silkworm-cocoons1-530x397Chapter 7 – Silk and the Faux Silks

It’s not just choosing the right color, anymore. There are now dozens of kinds of fibers in residential carpet. How do you decide what’s best for you?

Silk yarn makes the most beautiful, durable – yet in some ways delicate – rugs and broadloom. Just like with apparel, interior fabrics and linens, being made from real silk is a sign of quality and high fashion. Real silk, of course, comes from the silkworm; but did you know that it is spun by the worm as a covering for its cocoon, which generally is the size and shape of a small egg. When harvested, the cocoon “egg” is boiled in water, then a loose end is found and the silk is able to be unwound from the cocoon onto a spool in one, continuous strand without the fiber breaking – right down to the last inch. A strand of nylon that thin would snap over and over if it went through the same process. Then, a large number of silk fibers are spun together into thread or yarn.

Real silk has a unique luster, but it’s not really shiny. The dyed colors are rich and clear with a subtle glow. And its softness is unmatched by any other fiber. But silk can be tough to take care of; cleaning methods need to be delicate. The fiber is weaker when it’s wet and if stretched it won’t snap back. Direct sun can cause colors to fade and the fiber can break down. In spite of these issues, a well-made and well-kept silk rug can last for hundreds of years. Silk rugs have been found in tombs dating back as long as 2,500 years and are perfectly beautiful and usable.

P14220427Faux Silk: Many plant fibers can be processed to look and feel like silk. The most common fibers are cellulose-based (from wood pulp or cotton). Cellulose is the main source of paper. But to make fiber it is made into a liquid, called viscose, extruded into fibers (through a nozzle much like a shower head) that are then spun into yarn. The first artificial silk was Rayon. Another that has been around a long time is mercerized cotton. Many other plants are used as a source of cellulose to produce faux silk; such as bamboo grass, banana trees or soybeans.

Faux silk is also called banana silk, bamboo silk or “art silk”, short for artificial silk. All offer the look and feel of real silk but they are best used as accent colors or small parts of a design mainly because they are so ill-prepared to receive moisture. When dampened, the fibers swell up and “bloom”. They do not fully recover when dried and can be further distorted if rubbed when trying to dry them. From then on, those fibers will always look different than the surrounding fibers, usually darker as if they were soiled. Imagine leaving a sweat ring from a glass on a piece of paper. No amount of drying or blotting will make it disappear. The texture and apparent color in that spot will always be different than the rest of the paper. That’s what happens to faux silk when dampened.

0087bbd17a244d57e3b260977bf5cd13_largeWhile silk and faux silk have serious drawbacks with regard to getting wet, they do make for an elegant luster in parts of a carpet or rug; and they have a genuine softness that cannot be matched. For overall softness, if desired, the best use of silk or faux silk is to blend the fibers with wool – no less than 50% wool. This will create a very soft carpet or rug and the wool will protect the weaker fiber from showing color or textural change when dampened.

Fiber choice is just part of what makes a carpet or rug unique, durable or delicate, easy to clean or tough to take care of. Another important part of what makes it look or perform in different ways is how the carpet or rug is made – tufted, woven, knotted; is it loose or dense.

I hope to be able to talk about carpet and rug construction in another article.

Don PayneDon Payne has been a manufacturer’s rep since 1972. He opened Pacific Crest Mills and Camelback Sales Agency, a rep agency for residential & commercial flooring, in 1978. Don opened Floor Styles, a to-the-trade ONLY showroom, located in the Scottsdale Design District 1992. Presenting high-end floor coverings to designers, architects & floor dealers, Floor Styles has more than 16,000 individual samples of carpet, rugs, cork, wood, vinyl, rubber and leather floor products. You can reach Don at