Why we love Silk Noil (aka Raw Silk)!

raw silk noil
Some of the raw silk colorways we carry at Confident Stitch

At Confident Stitch we try to carry fashion fabrics that are not only unique and high-quality but easy to care for and fairly priced.

We adore silk. It’s strong, durable, breathable, and very warm! But it can be spendy and difficult to sew with, so we’re selective about what types of silk we carry. Our favorite, most consistently stocked silk substrate is called Silk Noil, also known as Raw Silk.

Before we discuss what Silk Noil is however, we need to talk a little about how silk, in general, is made!

A brief discussion of a long history

As you may or may not know, the cultivation of silk (also called ‘sericulture’) is an incredibly old and fascinating process! Originating in China in 2640 B.C., the legend goes that an Empress accidentally dropped a silkworm’s cocoon into boiling water, causing it to unravel. The continuous strand of silk was then reeled and woven into the luxurious textile we still love today.

China maintained the secret of this manufacturing process for around 3,000 years until, in 552 A.D., a pair of monks smuggled two silk cocoons to, then, Constantinople! Sericulture then spread through Europe, even making its way to America in the 1800s. However, to this day, China continues to be the leading producer of silk because the cultivation of healthy silkworms and high-quality silk requires a very specific environment.

silk cocoon unwinding
The silk cocoon unwinding process. The cocoons soak in hot water below to remove sericin. Photo cred: Silk Production is Wuzhen article.

So, what is Silk Noil?

When we hear the word ‘silk’, what usually comes to mind is a sleek and slippery textile. Silk of this texture is created by weaving a continuous strand of the aforementioned ‘reeled’ cocoon silk. By contrast Silk Noil employs the short, discontinuous ‘waste fibers’ that come from the inner part of a cocoon. When woven together, these small, broken fibers create a nubby, matte silk that feels like a buttery cotton or linen.

Side note: Silk Noil and Raw Silk are different names for the same fabric. However, ‘raw’ as a descriptor of this textile is somewhat misleading. True raw silk fibers have not been cleaned of sericin – the natural gum that holds a cocoon together. Silk Noil, like it’s slippery cousin, has been boiled and washed. So the term ‘Raw Silk’ when used in place of Silk Noil, is really a reference to the rustic, slubby texture – not the unwashed state – of the silk fibers

The Positives

Given the delicate, time-consuming process (not to mention the cost of overseas shipping) it’s no surprise that high-quality charmeuse or China silk is a more expensive, ranging anywhere from $30 to $80 a yard. Alternatively, Raw Silk tends to lie in the $20 to $30 range, and – though it lacks the slippery smooth texture of other substrates – it possesses most of the other wonderful qualities that silk is known for!

It breathes well, wicks away moisture from the body, and comes in lots of colors. It’s also durable, warm, feels comfortable next to the skin, AND, best of all, the slubby texture makes it much easier to sew with than its slippery counterparts!

What to make?

Silk Noil is what you might call an ‘everyday silk’. Though still luxurious, it’s a fabric that resists wrinkles and travels well. It can be machine washed and dried, and used for a broad variety garments (jackets, tops, dresses, pants, etc.)! Plus, it’s a good choice for sewing beginners, and it caters to all kinds of tastes and lifestyles!

As you can see, Bonnie has used it to make a fabulous Jasika Blazer and Webster Dress, Kate whipped up a pair of Arenite Pants with it, and Maisie chose to make a very simple Ogden Cami. No matter the occasion, this fabric  works perfectly!

One thing to keep in mind, Silk Noil is a clingy fabric, which means, if you choose to make a loose or drapey garment, the Raw Silk will hug your shape in a way that a linen or cotton of similar weight would not. If you’d rather not have your fabric cling to you, no problem! Just stick to more structured or fitted garments (like the Jasika, or maybe an Evelyn Dress!) when using Raw Silk.  

A quick note on care

As with most non-synthetic fabrics, Silk Noil will shrink and, thus, needs to be prewashed and dried before you sew with it. We’ve found that washing and drying on warm works great. What’s more, prewashing and drying raw silk at this temperature will allow you to continue to wash Raw Silk garments in the same manner.

Alternatively, if you prefer a gentler washing method, you can hand-wash in warm water, roll in a towel to remove the excess moisture, and then line dry. Handwashing ensures that the silk will shrink less, but also prohibits you from machine washing in the future.

Raw, yet refined

All in all, Silk Noil is a unique and beautiful textile that we can’t recommend enough!

We recently started carrying a handful of modern patterns from Friday Pattern Co., and think that a Raw Silk Heather Blazer for fall would be just the thing. Chic and warm, it’s the perfect outer-layer!

Friday Pattern Company's Heather Blazer pattern sitting on raw silk
Friday Pattern Company’s Heather Blazer pattern

To learn more about what it’s like to sew different garments with this textile, check out our Silk Noil blog collection here.

Happy Sewing!

Sources:

All About Silk, A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook. Parker, Julie. 1991. Rain City Publishing, Seattle, WA.

5 thoughts on “Why we love Silk Noil (aka Raw Silk)!

  1. Stephanie Costello says:

    What a great blog post. I would never have considered sewing anything with silk. Now you have me thinking really hard about making a dress or top. I love these articles. I don’t live near a sewing or quilting shop so these drops in my inbox are very refreshing and inspiring. Thanks Arlo.

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