Silk is the top of the fabric ladder, at least in some people’s eyes. Efforts are always made to create a fabric that resembles silk without costing as much as that natural material. Fabrics that are said to be alternatives to silk are not alternatives if they are made from silk fibers.
Try as they might it is very difficult to create a fabric that can compete with silk and have silk-like qualities.
What fabric is similar to silk? The most famous and most common alternative is rayon. It was specifically made to mimic silk fibers and bring the cost of different gowns down without sacrificing that silk feeling and texture.
To learn more about different silk fabric alternatives just continue to read our article. It explores this topic and comes up with a few surprise fabrics. We are not including weave styles unless they are made from fibers other than silk. Silk is not a silk alternative.
There are 2 in-between fabrics that are called in-between because they are both natural and synthetic in nature. Rayon is the one fabric that was specifically invented to mimic silk.
It does mimic this material even in its delicate characteristics and it may be hard to clean. Then there is what is called art silk, which is made from both bamboo fibers and lots of chemical processing. the material has silk-like qualities and is a lot like rayon.
Then for a natural alternative, you can turn to a plant that has been used for clothing for 6,000 years. We are not talking about cotton, hemp, or linen but ramie. Found mostly in the Philippines and other southeastern Asian countries the fibers of this plant are like raw silk when woven correctly.
Lotus silk is another good alternative and it is a very rare thread or fiber. The fibers are made from the stems of the lotus flower and they are very breathable, soft, and light when woven into a nice fabric. They also come in different colors.
2 more alternatives are spider silk and cupro and yes the former is made from real spider webbing from the golden silk orb-weaver spider. The latter is made from recycled cotton and lots of chemicals and it can be toxic if you are not careful.
There are a lot of weave methods out there that produce materials that are silk-like in quality, texture, and comfort, as well as looks. But a majority of those weave patterns use silk fibers. There is silk organza, chiffon, velvet, satin, and even shantung silk weaves.
Then some of these weave methods blend silk with other fabrics that are not silk-like but the blend keeps the silk feel and look. These are not real silk alternatives but a different way of using the silk fiber and making great clothing.
Some synthetic fibers were created to mimic silk and cut the cost of fabrics down to size. One of those examples is nylon. You may not believe that but that was the reason DuPont created nylon in the first place.
There may be a few polyester varieties that are designed to mimic silk as well but they are either not well known or are not talked about that much. rayon is the one that is most talked about when it comes to finding a silk alternative.
To end any confusion that may have arisen, there are a lot of well-known weave methods that use silk in them to produce different clothing and fabric looks. These methods are what may be in your mind when you are thinking of silk alternatives.
As you can see, there are not a lot of fabrics that are like silk no matter which category you look in to find them. here are some of the different fabric styles and weaves that include silk:
- Crepe de Chine
- Duchess satin
This is not a full list of weave styles and fabric options that include silk. There are at least 50 options you can choose from and all 50 can be quite expensive when they include silk fibers in their construction.
Then there are multiple silk varieties under the Japanese, Indian fabric versions as well as the many silk blends you can get. Those blends look like silk because silk is included in the construction of the material.
The top of this list will be satin and sateen. These weave styles help most fibers look like silk even though there are no silk fibers included in their construction. The glossy side is the side that has a silk-like appearance while the dull side doesn't have a very good silk-like look.
Polished cotton can often look like silk but that look is created through the many chemicals used to treat the cotton fibers. There is a polyester and cotton blend that is often mistaken for silk because of its look.
It is the sheen that comes with this blend that often confuses people looking for silk fabric. Along the same lines, there is shiny polyester velvet. If you do not look closely or twice at this fabric you may think it is silk.
When satin and sateen are made with rayon, then those weave styles produce silk look-alike materials. rayon is about the closest you can come to real silk without actually using real silk fibers.
Other silk look-alikes are Taffeta when it is made from polyester fibers and not real silk ones. Until you touch it, polished or patent leather may have a look similar to silk but the touch dispels that illusion rather quickly.
