Vietnamese silk has also secured its place among the world’s top-quality silk producers besides China and India. Find out the history and the making of Vietnamese silk and how to tell authentic silk from fake silk.
The Prestige of Vietnamese Silk – a History of Vietnamese Silk
Ma Chau silk village in Duy Duyen District, Quang Nam Province (Central Vietnam), is famous for its long-standing practice of planting mulberry trees, nurturing silkworms, and weaving silk fabric since the 16th century. Ma Chau Silk Village was responsible for providing silk garments for the Vietnamese aristocrats and noblemen in the 15th century.
Towards the end of the 19th century, this village initiated another traditional practice – growing cotton and weaving fabric. Simultaneously, the villagers began to employ new technologies and machines to increase yield and productivity. Nowadays, Ma Chau Silk Village has become a top cultural tourism site in the country and a prominent name in the annual festival “The Journey through Cultural Heritage” of Quang Nam Province.
However, when it comes to silk, most Vietnamese would most likely think of Ha Dong Silk, a famed village in North Vietnam.
Due to the fast-changing life, adherence to family traditional production has become more challenging than ever. Thus, the number of silk villages in Vietnam is modest. There are only around 8 places that produce silk on a large professional scale. Long-established Vietnam silk villages that remain today include Van Phuc (Hanoi), Nha Xa (Ha Nam), Nam Cao (Thai Binh), Ma Chau (Quang Nam), and My A (An Giang).
Most silk is produced to export to Asian and European countries or to supply tailors in tourist hotspots like Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
How Vietnamese Silk is Made
The critical factor in silk production is silkworms. They feed on mulberry leaves to produce cocoons (the raw form of silk). So, to produce the best quality silk, the artisans can go as far as to plant and pick the best mulberry leaves, cut them into small pieces, and hand-feed the silkworms. Next comes the step of unraveling silk threads from the silkworm cocoons. This unraveling step involves placing the cocoons in boiling water, thereby dissolving the glue in them and gradually getting the silk strands out into a spinning reel. What remains are the dead pupas (the name for silkworms after producing cocoons).
Last comes the most demanding stage – weaving. Craftsmen use their skills to weave the silk threads on wooden looms (with different lengths alternating between one another), creating unique patterns and exquisite silk fabric for further tailoring.
The traditional way of weaving silk
Effective machines are now widely available in the process
The Difference between Authentic Vietnamese Silk and Fake Silk
Authentic Vietnamese silk (100% silk) nowadays faces a massive challenge from fake, synthetic silk (silk with polyester or cotton). The majority of artificial silk in Vietnam comes from Chinese producers, which costs much less and looks more attractive. However, authentic silk can never compare to authentic Vietnamese silk in quality. According to Vietnamese silk experts, here are a few key points to tell the difference.
The feel on the surface and texture
Authentic silk is super lightweight and smooth on the surface. Your touch should feel cool, soft, and comfy, not cold at all. Moreover, authentic silk looks shiny and never adheres to your skin even when the weather is cold, contrary to synthetic silk. Another test to tell the difference is using your hand to crumple the cloth. Artificial silk gets wrinkled easily, while authentic material remains relatively unaffected.
Since authentic silk is woven by hand, it follows specific patterns, such as chrysanthemums, Tung trees (Vietnamese high mountain trees), apricot flowers, dragons, phoenixes, simple circles, and squares. These patterns are woven – not painted or dyed like the synthetic ones – on the surface of the silk. Besides, since it is manual, the pattern may have a few flaws (not consistent like a machine), and the color is never ghost-white but slightly ivory-tinted instead since it doesn’t use chemical dyes.
Vietnamese silk follows two standard widths: 0.9 m and 1.15 m. So, if your seller offers silk of various widths other than these, you have reasons to question their authenticity.
When it burns
This is the ultimate test. Synthetic silk burns with apparent signs that give it away: black smoke, shrinking from the flames, super unpleasant fumes (which are hazardous, by the way), and leaving behind tiny plastic beads. It feels hot when you touch it after burning, which does not happen in pure silk’s case. And pure silk burns with the smell of a hair strand that gets burned.
Burning and touching are the most reliable tests since the other two factors (pattern and size) can be subject to change due to the product development of Vietnamese silk.
The Future of Vietnamese Silk
Bao Loc silk is another outstanding name in Vietnam’s current silk industry. Situated in Lam Dong Province, near the favorite holiday getaway Da Lat is responsible for up to 80% of Vietnamese silk production. However, like most other Vietnamese silk powerhouses, despite producing pure quality silk with no synthetic ingredient, Bao Loc silk is virtually an anonymous name to local consumers because it simply produces “fabric”, not finished, desirable attire.
To solve this dilemma, Minh Hanh, a celebrated Vietnamese fashion designer, has partnered with quality silk enterprises in Bao Loc to give birth to Vietnam Silk House, a company that links as many silk enterprises as possible, and encourages them to produce quality silk attire. Vietnam Silk House aims to promote and market excellent, locally-made silk products from Vietnam to the domestic market and the international audience. Notably, the founders vow to make maintaining quality their top priority instead of commercial sales success. Since its foundation in 2017, Vietnam Silk House has opened showrooms across the biggest cities in Vietnam and gradually grew its fanbase.
Summary of Vietnamese Silk
You can find Vietnamese silk products in Hoi An, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. Remember a few tips we mentioned on distinguishing authentic silk from fake silk!
If you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you can drop by Vietnam Silk House at 149 Hai Ba Trung District 3 or Thai Tuan Fashion at 222-224 Le Thanh Ton District 1 to admire its beauty and feel its smooth, soft texture.