Raw Silk Explained

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It’s still a bit chilly in San Francisco, but in anticipation of summer, I went ahead and picked up a raw silk grenadine by Drake’s last week. Michael Hill and his design team seem to be getting more adventurous these days, but I still think they achieve great success. This new design, for example, has a bit more texture than their regular raw silks – adding the slubbiness of raw silk to the textured weave of grenadine. This makes it look something like a summer version of boucle, which I really like. 

Alexander, that reader who kindly introduced me to the New York cloth merchant, explained to me last year that raw silk is simply silk that has not been chemically processed. You see, every silkworm extrudes two filaments when making its cocoon, and these fibers typically undergo a chemical processing to strip them of their bonding sericin. As a result of having their sericin left on, raw silk lacks the full luster and richness associated with the kinds of processed silk used for neckties. There also tends to be an unevenness in the yarns, as the two strands of filament are left bonded together, rather than being stripped and separated, which would yield an ultra-fine filament yarn that can be densely woven.

Note, this doesn’t mean that raw silk is necessarily organic, however, which is how it’s commonly advertised on some websites. Raw silk can still undergo several types of processing and finishing that are bad for the environment, and still be left “raw.”


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There’s a second type of material known as Tussah (seen above), which salespeople often mistakenly call raw silk. Tussah silk is cultivated by allowing silk worms to live on a wild diet rather than exclusively on mulberry leaves. It tends to have a slightly slubby quality similar to Dupioni, which is what leads it to being misidentified as raw silk. At Drake’s you can easily tell which is a Tussah silk tie by examining the weave - their Tussahs feel a bit delicate and are looser woven, whereas their raw silks are much denser.

Dupioni or duoppioni silk, on the other hand, is when two silk worms are left next to each other to create a strange double cocoon. Dupioni silk is almost always left raw in an effort to keep the multiple strands together and maintain their irregular yarn properties. I haven’t seen that many neckties made from Dupioni, but I’ve handled a couple vintage summer suits made from such material. They’re impossible to find nowadays new and off-the-rack, and are rarely available even through bespoke tailors, but A Suitable Wardrobe found a source for Dupioni through Jodek International (don’t expect prices to be cheap). You can see Dupioni’s qualities here, if you look very closely. 


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Anyway, that’s raw silk, in the best way it’s ever been explained to me. Drake’s new variety of raw silk grenadines at the moment can be found through Mr. Porter, Barney’s, and Drake’s website itself. They may or may not go on sale. I was afraid this one wouldn’t, which is why I bought early. Barney’s been having remarkably good sales at their Warehouse site, however, and things at the moment are discounted up to 75% off. That puts their remaining Drake’s ties at less than $50. The chances of a raw silk grenadine making it this far in a sale is slim, but that’s the game with discounts. 

Special thanks to Alexander, as always, for taking the time to write to me.

(Pictured below: Drake’s raw silk grenadine up close, two photos of a striped raw silk tie by Drake’s, and an upcoming dotted raw silk grenadine by Panta)


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