Cire would be another material that looks like silk yet it is made from nylon and doesn't have any silk fibers blended in. Finally, Lame or other metal fibers used to create luxurious-looking fabrics have a silk-like look to them.
This is a category that depends on the processing to make the fibers feel like silk. As you have read earlier, some of the silk-like alternatives use lots of chemicals in their processing to get that silk-like quality in them.
Tencel is a brand name but the fabric under that brand name is one prime example. But this material’s feel changes with the quality of the fabric and the thickness. So it may feel like silk in some renditions and like denim n others.
Rayon and its in-between counterpart Viscose feel like silk with the latter one often feeling more like cotton than it will silk. Some top-quality kinds of cotton, like Egyptian, Pima, or similar options, can have a silk-like feel because they are so soft.
The exotic wool variations may be processed in a way to have a silk-like feel but these are rare as it is hard to mimic the feel of silk. Then there are Modal and Micro-modal that will have a silk-like feel in some qualities.
We can’t forget some synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. In some forms, they are very silk-like when you touch them. Everything depends on the process that makes the different fabrics if they will feel like silk or not.
Sometimes, you just have to go to the fabric section of the store and test each one to see which one feels like silk but does not come with that high silk cost.
One fabric you should have heard about is Microfiber. When it is made into its wrapped microfiber form it is said to have fibers finer than silk. The diameter of this fiber is 1/5th the size of human hair.
When you get into styles like Batiste and Voile, you are getting into fibers that are finer than silk ones. It won’t matter which fabric fiber you use as the material calls for very fine fibers to be used.
Getting back to microfiber for a moment, this is a term that is generically applied. It stands for every synthetic fiber that is actually finer than silk. Fleece microfiber will be finer than silk fibers as would polyester microfibers.
Sometimes the names of the fibers do not tell the whole story nor pinpoint specific materials. You may even find some wool varieties that would be considered finer than silk but those would be as expensive as silk is.
It is hard to beat the fineness of silk without a lot of chemicals and processing. Most synthetic fibers can be spun into any diameter the manufacturer wants to have. Natural fibers tend not to be thinner than silk but that is the nature of the plant or animal that grows those natural fibers.
It may take some work but it is pretty hard to beat the fineness of silk and have it look and feel like silk does. Most synthetics have a more artificial feel to them which helps you tell the difference when you can’t tell by looking at the materials.
Yes, there are about 6 vegan silk fibers and fabrics you can purchase. The first one is at the top of most people’s lists and is called Cupro. This is a fabric made from recycled cotton.
This is good for the environment except for copper, ammonia, and caustic soda are part of the processing, and these chemicals are seen as very toxic when disposed of in incorrect manners.
The next vegan silk fabric would be spider silk and we gave the name of the spider that so willfully contributes to this material. However, it is said to be the rarest of all-vegan silk fibers.
That means it will cost you a lot of money as one 11 foot by 4-foot piece costs around $300,000. Yes, you read that right. It also took 5 years to make. After this rare silk option comes Lotus silk.
It is also rare and only the stems are used to make this fiber. But the good point is that it does not wrinkle that much, it is very breathable and soft. Another good point is that it does not need finishing chemicals or toxic materials to make this fabric. 6,500 stems are needed to make one piece of fabric.
Art silk is made from bamboo fibers and unfortunately, lots of chemicals are needed to produce this vegan silk alternative. the feel is more like modal or rayon and not so much like silk.
Ramie has also been described earlier and like Lotus silk, it has been around for thousands of years. the plant is from the nettle family and it is quite a laborious process to make the vegan silk alternative. Its applications include dresses, blouses, wraps, and scarves.
Finally, there is orange or citrus silk. This fiber is actually made from discarded orange skins that were used to make orange juice. Unlike Ramie and Lotus silks, this version has not been around for very long and only started to become popular around 2019.
When you are looking for an alternative to silk, you may be disappointed. There is nothing like the real thing and the few alternatives may come close but also may be as expensive as silk is.
The rare spider silk is more expensive than silk so it may be best to avoid some of the alternatives and stick to the real thing. That way you know you are getting silk and not some wannabe silk-like fabric.