Silk is one of Thailand’s signature products and is regarded as being one of the highest qualities in the world. Thai silk is stronger and more durable for dying, thus producing a much wider variety of colours and patterns. These are woven into distinct fabrics which become beautiful garments long associated with Thai culture.
Thai silk has distinct characteristics which distinguish it from silk made in other countries. The style of silk production in Thailand is called mud mee, wherein every process is systematically and patiently done by hand.
In Phuket, silk is widely available in markets as bolts of fabric, or from tailors who are highly skilled at producing fine quality jackets, shirts, tunics and dresses at short notice. You can either pick up pieces of cheaper priced silk from vendors or arrange for a tailor to produce something from a selection of local or international designs they have patterns for.
The silk sold in Phuket comes from the north and northeast of Thailand where, for centuries, it has been woven by hand and is produced cheaply. Hand-woven silk has a distinctive feel to it and can be recognised by the tell-tale lumps that indicate the knots joining the strands of thread, which in the world of silk means it is of high quality. The silk itself is harvested from silkworms kept in farms on the Khorat Plateau in Isaan, where they thrive best. However, much of the weaving occurs in Chiang Mai and others province in northern Thailand.
When buying Thai silk, you must consider the following tips to ensure you are getting what you pay for.
Feel the texture
The silk made in Thailand is perfect by being imperfect. Being handmade you can expect to find some small faults in the weaving. This imperfectness creates a rougher texture compared to the smoothness of silk made by machines.
This imperfect texture makes the silk produce colors when struck by light, thereby making it perfect.
Look closely at the print
Spread the silk and see if one side shows the print and the other side shows its outline. Authentic Thai silk only has print on one side which will change colour when held up to the light.
The other side’s colour will not change. The changing in colour when viewed from different angles proves whether it is 100% silk.
Test its shine
Authentic Thai silk creates a distinct luster due to one color being used in the lengthwise threads. The width on the other hand, is made up of variety of colors. Hold the silk up to the light and compare the shine produced by other silk fabrics.
Silk from Thailand is hand dyed
Hand dyeing creates different levels of hues in the material. This gives it an entirely unique appearance unlike commercially processed silk which has no uniqueness to it.
The Burn test
As a last resort, a burn test can be made if you are still in doubt. Burn a loose thread and it should smell like hair and the ashes will be fine. The burning will stop as soon as the flame is removed. Fake silk drips when burnt and it gives off black smoke. It will continue to burn even when the flame is out.
The cost of buying silk in Thailand is reasonable but not cheap. The price ranges from 600 Baht and up. Be careful of 100% Thai silk labels that do not pass the above test.
Where to buy:
Thai Silk Collection
– On Chaofa West Road, 150m from Wat Chalong
Tel: +66 (0) 76 390 903
Ban Boran Textiles
– 51 Yaowarat Road, Phuket City
Tel: +66 (0) 76 258 249
Jim Thompson Shop
– Central Festival Phuket on the first floor next to Starbucks
Tel: +66 (0) 76 249 615