These are the days when all consumers need to take extra precautions to ensure the purity and authenticity of all they buy. Be it the most basic supplies for the kitchen, or a highly prized silk sari, vigilance is required to ensure they get their money’s worth. Indeed, who among us hasn’t heard stories of someone buying something expensive only to find later that they have been cheated of their hard-earned money? Silk saris are considered a status symbol and the epitome of elegance by the women of India. They are the choice of wear for most Indian women when it comes to traditional festivals and special occasions. The most exquisite saris from all over our country are woven from silk. These saris are costlier than most other kinds of saris, and a lot of caution should be exercised while buying a silk sari.
There are many varieties of silk saris in India. They range from the lovely lustrous Mysore silk sarees, to the very traditional weaves of Banarasi silk and Kanchipuram silks. Kora silks are known for their lightness and comfort, and Patola silks for their colorful geometric patterns. Kanjeevaram silks are one of the most expensive forms of pure silk one can get in India and are renowned for their lustre and durability. The sad fact, however, is that there are a lot of cheap fake silk saris sold as authentic silks. The Silk Mark Organization says that six out of ten silk products are fake and made with synthetic yarn. They are very similar to pure silk in look and feel and even careful, experienced customers could be duped. Even an educated urban consumer is no exception and could get conned into buying an imitation silk sari. But here are a few tips, if kept in mind, which could ensure that you are never duped into buying a fake silk sari. These methods when used together, help you determine if the fabric is genuine silk or man-made synthetic fabric that looks like silk.
If someone tries to convince you that they are willing to sell you a beautiful, original silk sari at a very special, low price, just for you, beware! Low prices are an indication that the fabric is not real silk. To the untrained eye, it can be very difficult to tell synthetic yarn from real silk. The production cost for synthetic yarn is at least ten times lesser than silk. Synthetic yarn costs about Rs. 300 per kg, while genuine silk would cost Rs. 3000 per kg. (this is the approx. wholesale price of yarn and it might differ slightly from place to place). If a smooth seller is willing to give you a silk sari that weighs more than 1 Kg. for under Rs. 3000, there is a high probability that is not genuine silk.
Most silk saris come with zari designs and patterns in them. The zari is composed of three silk threads twisted with a gold or silver wire making it strong, and of course, heavy. This gives the sari strength, beauty and longevity when compared to other saris. The weight of the sari is another clue to figure out whether you are being sold a good quality silk sari. Generally, the heavier saris are said to last longer than the lighter ones. Silk saris could weigh up to two kilograms depending on the zari used. If the longevity of the sari is a key factor for you, go with the thicker and bulkier fabric, for they would typically last longer too.
One of the main reasons for which silk is treasured is its lovely lustre. Silk saris are woven with a combination of threads of different colors in the weft and the warp. This gives silk a shine that seems to change color as light falls on it from different angles. Synthetic fabric, on the other hand, always shines white irrespective of the angle of the light. Check for the nature and color of lustre of the sari before you purchase it.
Silk can be woven by hand or by a machine. Every piece of hand woven silk is one-of-a-kind. Slight variations in the evenness of the weave are perfectly natural – in fact, you should be wary of a hand-woven sari does not show ‘slubbing’ as these variations are called. These slight flaws give the sari character and adds to its individual value. Machine-woven silk will have a perfectly even weave without any flaws… and character. Synthetic fabric is sure to look perfect – however watch out for crafty fakes which incorporate all the flaws and ‘slubbing’ to present an appearance of genuine hand-woven silk.
Some silks come with a printed pattern instead of a woven one. In this case, ensure that an outline of the pattern is visible on the reverse side of the silk. If the pattern is not visible on the reverse side, and all you see is the plain color of the fabric, it is a sign that you are being sold synthetic fabric.
If the pattern is woven, you should have both sides exhibiting the pattern. The reverse side will have a slightly ‘fuzzy’ version of the pattern.
Wedding Ring Test
For fine silks that are not too heavy, you can apply the wedding ring test. Pure silk of a lower ply can be pulled through a wedding ring since it is silky smooth and flexible. Synthetic fabric will bunch up and will be very tough or impossible to pull through.
The burn test is quite a definitive test when it comes to testing the purity of silk. Your sari salesperson may not be very keen on performing this test since the test involves burning the silk!
Ask your salesperson to extract a few threads from the warp and the weft weave. Set fire to the edges of the threads and observe what happens. Once you take the flame away, do the threads stop burning? Genuine silk will stop burning once the flame is removed. Further, smell the black, powdery ash that is produced. If it smells like burnt hair you can be sure that it is genuine silk.
Synthetic fiber, on the other hand will burn with a black smoke and smell like burning plastic. It will form a black ball of sticky residue instead of ash and will continue to burn even after the flame is taken away.
Silk is protein, while synthetic fabric originates from cellulose or petrochemicals. The most accurate test for silk is to chemically differentiate these two using the appropriate tests.
Here is one such test with chemical agents that anyone can do. At room temperature, make a solution of copper sulphate (CuSO4) by dissolving 16g of the same in 150 cc of water. To this, add 8-10 g glycerine, followed by caustic soda (sodium hydroxide: NaOH) until a clear solution is obtained. Put a small piece of silk into this solution – silk will dissolve in this solution, but any other fiber like cotton, rayon or nylon will remain intact.
Silk saris are special; for some of us they are prized heirlooms which retain their beauty over many decades. They hold a special place in our wardrobes, and our hearts. Never get misled by offers of low prices – and never let a smooth salesperson talk you into buying your silks without preforming a few of these tests.