Besides China and India, the major silk producers of the world, Vietnamese silk has also secured its place among the world’s top-quality silk products. Find out the history, the making of Vietnamese silk and how to tell authentic silk from a fake one.
Ma Chau silk village in Duy Duyen District, Quang Nam Province (Central Vietnam) is famous for their long-standing practice of planting mulberry trees, nurturing silkworms and weaving silk fabric since as early as the 16th century. In fact, Ma Chau silk village had been responsible for proving silk garments for the Vietnamese aristocrats and noblemen in the 15th century.
Then, at 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 (the province that houses Hoi An).
Vietnamese silk went back as early as the 15th century
However, when it comes to silk, most Vietnamese would most likely know nothing besides Ha Dong silk, a famed silk village in North Vietnam in the past. 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 at present is utterly modest. There are only around 8 places where silk is produced on a large professional scale. Long established Vietnam silk villages that still remain today include Van Phuc (Hanoi), Nha Xa (Ha Nam), Nam Cao (Thai Binh), Ma Chau (Quang Nam) and My A (An Giang), the only name in South Vietnam.
The key factor in the production of silk is silkworms, which feed on mulberry leaves to produce cocoons (the raw form of silk). So to produce the best quality silk, the silk artisans can go as far as to 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, until no strand can be extracted and all that’s left are the dead pupas (the name for silkworms after producing cocoons).
Last comes the most demanding stage - weaving. Craftsmen make full use of 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 employed in the process
Authentic Vietnamese silk (100% silk) nowadays faces a huge challenge from the fake, synthetic silk (silk with polyester or cotton) which costs much cheaper and looks more attractive visually. The majority of synthetic silk in Vietnam comes from Chinese producers. However, authentic silk can never compare to authentic Vietnamese silk in terms of quality. Here are a few key points to tell the difference, according to Vietnamese silk experts.
The feel of your touch and the texture: Authentic silk is super lightweight and smooth on the surface. Your touch should feel cool, soft and comfy, not cold at all. What’s more, authentic silk looks shiny and the silk never gets stuck to your skin even when the weather is cold, which is contrary to synthetic silk. Another test to tell the difference is using your hand to crumple the cloth: if it gets wrinkled, it is synthetic silk; otherwise (it’s not affected by your crumpling) it’s authentic (100%) silk.
The patterns: Since authentic silk is woven manually, it follows a limited set of patterns including 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 one - on the surface of the silk. Besides, since it is manual, the pattern appearance 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.
The size: 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 obvious signs that give it away: emitting black smoke, shrinking from the flames, giving off super unpleasant fumes (which are hazardous by the way), and leaving a hard plastic bead after burned. 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 like a hair strand 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.
A Vietnamese silk showroom in Hoi An
Patterns on Vietnamese silk
Bao Loc silk is another outstanding name in the current silk industry of Vietnam. Situated in Lam Dong Province, near the favorite holiday getaway Dalat, Bao Loc city 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, for the sole reason that 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 in the country as possible, 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 growing its fanbase.
A showroom of Vietnam Silk House
Inside a showroom of Vietnam Silk House
You can find Vietnam silk products in Hoi An, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and remember a few tips we mentioned on distinguishing authentic silk from a fake one!
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.
Check out our motorbike adventure tours in Ho Chi Minh City also! They are super fun and one of the best ways to see the city!
I got some silk for my wife on my trip to Hoi An. She absolutely adored it. And the price was surprisingly cheap!
Do you provide private guided tours? I would love to buy a nice silk scarf for my wife, but I'm not comfortable navigating the city with so many scooters.