When looking to buy a set of luxury bedding, or even a silky smooth dressing gown that is worthy of your self-care routine, silk or satin is usually the fabric of choice. Yet, when browsing the internet to make a purchase, you’re bound to stumble upon a confusing choice of silk-like fabrics. Satin vs silk, satin vs sateen, Mulberry silk vs Charmeuse satin… the choices feel endless and let’s be honest, can be downright bewildering! All share a similar lustrous appearance, so why are the prices so different? And what is the true difference between silk and satin – if any at all!
Although you may have heard the words ‘silk’ and ‘satin’ being used interchangeably – and admittedly they do share a similar appearance – they harbour a fundamental difference. Both silk and satin have their own list of benefits, with many often wondering which fabric works best for maintaining frizz-free hair and healthy looking skin. If you can relate, you won’t have to wonder any longer. We’re breaking down the unique traits of both silk and satin and highlighting the main differences between them, so that the next time you buy a silky item, you’ll be able to able to make an informed decision and choose the right fabric for you!
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A Dukes Avenue Guide to Satin vs Silk
What is Silk?
Derived from a few varieties of insects and arachnids, silk is essentially a type of protein which these tiny, and truly marvellous creatures produce to build cocoons and webs. Silk production was first developed by the ancient civilisation of China, where they discovered that a silkworm’s cocoon could be reeled off, spun, and woven into the beautiful and durable fabric we now call silk.
Different Types of Silk
Since silk fibres can be derived from different sources and produced by various means, there are actually different types of silk to be found on the market. Here are the ones that you need to know about:
- Mulberry Silk. Regarded as the finest amongst all varieties of silk, Mulberry silk is the most popular and widely produced type of silk in the world. Harvested from the Bombyx mori moth, these silkworms feed solely on Mulberry leaves resulting in superior pure white silk threads that are longer and stronger, resulting in a particularly polished and even type of fabric. Furthermore, mulberry generates a form of natural protein called sericin which is naturally antibacterial and has been credited with healing properties. Unsurprisingly, Mulberry silk forms 90% of all the silk products produced, raging from luxury bedding to the finest dressing gowns.
- Spider Silk. Unlike Mulberry silk, spider silk is spun by spiders to form complex webs meant to capture their prey. Surprisingly, these silk strands are so strong that they rival the power of steel whilst remaining conveniently lightweight. The only downfall with this type of silk is that it is particularly difficult to extract and process, rendering it rare and expensive.
- Sea Silk. Unlike Mulberry and spider silk, sea silk is not produced by any species of insects found on land but by a rare type of mollusc – known as the ‘Pinna nobilis’ – which has, unfortunately been threatened with extinction. Being a difficult to find raw material which is mainly harvested and produced in Sardinia, sea silk is an incredibly rare commodity with a sky-high price tag.
- Tasar Silk (also Tussah silk or Tussar Silk). Produced by a variety of species of silkworm all belonging to the moth family, Tasar silk has a natural golden hue and a more textured quality when compared to Mulberry silk. Being less soft to the touch and considerably less durable, Tasar silk is usually overlooked in favour of Mulberry silk, but garments and bedding may still be found in this type of silk.
- Eri Eilk (Assam Silk). Eri Silk is produced by a specific species of caterpillar found in North East India, and parts of China and Japan. Its thicker composition gives it superior thermal powers providing insulation that keeps the body warm in winter and cool in summer. That said, its elasticity and weightier strands do not usually make this the silk-type of choice. Nonetheless, its distinct ‘wool-like’ quality blends well with true wools and cotton, making Eri silk the go-to choice for silk blend fabrics.
- Muga Silk. Originating from Assam, India, Muga silk was once the blend of silk favoured by Indian royalty. Similarly to Mulberry silk, Muga silk is produced by a type of silkworm, but this variety is only found in Assam and fed aromatic som and sualu leaves. The result is silk which is distinctly golden in colour and just as soft as Mulberry silk.
- Art Silk (Bamboo Silk). Finally, amongst natural varieties of silk, one will inevitably encounter varieties of artificial silk – also referred to as bamboo silk – which is made from synthetic fibers. Despite resembling silk in appearance, synthetic silk lacks the natural benefits of pure silk and makes for a poor – albeit low-cost – substitute.
Whichever variety of silk is chosen, those precious strands must always be weaved into fabric, before it can finally be shaped into beautiful silk items – just like with wool garments! As the production of silk has evolved over time, there is now more than one method of weaving silk, each one achieving a different result. Here are some that you may already be familiar with!
- Charmeuse Silk. Also referred to as silk satin or satin silk, charmeuse is weaved in a way that gives it extra lustre on the front side and a matte finish on the back. The result is a soft and lightweight fabric which drapes well, making it the ideal silk weave for delicate and luxurious clothing.
- Crêpe de Chine Silk. Weaved by tightly twisting silk yarns, crêpe de chine silk is a soft, lightweight wrinkle-free fabric with a slightly grainy texture and a faded sheen.
- Silk Georgette. Silk Georgette is essentially a lightweight sheer silk that is often used as an alternative to chiffon (which is coming up below). Silk yarns are spun to produce a sheer, transparent, light fabric which does not crease but remains marginally coarse to the touch, whilst retaining a slight spring.
- Dupion Silk. Dupion silk is commonly known as raw silk and involves weaving together fine yarn in the warp and even yarn in the weft. This technique produces a textured and irregular appearance, resulting in a pretty two-toned effect with a dazzling sheen.
- Chiffon Silk. Chiffon boasts delicate and well-spaced out threads that result in a sheer fabric that many of us are familiar with. Unlike silk Georgette, chiffon silk remains decadently soft to the touch, as well as breathable. Its ability to flow gracefully, imparting an ethereal image, makes it a popular choice for wedding gowns and evening wear, as well as scarves and delicate blouses.
