schappe's smooth finish. Thread Collective offers schappe silk is available in sizes from Nm 60/2 through to Nm 5/2.

Silk Noil

Silk noil is spun silk that comes from the shorter tangled fibres of silk that are removed during the combing process and then separately spun into yarn. Silk noil is characteristically nubby and not as strong as schappe spun silk. Silk noil offers wonderful texture in projects and when several batches of waste are spun together you achieve a beautiful tweed effect, ITO Kinuis one of my favourite noil silks.

Silk neps from Swiss Mountain silk is an extremely textured yarn that has been spun with knotted and tangled fibres. Unlike the silk noil which has a slight nubby appearance, the neps are very uneven and provide amazing texture in wefts.

Flamme (Slub) silk

Flamme silk yarn has a slight slub effect and a stunning lustre. Flamme is often considered a type of novelty yarn. Flamme can be spun as a single or plied together with other yarns. At Thread Collective we stock the Swiss Mountain Silk Flamme spun silk Nm 10/1. It is a single-ply yarn and great for wefts and core spinning.

Silk Boucle

Boucle is a form of novelty yarn that is made from plying two threads together with different textures. The silk boucle from Swiss Mountain Silk is a looped boucle that offers texture in projects but is more light and airy than textured neps.

Recycled Sari silk

Recycled Sari silk yarn is derived from the remnants of Sari materials left over from making Saris or from used Saris. Sari, also called Saree, is a traditional garment worn by women in India. Recycled Sari silk yarn can be used in a variety of knitting and crochet projects, as well as in jewellery making.

What are the benefits of using silk yarn?

Silk yarn can be used to create fabrics that can be worn throughout the year, in different climates. Clothes made from silk yarn will help cool you down during hot summer days and help warm you up in the cold winter. Silk yarn is such versatile material to use in fabric making because of its many benefits.

Here are some of the great characteristics of silk yarn:

  • Silk is strong and durable. It is great to use in weaving and knitting a variety of fabrics, which includes lightweight dresses, skirts, tops, shawls, and even cushions and beddings.
  • Silk is smooth, has a rich lustre, and is not prone to pilling.
  • Silk has a beautiful drape and luxurious feel that's why it's great to use for clothing.

Can silk yarn be dyed?

Yes, silk yarn can be dyed using fibre reactive and acid dyes. It can be dyed in many different ways and can be blended with other fibres to create beautiful effects.

How Do You Choose the Right Silk Yarn for Your Project?

Silk yarn is a wonderful choice for many projects, but it can be quite challenging to choose the right one for your project. There are so many different types of silk and they all have their own characteristics.

Here are some points that could help you choose the right silk yarn:

Yarn weight - The weight of the silk yarn you choose must suit the specific project you have in mind. The thickness of your yarn will greatly affect how the finished product would look.

Silk is measured using the Nm metric system which means silk is measured by dividing the number of meters of yarn by the g/kg. The first number refers to the size of the yarn and the second the number of ply. The higher the number the finer the yarn (a 60/2 is much finer than a 8/2).

Here are a few examples;

  • Nm 10/1 has 10000m/kg of yarn.
  • Nm 60/2 has 60,000m/kg however as the 2 refers to the number of ply the 60,000 is divided by the 2 ply so a Nm 60/2 has 30,000m/kg.
  • Nm 12/3 has 12,000m/kg however as the 3 refers to the number of ply the 12,000 is divided by the 3 ply so a Nm 12/3 has 4,000m/kg.

Blended Silk Yarns

With the right combination, silk blend yarns can provide a harmonious marriage between the lustrous drape and sheen of silk and the elasticity and added durability of another material. Here are some of the best silk blend yarns available today.

Silk and Wool

Silk actually shares many characteristics with wool, and when these two fibres are mixed together they create a beautiful fabric. It’s an excellent fibre for knitting and textile crafts. More durable and warmer than pure silk, silk and wool blend yarn is great for making lightweight jackets, suits, and accessories.

Silk and wool blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk
Nm 5/2 Silk and wool blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Alpaca

The combination of silk and alpaca produces soft and durable yarns. The silk adds a beautiful shiny look to the yarn and combined with the warm, long-staple alpaca fibres, it makes the yarn extra strong.

Silk and Seacell blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and Alpaca blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Seacell

The combination of silk and Seacell produces an extremely soft yet amazingly strong yarn that has an incredible lustre and drape, making it a perfect yarn choice for several weaving projects.

Silk and Seacell blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk
Nm 12/3 Silk and Seacell blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Baby Camel

A premium yarn that is super soft, lightweight, and has a gorgeous golden hue. Silk and baby camel blend yarn create heirloom-quality weaving, knitting, and crochet projects.

Silk and baby camel blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and baby camel blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Cashmere

Silk and cashmere blend together very well. The combination of silk and cashmere creates beautifully soft, breathable, and lightweight yarns considered the pinnacle of silk blends.

Silk and cashmere blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and cashmere blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Mohair

ITO’s Sensai is a ply of mulberry silk and mohair. This yarn is strong and lofty. Perfect for knitting and wefts.

ITO Silk and Mohair blend Sensai
ITO Sensai Mohair and Silk blend

Silk and Linen

Silk and linen blend yarns are soft and strong. Even though linen yarn is known to produce slightly stiff and crisp fabric, the silk adds a soft drape, giving the finished project a unique appearance.

Silk and linen blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and linen blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Cotton

The perfect partnership of silk and cotton results in a yarn that is soft with a delicate lustre, but very durable. It is great to use in making various clothing items, including tops and undergarments.

Silk and cotton blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and cotton blend yarn from Swiss Mountain Silk.

Silk and Bamboo

Silk and bamboo blend yarns are incredibly soft, warm, lofty and lightweight, making them ideal for a wide range of garments and accessories.

Silk and bamboo blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk
Silk and bamboo blend yarn by Swiss Mountain Silk.

Enjoy Making Your Next Project with Silk Yarn

Now that you have an idea of the different types of silk yarns and silk blends, it's time to pick the silk yarn that suits the exciting project you have in mind. Feel free to browse Thread Collective and see our extensive range of silk yarns available.

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