An Alternative to Silk

I had a very interesting question emailed to me from a reader and I thought it was worthy of a post, especially as I posted about working with silk last week. “What’s an alternative to silk?” she asked.  She has her reasons and I think many others might as well for not wanting to work with silk and that’s fine. But what’s a good alternative? Silk has many, many wonderful properties which make it a great fiber for several different sewing projects, seasons and occasions. So what is a fabric that has some similar qualities, but perhaps isn’t as hard to work with, doesn’t harm silk worms and is plant derived instead?

georgette rayon from Fashion Fabrics Club

Well…..what about RAYON?! Let’s have a chat about rayon. Rayon is a terribly cool fiber and personally for my money, if I was concerned about the above silk related issues rayon is a very good alternative to the queen of fiber herself (silk is queen, in my humble opinion). I’ve worked with rayon on a few different occasions and worn it on several. It’s so soft, has fantastic drape, is usually reasonbly priced (at least the ones they make nowdays, vintage 40’s rayon is terribly expensive at the moment) and not too bad to handle, work with and sew up. It’s also breathable. This is my biggest beef with synthetic fibers. Wearing a polyester top in the dead of Utah heat, which can be an almost unbearable 100+ degrees, leaves you hotter than ever with a blouse that just ends up sticking to your sweaty skin. It’s a dry climate here too, so I can’t imagine what polyester does in a humid climate. Ugh!

funkadelic paisley jersey from Gorgeous Fabrics

Rayon is a semi-synthetic. What does that mean? Rayon is produced from cellulose which is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, however the compound undergoes extensive processing to become the fabric rayon.

rayon organza from Fashion Fabrics Club

And rayon comes in many different weaves and types. There’s challis, probably the most popular, suiting, jersey, shantung, organza, shirting, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. What’s more, it can be rather successfully mixed with other fibers, such as linen, wool, even silk and lend a certain drapability to those fabrics if needed.

Being as its nearing on the rayon season here in the States, this fiber is at a peak too. Perfect timing to start, perhaps getting in the groove with a Shift Dress, don’t you think? Speaking of which, tomorrow, I’ve got a shift dress muslin to show you. I’m terribly excited to have a shift dress. Might even have to make up two, just because I’m thinking now I need a rayon one too!

Happy fabric hunting!




10 thoughts on “An Alternative to Silk

  1. I like Rayon (it’s mainly called Viscose here in the UK). It irons/presses well – but any skirts I’ve worn in it tend to get terribly creased from sitting around in it at work. So, therefore I prefer it as a blend with cotton – however I suppose that would make it less likely to share properties with silk if mixed with the coarser fibres of cotton I guess?
    🙂 Claire

  2. I love rayon as well, especially for hot Savannah summers. It’s not my favorite thing to sew, as my machine has a harder time with it than, say linen…but there are such a great variety of colors and patterns in rayon. I’ve never thought about it as an alternative to silk, as I’ve never sewn (or worn) silk, so I found the comparison very interesting!

  3. Rayon is a lovely alternative in the hotter climates if you don’t like silk.
    I would like to add my thoughts on the issues that many have with silk. In that you have to boil the pods with the silk worms still in them. For my understanding it is a fairly quick thing as they have to start with the water boiling hot. Second, silk worms might be considered a pest and people would try to wipe them out if it weren’t for the properties of their cocoons. So in essence, the usefulness of the species has kept it thriving this long. We are COMPELLED to raise them and in essence this very quality we kill them for is the same one that has perpetuated the species.
    And habotai is always a good alternative as it isn’t made until after the silk worms come out of their cocoon as moths.

  4. I love rayon – my favourite! Soft like cotton, drapey like silk, and cool and comfortable in the hot summer. A great alternative to silk and often cheaper, too!

  5. Rayon is an excellent alternative to silk. I use it quite a lot since it’s both cool in the Florida heat and humidity, and the care tends to be a bit less upkeep than silk. (Let’s put it this way: I don’t wear my silk garments as often as I do rayon ones!) I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased that rayon seems to be making somewhat of a comeback in some of the larger fabric retailers, which has meant it’s easier to find than it was a few years ago. Silk is my luxury fabric and rayon is the workhorse! 🙂
    ♥ Casey

  6. Soy silk. This material feels just like it sounds, silky, and is derived from the waste used in making tofu. The soy protein is extracted and the fibers are forced out, then cut just as typical fabric would be. Soy silk is very receptive to dyes, requiring fewer chemicals.

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