- Habotai Silk. Sometimes described as the ‘classic’ silk fabric, Habotai silk is plainly weaved to produce a very smooth fabric with a stunningly glossy finish. Soft and with a beautiful shimmer on both sides, Habotai silk is often used for fashion scarves, lingerie and flowy blouses for summer wardrobes.
What is Momme Count?
Even when using the same type of fabric with the same weaving style, difference in momme count is something one must look out for. Momme (mm) quantifies the density of silk fabrics by counting the amount of threads present in the fabric. Essentially, the higher the thread count, the more durable and luxurious the fabric will be (just like cotton).
Nevertheless, choosing silk with the highest momme count is not always advisable. For example, a 25mm silk fabric will certainly yield the most luxurious set of duvet covers – as well as matching fitted sheets and a comfortable flat sheet – but this material would be far too heavy for a cooling pyjama set!
What is Satin?
Unlike silk, satin is not a textile in and of itself. Instead, it refers to a unique style of weaving that uses a selection of synthetically made and/or natural threads, to produce a smooth and glossy fabric that closely resembles real silk. In short, silk can certainly be a satin, but satin may not necessarily include silk!
Interestingly, silk and satin share the same origins as, in ancient China, silk was traditionally made by means of a satin weave. Yet nowadays, modern satin is frequently made using polyester or rayon which – like pure Mulberry silk – can easily be manufactured to form long, continuous threads, such as the ones needed for a satin weave.
Regardless of the type of textile used, satin is characterised by an attractive glossy front and a muted matte back. It also has an attractive draping quality that does not crease and – with proper care – boasts excellent durability, thanks to its tautly woven fibres. As with silk, different types of satin may be found on the market, depending on the fibres used and the type of satin weaving method employed.
Satin vs Sateen
Due to the similarity in their names and lustrous appearance, satin and sateen are often mistakenly thought to be the same. Indeed, just like satin, sateen refers to a distinct weaving technique rather than a specific textile. Yet whilst satin is made from long continuous thread, sateen uses short fibres resulting in a thicker, heavier and warmer fabric that is more winter-appropriate than traditional satin. Naturally, polyester, rayon and nylon may certainly be used to create sateen, but 100% cotton is a more popular choice as this produces a high-quality material which looks as luxurious, as it is soft and comfortably breathable.
Difference Between Satin and Silk
Ultimately, the true difference between silk and satin is that silk is a natural fiber fabric, sourced from the larvae of a variety of insects, predominantly moths. On the other hand, satin is a weave – a weave that can be used when spinning a number of different natural or synthetic fibres, including silk, rayon, nylon, cotton and more! It is this weave that results in satin fabric having an ultra smooth glossy appearance on the front, and a duller, rougher appearance at the back, whereas silk has the same look and feel on either side of the fabric.
Of course, the difference between the two is reflected in the difference in price, and choosing whether silk or satin is ideal for you ultimately depends on your budget, and more importantly, what you need it for! Here are some Dukes Avenue recommendations for anyone that might be a bit lost as to whether to buy silk or satin.
Dukes Avenue Recommends: Silk vs Satin
Bedding: the question of silk vs satin often comes up when it comes to bedding, and choosing which of the two is best for your bedroom. When it comes to bedding, silk bedding is highly recommended over satin, particularly for regulating temperature and fighting allergies – remember that silk is naturally antibacterial!
As with everything, there is always a ‘but‘. Whilst silk maybe be optimal for your comfort, it is of course much more expensive and can be difficult to maintain – it should be dry cleaned rather than machine washed to avoid the risk of ruining the fabric! If silk falls out side of your price range or the thought of sending it out for weekly dry cleaning puts you off, why not try Egyptian cotton instead? Egyptian cotton is the highest quality yarn available, is great at insulating, can be machine washed and is a little less expensive than silk!
Pillowcases: the exception when it comes to bedding, however, is the pillowcase. If investing in an entire set of silk bed linen is not an option, you may want to consider trying a silk pillowcase alone. This will work out far less costly, and your face and hair will stand to reap the all benefits of silk pillowcases including the prevention of wrinkles and frizzy curly hair, whilst improving hair and skin hydration. Be sure to give our article on silk vs satin pillowcases a read too!
Pyjamas and Dressing Gowns: this one is really down to personal preference. If you prefer all natural nightwear, then silk is definitely the fabric you’re looking for. If you have no preference as to whether the fabric is natural or manmade, it then boils down to the appearance and budget.
Satin can have more of a rich, thicker feel to it so may breathe a little less than you would like it to. It also appears differently on each side of the fabric, with one side being more glossy and the other having a more matte appearance. On the other hand, silk has the same appearance on either side, and is more fluid and breathable. Lastly, silk is great at absorbing humidity and moisture, so will absorb any sweat produced whilst you sleep. For these reasons, we personally prefer silk for any pyjamas, luxury dressing gowns or any kind comfy clothing for the evening.
Shirts: when it comes to shirts, or any other item of clothing, whether you prefer silk or satin is all down to personal preference. For the many reasons already listed, silk is by far the premium option, yet anyone looking for a smart shirt that can be easily washed in a washing machine (instead of having to be dry cleaned or handwashed) should go for satin. Whether satin or silk, both can help in making you feel more polished.
Accessories: when it comes to accessories, satin is perfect when simply looking for a fashion accessory like a clutch bag or silky-looking shoes. The same smart effect is achieved, whilst benefitting from the superior strength of synthetic fibres, and not to mention, easier to clean!
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