The elegant fabric works well for both clothing and home furnishings.
Silk conjures images of regal bridal dresses and flowing, high-fashion gowns; of material so delicate it sways in the wind and captures the light.
But these days you need not look to elegant women for a glimpse of silk. It's begging to be touched on your bed, sofa and table. Hundreds of new silk fabrics are used in upholstery, drapes, window sheers, bedspreads and table coverings.
"The lightning bolt hit five years ago when I went to a fashion textile show in New York where you have fabric producers selling to couturier houses and small manufacturers of high-end apparel," says Dick Gentry, buyer for Wesco Fabrics in Denver. "I was looking at fabrics and it dawned on me that I hadn't noticed a lot of these goods in the home-furnishings arena."
Fascinated by luminous silks, Gentry went to work on a new line, tweaking the fabrics beloved by the fashion industry for the traditional brocades, broadcloths and slubby weavings common to home decor.
"Our first collection, which we called Silk Fashion, really kind of blew everybody away because it was just such a new look," he says.
Options included bead-encrusted fabrics and silk velvets. Colorful plaids used in the billowing skirts of designer ball gowns and lacy sheers that inspired bridal wear were used in window dressing. Other fabrics were piled high with wild loops of metallic threads and beads.
"India has the ability to create these wonderful embellished textiles with metallic flowers or beading," says Gentry, who's working on his fall line of about 60 silks.
While silk looks delicate, the material is sturdy enough to be woven into scratchy textures that mimic wool, burlap or crisp linen. The fiber can be transformed into a slick brocade, glowing taffetas, even wiry metallic netting.
Colors are unlimited, ranging from natural earth tones to icy pastels and vivid reds, blues and greens.
"I'm not a maven from a chemical standpoint, but silk takes dye very well, and you can create very vibrant colors," Gentry says. "The filament itself has a reflective quality, and when woven into cloth, you just get this wonderful luminosity that can't be duplicated with manmade fibers."
Plenty of inexpensive silk also is available at retail stores. But, compared with showroom grades, the quality is very different. Although the colors are vivid and fashionable, the fabrics are thinner and the weaving is rustic, uneven.
Still, silk is silk, and customers at Denver Fabric have been snapping it up for the past 18 months, says store buyer Nada Watt "Some of the more popular home magazines were featuring silk in articles, and I think that sparked it," she says.
In fall 2001, she stocked the store's home-decorating department with five rolls of silk: several solid colored fabrics, a stripe and an embroidered pattern.
These days, she offers more than 60 rolls, including special windowpane weaves, playful embroideries and dupionis that flash with color. Prices range from $20 to $70 a running yard. Best sellers are rustic silks with rough textures, she says.