It was in November 2019. Three months ago, I had a great chance to be a volunteer at the Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day event. With the series of “silk” activities celebrated, I was highly impressed with the talk show named “The sound of silk”. Holding a soft silk craft on my hands and listening to the story about the making process of it, I understand how precious it is. It is not easy to find places selling authentic high-quality silk. But after relentless roaming the internet & asking every silk connoisseur I know, I write to give you the summary of my knowledge.
When did Vietnamese silk appear?
According to the legend, over 3700 years ago under the 6th Hung King, in Co Do village (the outskirts of Hanoi), Thieu Hoa princess of is the first one teaching the farmer about growing mulberry trees, raising silkworms and weaving silk. From then on, the experiences were widely transmitted through many generations, resulting in many silk villages spread around the country. From the 16th century to the 18th was a prosperous period of Vietnamese silk. At that time, many foreign merchants went to Vietnam harbors like Hoi An Town to buy silk in bulk. Until now, some silk villages have conserved and maintained to produce silk for exporting as well as supplying for tailor shops in the big cities.
How is an authentic silk product made?
Simultaneously, a silk scarf or a silk traditional ao dai is completed, the silkworms finish its cycle life. What a sad story! No, because they become an important part of luxury cloths products that you will understand how proud they are. I will tell you about the complex process of making silk below:
Caring for newly hatched silkworms
After 10 days, the silkworm eggs hatch, the baby silkworms are raised in the small trays. The farmer picks the mulberry leaves and feeds it every twice a day. The mulberry leaves need to be fresh and be chopped into many small pieces.
Note: Silkworms can eat other kinds of leaves such as cassava leaf or mulberry leaf to build silk cocoons. But if silkworms are fed mulberry leaf, they will create the yellow cocoons with higher quality.
Day by day, silkworms become bigger, the farmer takes them into the large woven bamboo flat trays (Vietnamese: nong). The next period lasts 5-6 weeks, silkworms eat continuously mulberry leaves all day as well as night until they grow to maximum size. This is the time requiring farmers picking piles of mulberry leaves. Silkworm rapidly grows so that from one tray of silkworms can be divided into five trays of it. It is said that they can even hear the sound of the silkworm when they gnaw the leaves.
Creating silk cocoon
Farmer continues to place them into the ne (Vietnamese: né) where silkworms can build silk cocoons. It is time for the sacrifice of silkworms. They create silk little by little within 7 days, to transform to pupas laying in cocoons. Do you know that one silkworm in this period will produce about 400-800 meters strand of silk?
Reeling silk cocoon
Then the farmer needs to be quick to reel silk from cocoons before pupa transforms to moth slowly gnawing the cocoon and come out. Firstly, the farmer dips cocoons into boiling-water in a cooking big pot, so the outer silk layer becomes softer to start pulling the silk from the cocoon. 10 strands of silk extracted from 10 cocoons are normally merged in the process of reeling silk cocoon. Those raw silk spinnings then are basked in the sun.
The silk fibers are classified according to their quality, thickness. Therefore, the weaver can make a variety of silk cloths diverse in thinness, translucency, gloss, smoothness. Artisans said that cross-section of silk fiber is the triangle with rounded corners reflecting the light, that is the reason why it features with a special glow.
Before dyeing the silk cloths, once again artisans completely dissolve the glue of silk by dipping into the water. In the past, silk was traditionally dyed with natural dyes such as leaves, tree bark. Nowadays, because modern dyeing techniques are applied so the color of silk becomes more diverse.
Finishing a complicated process of weaving silk, through skillful hands of Vietnamese tailors, silk cloths become the perfect silk garments. I admitted that silk cloths are precious because of its quality as well as complexity in the making process. Silk is a luxury 100% natural material especially in sewing ao dai, scarf, and handkerchief. Vietnamese often give it as one of the most opulent gifts.
How to simply distinguish authentic silk from fake silk?
The price of silkworm silk is relatively expensive. But even if you can buy it, are you sure that you can buy authentic silk? Be a smart consumer!
Price: Authentic silk is never offered at a low price. So how do you know that price is low or high? You should reference its average price before purchasing not only silk but also anything. In case the seller deliberately seem to offer at a high price, continue to read.
Hand touching: Authentic silk certainly makes you feel its smoothness when you touch by hand. Or you can apply it on your skin and slowly pull, you will feel like silk pulling your hand again.
Luster: By observing, authentic silk seems to have many different colors when the light shines. Synthetic silk will only have the white.
Pattern: Patterns printed on one side of fake silk cloths cannot not be seen on the other one. In contrast, with authentic silk, you can see the fuzzy printed pattern.
Test burning: it is not easy to test silk quality by burning it in the shop. I have not ever tried it. But if the seller burns it to demonstrate the quality, you will see it is burnt to ashes.
Where should you go to buy authentic silk?
In recent years, Vietnamese silk has faced stiff competition with Chinese synthetic silk produced massively. In comparison with synthetic silk, Vietnamese silk has far higher but it is at a reasonable price for its luxury quality.
What you are looking for can be silk ao dai (silk Vietnamese traditional dress), silk scarf silk clothes and other silk products, right? Here are some suggested shops:
- Thuy An Silk
Address: 179 Hang Bong Street, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: 024 3826 9402
- Ngoc Diep Silk
Address: 9 Hang Hanh Street, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: 024 3824 7215
- Silky Vietnam
Address: 43 Hang Hom Street, Hoan Kiem District
Tel: 0898 083 735
- Vietnam silk house
Address: 24 Dien Bien Phu Street, Ba Dinh District
Tel: 02422 1061 66
You should not leave Hoi An without ordering a tailor-made silk ao dai because Hoi An tailors are highly skillful and quick. Sewing a tailor-made ao dai will only take a day or only half a day.
- A Dong Silk
Address: 40 Le Loi Street, Hoi An
Tel: 0510 391 7229
- Yaly Couture
Address: 47 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An
Tel: 0235 2212 474
- Be Be Tailor
Address: 11 Hoang Dieu Street, Hoi An
Tel: 0235 2212670
Ho Chi Minh City
Address: 149 De Tham Street, District 1
- Viet Thanh Silk
Address: 129 Le Thanh Ton, District 1, Near Norfolk Hotel, Ho Chi Minh
Tel: 028 3823 2077
Besides those reputed silk shops in the city center, I think it will be better if you visit the traditional silk villages, see firsthand the making process of silk and buy silk products there. Frankly, you should come with your tour guide who will show you much helpful information and bring you closer to locals.
Suggested silk villages:
- Van Phuc silk village in Van Phuc village, Ha Dong district, Hanoi
- Hoi An silk village in Hoi An, Quang Nam.
- Tan Chau silk village in Tan Chau, An Giang.
- Bao Loc silk village in Lam Dong
If you need any information about traditional silk villages, please feel free to contact me at https://www.evivatour.com/.
Thank you for reading to the last word! I hope this “The sound of silk” story and these tips can help you in this Vietnam journey.